Danny Murphy: England v Iran preview, World Cup predictions
The former England international previews England v Iran and makes his predictions for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
What was your initial reaction to the England squad?
I was pretty pleased, actually. The main thing for me was Maddison, who everyone was talking about. I've done a few live Leicester games this season and he's been tremendous. I couldn't see any reason for leaving him out. I really couldn't. Even if he's not going to start, the impact he can have with his skill, his ability to open up defences, so I was really pleased to see him in.
I think there was always a feeling that Gareth would select Phillips, Walker, and Maguire and they would probably be given the chance to get themselves match fit while out there. Gareth trusts them, he's had them before. There'll be a few defenders who've been playing well, the likes of Tarkowski and Tomori, who might be disappointed, but someone is always going to be disappointed when a squad was selected.
Overall, there's lots of positives. All our best attacking players are fit, which is first and foremost what you want. And then it's about whether Gareth can find the right blend to get us going in the tournament and make us feared.
Was there anyone who did get included that you were you were surprised by?
Probably Phillips, even though I thought Gareth would select him, I was surprised because he's hardly played at all. I know we've got limited options in the midfield area, I get that, but I just think asking somebody who hasn't played any competitive football to adapt to the level of a World Cup really quickly is tough. Obviously, he wants to go, and he's played well for England before. It's not that I'm not a Phillips fan, I am, he's a really good player. I was a bit surprised by that, but I suppose, with the lack of midfield options he's got, that's why he's done it.
Was there anyone you feel was hard done by?
I suppose maybe in the left-back area – I know Trippier can play left-back – but you think with a 26-man squad he could have taken a natural left-back. Somebody like Dan Burn, who's been absolutely sensational at Newcastle. I was with Dan at Fulham when he was making his way in the game, and I certainly didn't anticipate him becoming a sophisticated, marauding left-back playing for a team in the top four, I have to be honest. Maybe Tyrick Mitchell, he's played for England before, so maybe he felt there was a chance when the Chilwell injury happened. But he obviously trusts Trippier in that position.
Are there any areas you think could be a weakness?
The only thing I would say is the way we set up sometimes, when he plays the three at the back, I think it gives off the wrong mentality to the players. When you step on the pitch and you're playing in a back three, the reality is that it's a defensive formation. You're going into the game knowing you've got more defensive-minded players on the pitch then you have attackers. I don't think that's where we need to be, especially with the opposition in the group games. I'd rather see us play a back four and get another attacking player on the pitch. That's what I'd like to see.
What does Harry Maguire bring to the squad?
He's tremendous on set-plays. He's got experience of playing in two other tournaments, he's a calm guy around the place. He's been there and done it, which always helps with those lads who haven't got as much experience, someone who you know you can go and talk to or confide in.
The problem for Maguire is, and any player will tell you this at any level of football, when you're not playing regular football, it's very hard to find your rhythm, and you don't get chance in a World Cup to find your rhythm really. Your bad day can mean the team goes out.
It'll be interesting to see if we start him, my gut feeling is that he will because he trusts him, but I think it's a big ask. I think it's a little bit unfair to throw him in there.
When you think of the other players who he's taken, Stones has been playing again more regularly, Ben White is playing the best football of his life. I don't think it matters so much that Ben White has been playing right-back, because the same attributes still apply as a centre-half. You're concentrated, you're fit, you're full of energy. He's got an arrogance with the way he's playing at the moment, he's a good passer of the ball, he's quick, he can leap. Dier has been playing every week.
I just think it's very difficult for players when you've not been playing regularly to come into a World Cup and play your best football. I'd like to see Ben White start alongside John Stones, personally.
Is there any fear that the Maddison situation will become a bit of a distraction?
I hope not because if that does become the case, it means that we're not doing something right. It means we're struggling in the games. If that outcry for him to play is there, it means we're concerned with what we're seeing. If it does happen, he's certainly got the mentality and the ability to make an impact at this level. He's playing the best football I've ever seen in play. He's demanding the ball, his passing is terrific, he's got that lovely balance on the ball. He's got many attributes that will suit international football.
I think he'll probably get some game time, and I think the use of the subs in this tournament, especially with the climate, could ultimately be what wins it. Players get tired, and when you've got really good attacking players who are creative and quick and intelligent, which we have in abundance, and we're using them at the right time, it's huge.
The criticism of Gareth in recent tournaments has been waiting too long to use the substitutions. But he's an intelligent man. And I think that him and Steve Holland will have learned from their mistakes. I think we'll see a lot more substitutions from England in this tournament.
How would you assess Group B? Do you foresee any issues for England?
The group games are an opportunity, I think, with the standard of teams we're playing, to really stamp a marker down and go after those teams and put them to the sword. Although you can look at certain players in the American side and the Welsh side, you would fancy us to beat them in nine out of 10 comfortably.
I had a bit of stick recently saying that, but the reality is our team has much better quality and the players play at higher levels, bigger clubs, Champions League every two weeks. We should be playing these games with very little fear and really use it as an opportunity to show the rest of the world that we mean business.
Who do you think will be the biggest threat in Group B?
Probably USA. I say that only because their players are young, hungry, and super fit. The two lads at Leeds, Aaronson doesn't stop, his fitness levels are remarkable. I was fortunate enough to spend some time interviewing my old mate Clint Dempsey last week and he reiterated that point that this is a group of really fit and hungry young men. They'll have to play well, of course, not just run around, but in these conditions, against an England side that's got lots of quality, you're gonna have to do a lot of running.
They've also got players who can hurt you. Pulisic has got a point to prove, he wants to show the world what he's about. He's got that wonderful quality and dribbling ability that can make things happen from nothing.
Looking at Wales, Gareth Bale can win a match on his own, we know that. But when you look at the Wales team, a lot of their players don't play in the Premier League. They're not as young and fit as the Americans, they're going to have to use their older players like Ramsey, Joe Allen, and Bale. So, I've got a feeling USA could be the trickiest one.
Who would be your starting XI for the Iran match?
Pickford in goal, he deserves that. I know he's had a couple of dodgy games recently, but overall, in the last 12 months he's been terrific. A couple of years ago, I was thinking maybe it was time for a change but his last two tournaments, especially the last one, have been great. In the Euros, he played well but it was his maturity, his calmness that impressed me. We didn't see the emotional up-and-down roller coaster that sometimes you see him go on. He seems to have passed that and, of course, his distribution is tremendous.
I would play Trippier, White, Stones and Shaw at the back. I'd play Rice in holding midfield and Bellingham and Mount ahead of him. Kane down the middle, and out wide I'd probably start with Sterling and Saka.
Don't get me wrong, if Foden was to start ahead of Sterling or Saka, I certainly wouldn't be disappointed. That's the luxury we have. You can even throw Grealish into that. Grealish seems to play for England with a real confidence that maybe we don't always see at City.
The wide areas are probably where most people will have a difference of opinion because we have so much talent there. At the moment, I think because of Sterling's experience and goalscoring for England, he has to start. And then I say Saka ahead of Foden, more because of his pace. When you play against teams with numbers behind the ball, the ability to go past someone with pace like he can is a real plus.
Danny’s England XI v Iran: Pickford; Trippier, White, Stones, Shaw; Rice, Mount, Bellingham; Saka, Sterling, Kane
Prediction for the Iran game?
How far are England going to go?
I think we'll get to the semis, and I think we'll lose in the semis. I hope that's not the case, I hope we go all the way, of course, but I've got a feeling we'll get to the semis again.
Who is going to win the tournament?
I've been leaning towards Brazil because of their quality and the options they have are just incredible. But sometimes when you look at football, you get a feeling that it's written in the stars, and the thing with Argentina and Messi around this 1000th game and his legacy. I don't know why, but the closer we've got to the tournament, it feels like an inevitability that you're going to see him lifting the trophy. Don't get me wrong, it could be Neymar who creates his own legacy, but there's something about Messi and the way this moment in time seems to have happened. So, my heart says Argentina, my head says Brazil.
I think a lot of people would love to see Argentina win because of how much they've enjoyed watching Messi. The actual reality is when you break it down and you look at Brazil's team, when you look at Brazil's defensive line, you'd rather have Brazil's. You've got people like Martinez and Romero at the back for Argentina, and although they're good players, they do have their mad moments.
Who is going to win the Golden Boot?
Who do you think could be a dark horse?
I would have said Senegal, but Mane has now been ruled out of the tournament. The other problem is, if they come second in the group, they'll play England, so I can't really say them.
I actually think Serbia might get out the groups. Their frontline is phenomenal. If they play to their strengths, I think they'll get out of the group with Brazil, and I think they could cause some problems. They might be a surprise package with their threat up front in Mitrovic and Vlahovic.