El­land Road pro­vides fi­nal chance for play­ers to stake claim

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - FOOTBALL - RICHARD SUT­CLIFFE

GARETH SOUTH­GATE ad­mits Eng­land’s El­land Road out­ing later this week will be key in fi­nal­is­ing Eng­land’s World Cup plans.

The Three Li­ons re­turn to the home of Leeds United on Thurs­day for the first time in a lit­tle over 16 years to tackle Costa Rica.

Ex­tend­ing an un­beaten run that cur­rently stands at nine games would be wel­come but South­gate’s pri­or­ity go­ing into his side’s fi­nal friendly be­fore head­ing to Rus­sia is to iron out any prob­lems that were ev­i­dent in the week­end win over Nige­ria.

Harry Maguire, Jordan Hen­der­son and Trent Alexan­der­Arnold are also ex­pected to be given one last chance to stake a claim to start against Tu­nisia in the World Cup group opener on June 18.

“In terms of Thurs­day, we have to pin down what we learned against Nige­ria,” said the for­mer Mid­dles­brough man­ager. “Also, what we do not need to see any more of and what ex­actly we do need to see ahead of the game on Thurs­day, which is our last op­por­tu­nity to try some more things.

“Over the five friendlies (stretch­ing back to Novem­ber), we have been able to be a lot clearer in our mind in sev­eral ar­eas.

“Now there might be a cou­ple of play­ers we want to see in cer­tain po­si­tions against Costa Rica.”

Eng­land last played at El­land Road in March, 2002, Italy tri­umph­ing 2-1 in a friendly.

Sven Go­ran Eriks­son used 21 play­ers that night, South­gate be­ing among those to play 45 min­utes, as the count­down con­tin­ued to a World Cup that saw the Three Li­ons bow out in the quar­ter-fi­nals against Brazil.

There will be no re­peat of that rapid turnover in per­son­nel against Costa Rica, though South­gate was giv­ing lit­tle away in terms of his team se­lec­tion on Satur­day night.

Asked if it was a straight duel be­tween Cahill and Maguire for a place in the back three that Eng­land have adopted since qual­i­fi­ca­tion was as­sured, he replied: “I would not nec­es­sar­ily say it is ei­ther/or.

“They are both very ex­pe­ri­enced. Cahill has ex­pe­ri­ence of big matches and maybe they could both play be­cause there is com­pe­ti­tion for places right across that back line.

“Maguire has great com­po­sure, he is a player we re­ally like, and he has had a su­per sea­son (at Le­ices­ter City).”

Eng­land will train at St Ge­orge’s Park to­day and to­mor­row be­fore head­ing north on Wed­nes­day.

Af­ter be­ing left on the bench for the March dou­ble-header, Dele Alli will be hop­ing to get the nod af­ter starting against Nige­ria.

“I think he is a good player,” South­gate added about Alli, adopted as the pan­tomime vil­lain by the vis­it­ing fans at Wem­b­ley for sticking with the coun­try of his birth rather than that of his Nige­rian-born fa­ther.

“It is not im­por­tant about re­spond­ing to whether he was in the team with us. Dele is al­ways a player who is go­ing to find a high level.

“As a goal threat, we want play­ers in the team with a goalscor­ing record. I al­ways think back to Manch­ester United’s team with play­ers right across mid­field who are goal-scor­ers. It makes you so much more of a threat. In the end, the num­bers tell a story and his are high.”

Jordan Pick­ford is an­other hop­ing the starting XI against Nige­ria will act as a guide for the game with Tu­nisia in Vol­gograd in a fort­night’s time.

Again, South­gate was giv­ing lit­tle away and even de­clined to say whether the one-time Brad­ford City loa­nee would start at El­land Road.

But, with Pick­ford hav­ing just three se­nior caps to his name, an­other out­ing would surely be ben­e­fi­cial go­ing into the World Cup.

“Noth­ing has been con­firmed yet,” said the Ever­ton goal­keeper, vy­ing with Jack But­land to start in Rus­sia. “The man­ager said that in the pre-game talk, so I have just got to keep do­ing what I am do­ing, and putting in per­for­mances like I did at the week­end.

“Ob­vi­ously, get­ting the nod against Nige­ria was bril­liant for my­self be­cause it is an­other cap ticked off and an­other solid per­for­mance. That is three good per­for­mances from the three games I have had.

“He hasn’t said (when the first choice goal­keeper will be named). Ev­ery­one can see the qual­ity that is in the 23. Ev­ery player is fight­ing for ev­ery place.

“I am new to this. It is my first World Cup, but I have worked with the man­ager be­fore at Un­der-21s level, so I think maybe he will tell us (who is the num­ber one).

“But when that will be, I don’t know. We have three days train­ing be­fore the next game.”

PIC­TURE: PA

AM I IN AT EL­LAND ROAD?: Goal­keeper Jordan Pick­ford, chat­ting with Harry Kane, is hop­ing he will get an­other start on Thurs­day.

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