Ex-Chelsea star Joe Cole believes Raheem Sterling may have to settle for a place on the bench when England take on Iran in their first World Cup group match on Monday.
Sterling has struggled for form in recent weeks and Cole has backed Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka or Leicester’s James Maddison to start in his place:
“As much as I love Raheem [Sterling], he’s not in form. [Bukayo] Saka’s playing for the team at the top of the league, and the same could be said with Maddison. It will evolve as the tournament goes on. Five substitutions as well – it’s a game of 16 players effectively. I’ll go [Jordan] Pickford in goal, centre halves I’ll go [John] Stones and [Ben] White in the group stage. [Kieran] Trippier right back, [Luke] Shaw left back. Then I’d play a midfield of Declan [Rice], [Jude] Bellingham and Mason [Mount] – Declan holding then the two 10s given licence to go forward.”
“Then I’d play Harry Kane up top obviously, then probably start with Phil Foden on the right, then Saka or Sterling on the left. There are four players who are going to play regularly – Pickford, Stones, Declan Rice, then Harry Kane. You only take Kane off when the game’s done. That will be a problem for the other strikers because they know they’re going there to play second fiddle. Everywhere else is up for grabs.”
There is no doubt that Sterling is going through a difficult period at the moment, but it would be a surprise if he is left out of Gareth Southgate’s starting lineup, considering the 27-year-old has been trusted by England’s head coach in previous tournaments.
Even when Sterling was struggling to get into Manchester City’s team, he was regularly picked to play by Southgate so you can’t see him being looked over for the Iran game.
Cole is right to point out, though, that there are plenty of other players in England’s squad who can step in if Sterling is not firing on all cylinders so he will know that he will have to start strongly out in Qatar to keep his starting spot.