England team news ‘leaks’ as Southgate goes attacking vs Iran

England’s line-up for their opening World Cup match against Iran has leaked more than 15 hours before they take to the pitch. Gareth Southgate is expected to go on the offensive and start with a back four rather than a back three, which he has most regularly utilised since taking the job in 2016.

Southgate has often plucked for a 3-4-2-1 formation although he did use a back four at times at the Euros last summer and in Nations League matches against Germany and Italy in June. But he reverted to his trusted back three against the same two opponents in England’s most recent two matches back in September.

Yet it is expected he will name an attack-minded line-up against Iran, who are ranked 20th in the world by FIFA, as England plot a strong start in the Doha sunshine. The Telegraph report Bukayo Saka is to start over Phil Foden in the front three of a 4-3-3, which Express Sport also understands.

Harry Maguire will start at centre-back despite his struggles for Manchester United while John Stones of Manchester City is anticipated to partner him. Kyle Walker, Stones’ City team-mate, remains unavailable as he fights back to full fitness after groin surgery.

With neither of Chelsea duo Reece James or Ben Chilwell in Qatar due to injury, United’s Luke Shaw and Newcastle’s Kieran Trippier are expected to be the starting full-backs against Iran. Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Liverpool defender, will have to settle for a spot on the bench.

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Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford will start in goal behind the back four, which will also be protected by a three-man midfield including West Ham’s Declan Rice, Borussia Dortmund teenage sensation Jude Bellingham and Chelsea’s Mason Mount.

And Arsenal’s in-form winger Saka will make up a front three alongside Raheem Sterling of Chelsea and England captain Harry Kane, the Tottenham striker. Southgate will be looking to get a win wrapped up early so he can make use of his five substitutes given the hot and humid conditions.

James Maddison will play no part in the opening game having not taken part in any of England’s three training sessions so far in Qatar. Foden is expected to get minutes off the bench and will then hope to start against United States or Wales, as will the likes of Jordan Henderson, Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford and Alexander-Arnold.

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Southgate is likely to rotate his team throughout the groups to keep them as fresh as possible for the knockout stages. But he will show loyalty to a number of players including United’s Maguire to start with.

Southgate said on Sunday: “There is always some luck involved in injuries but we have to make sure we manage people correctly and make sure we minimise the difficult situations we could face. We have a lot of players in different physical moments.

“Some have played every game for the last couple of months. Some have played very few. Some are coming back from injury. So we are managing the training sessions individually for every player so they all get across the line. So we have had to push them for a couple of days, get them used to the heat.

“And then for the last couple of days come right off them so they taper for the game. We will have to continue to do that through the tournament and that is where the squad is so important. There is a slightly condensed programme in the first four days and we have to make sure we take advantage of the squad we have got.”

Expected England XI vs Iran in full (4-3-3): Pickford; Trippier, Maguire, Stones, Shaw; Rice, Bellingham, Mount; Saka, Sterling, Kane.

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