Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka were named in an attack-minded England starting XI for Monday’s World Cup opener against Iran.
England manager Gareth Southgate has been routinely criticised throughout his tenure for a tendency to play pragmatic football, with his unadventurous midfield pairings often a source of frustration.
But Southgate appears to be throwing caution to the wind – to a degree – as the Three Lions look to make a flying start in Group B at the Khalifa International Stadium.
Fans have been particularly eager to see Bellingham in the starting XI more often over the past year, and the talented Borussia Dortmund midfielder gets the opportunity to stake his claim for the rest of the tournament alongside Declan Rice and Mason Mount in a forward-thinking engine room.
There had also been a degree of uncertainty regarding who Southgate might start out wide, but Arsenal winger Saka – who has enjoyed a fine start to the domestic season – gets the nod on the right wing, with Raheem Sterling starting on the left in support of Harry Kane.
Another relative surprise is Southgate’s decision to go with what appears to be a back four, having often deployed three centre-backs and two wing-backs.
Southgate had vowed to continue selecting Harry Maguire at centre-back despite his poor form and lack of minutes at club level for Manchester United, and he stuck to his word by naming him alongside John Stones.
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