Who could be England’s Plan B against USA?

Published on: 24 November 2022

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I'm really pleased Harry Kane has been declared fit for England to face the United States but we have to look after him - and Gareth Southgate could still turn to Marcus Rashford to lead the line if he does not want to risk his captain.

Kane has been able to train after suffering an ankle injury in our 6-2 win over Iran, and a scan showed there is no serious damage, but it was a reminder we must think about who would replace him in Qatar if needed - and I am happy with our options.

The most obvious Plan B is to put Newcastle striker Callum Wilson up front, because he plays down the middle for his club and he can play at least part of the provider role that Kane does so well.

I was so pleased with Wilson's decision to pass to Jack Grealish for our final goal on Monday rather than have a shot himself, and that is the kind of collective thinking that Southgate will love.

If he thinks we need a kind of backboard against the US or any other side - a player for us to feed so he can play in other people - then Wilson is the best man for the job.

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I still think Rashford will get the nod if Kane is rested on Friday, however. From what we know about Southgate's managerial style, there is a pecking order in his squad based on players he trusts.

We have seen that with his selection of people such as Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount, and Bukayo Saka also comes into that category now - if he is fit, he starts. It is the same with players who are outside his first-choice XI too.

With what Rashford has done for England in the past, and the goals he has scored, he is probably ahead of Wilson, who has only just returned to the squad after a three-year absence.

We know Rashford is more effective in a wide position, and prefers to play on the left of Manchester United's attack, but his pace is still a threat down the middle.

I have confidence in him and Wilson, so I honestly don't think it matters too much who is our centre-forward against the US - we should win anyway - but we will definitely need Kane when we face tougher opposition.

He has been criticised for dropping deep for England in the past but we saw against Iran just how well it suits our system, with runners going beyond him and down both flanks. Neither Wilson nor Rashford can do exactly what he does.

Some of Kane's crosses against Iran were so good, he reminded me of David Beckham, who provided the best deliveries into the box of anyone I saw during my playing days.

The one he put in for Sterling was on the same level as Becks at his best, so fingers crossed he is OK for the rest of the tournament.

Should England change anything else?

There is an argument that, if Kane is fit, we should stick with the same team that scored six goals against Iran - clearly no-one deserves to get dropped after that - but I have a feeling Southgate might want to give Kyle Walker some minutes.

Walker has not played since he picked up a groin injury in the Manchester derby on 2 October and we were told he was not fit for the first game in Group B.

Southgate is going to switch to three at the back at some point at this tournament and, when he does, Walker will feature on the right side of that trio. That's why he is here, but he needs time on the pitch to get his sharpness back.

We might not see that change in system against the US, but whatever the formation, I would not be surprised to see Walker come in to start at right-back. If he's anywhere near fit, he will definitely feature at some point.

England's remaining fixtures: Group BFri, 25 NovUnited StatesAl-Bayt Stadium, Al KhorTue, 29 NovWalesAhmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan

I love the fact that we have involved so many players already, and that people made an impact off the bench against Iran.

For two of the substitutes, Rashford and Grealish, to score was perfect really and of course Wilson set one of them up too.

Out of the 26-man squad, 16 have got on the pitch already and all of them will feel like they have contributed.

The unique circumstances of this winter World Cup means the players are in peak condition from being in the middle of their domestic season, and it feels like Southgate is doing his best to keep them bubbling by getting as many of them as possible involved. It's exactly the right thing to do.

More pace and precision passing, please

So far, I've spoken about everything from England's point of view - who we might bring in if Kane is out, and anything that might suit the needs of our squad in the tournament as a whole.

I certainly don't think Southgate will make any changes to his selection or formation specifically to deal with the opposition; his decisions are on our terms because I don't feel we have to worry about how the US will hurt us.

Again, this game will be all about breaking the opposition down, and they will offer a different test to Iran, who sat on the edge of their own box and allowed us to dictate the play in their half.

In contrast, pressing high is almost the USA's mantra, and it should be a useful game for us to develop the way we beat their press and work the ball forward, progressing through each part of the pitch.

We will have to get the balance right between Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham dropping deep to get the ball off their defenders, and making sure we get Bellingham forward too.

The fluidity in our movement and the way we were passing so quickly and precisely was one of the best things about Monday's performance.

If we do that again, we will win - and book our place in the last 16 with a game to spare.

Martin Keown was speaking to Chris Bevan in Doha.

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