Danny Murphy: England v Wales preview
The former England international assesses England's performance against USA and looks ahead to the final group game against Wales on Tuesday.
What were your thoughts on England's performance against USA?
It felt a little bit flat, which is understandable. I was talking with Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer about it, and they were saying that you rarely get perfect games all the time in tournaments. There's always one where it feels hard work. Especially when you come up against an American side that was so determined, so athletic, so well organised. Those midfield lads for America, I thought were brilliant. They're very talented players, but they also matched our physicality.
So, it was disappointing, but we've failed before in the group stages. For us to be in such a strong position, maybe we shouldn't be so critical. It's going to be fascinating to see what he does this time, whether he makes some changes, because I think inevitably we're going to get through. For me, it might be opportunity to rest some of the players that might need it. I'm thinking Kane, if he's still carrying the injury, why risk him? Maguire hasn't played much, so asking him to play three games in a week is a lot. I think he’s been great, but if you want to keep him fit, why risk him?
It seems obvious, but we don't know with Gareth, he can surprise us at times. I'd be tempted, if I was him, to make three or four changes to freshen it up.
What do you think went wrong exactly in that game?
I think it's easy to jump on the negativity of what England didn't do, rather than what the US did. They would have studied England's performance against Iran and set up a plan to nullify us. They did it well, so let's give some credit to them.
I just think we lacked that little bit of intensity and zip that we had in the first game, that excitement in our play. Sometimes you need something to go for you. When Kane had that first chance and it got blocked, if that goes in then USA have to come out, and all of a sudden it suits us.
As a player, when you've had a really good game and everything goes well, you kind of think it's just going to happen in the next one. When it doesn't start that way, it's hard to get the momentum to mix it up. They restricted us.
Watching the game, I understand why he would have wanted Kane playing - it's an important game, we wanted to get through - but he did look like he was carrying the ankle a little bit. That was something that restricted us a little bit in that a fully fit and firing Kane has so much influence on a game.
The biggest plus for me, in a game like that where you don't play too well, is that the back four was tested. Stones and McGuire had a real test. If you play really well in the group games and just demolish every team, the backline isn’t really getting tested. At least now you can see that Maguire and Stones are both looking good. They look comfortable together. There was a lot of doubt over Maguire and I think he's been terrific.
Is there any cause for concern after a performance like that?
No, I think we'll push on. I wouldn't be too concerned, especially when you watch the other teams. Spain won 7-0, everyone was talking about them like they're the Spain of old, and all of a sudden Germany caused them a few problems and made them look average at times. I think all the top teams have moments in a tournament where they don't quite look as fluid. It's inevitable when you play so many games in close proximity, so I wouldn't be too concerned.
The main thing that I would like to see is us keeping the same formation, playing on the front foot and having more attacking players on the pitch. This World Cup, more than any other ever before, is going to be won by a team that uses its subs better than the others. I think we get a bit preoccupied and overly concerned with who's going to start and why. With the games long lasting as long as they are, and the heat, the five subs is going to be crucial to what we do moving forward.
That performance in isolation, although disappointing, shouldn’t derail us from believing we're a really good side that can cause problems for anyone.
What did you think of the post-match reaction from fans, and some of the players commenting on it?
It's not ideal when you hear negativity when you've had one 0-0 draw. Unfortunately, when you set the bar so high with your performance, whether it be individually or collectively, and then you fall below it, you're always going to face criticism. It's just part and parcel of being an England player.
Personally, if I was a player now, I would just say that the fans are entitled to their opinion, we're all disappointed, and we'll make up for it. But when you're getting asked questions at the World Cup, you don't always say exactly what you mean.
The only way to really put it to bed and stop the chatter is to make sure that, in the Wales game, there's more creativity, more energy and a good performance. If we’re sitting at the top of the group with seven points after another decent performance, people won’t really refer back to the second game, it will be gone.
Would you rest Harry Kane v Wales? Who would you bring in to replace him?
Obviously, I don't know how bad his ankle is. My gut feeling is that I would rest him because the plan has to be to go deep into the tournament. If he has got any slight problem, why not give him the extra time to get it right for the last 16? That would change if we had to win the game, and also if we didn't have good options, but Callum Wilson is in the form of his life. He's quick, he's strong, he's hungry. Rashford looks fit and strong and he could play down the middle, too. I would put Wilson in.
You can always bring Kane on if things aren't going your way, or you don't think there's enough quality out there. But if you're thinking about the bigger picture, qualification is more or less done, so I'd be tempted just to just say to him, 'Have a rest, get your ankle right. Give it another few days, get loads of treatment. We'll have you on the bench if we need you, but I'm going to give you a breather.'
Does Southgate rely on Kane too much?
The numbers suggest that Kane and Sterling have been our most productive players for quite a long time now. So, with any manager, it wouldn't be logical not to play your best players in big tournaments. Most players will tell you that their best relationships are with managers who trust you, and give you the opportunity to put a bad performance to bed by playing the next one.
All the best managers in international and club football rely on their best players. You have to rely on them, that's the way the game works. Don't get me wrong, if someone continually plays badly, or is really struggling, they have to be taken out a firing line, and we've seen that before with Gareth. He's not as predictable as some people make out. He is prepared to make changes and put new people in.
The problem he's got, of course, is that when you're England manager, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. If we draw 0-0 against Wales and played poorly again and Kane didn't start, it would be why aren't you starting your best player? If he starts Foden and we don't play well, where's Saka? Why isn't Saka playing? There's this continual debate which divides all us England fans on what our best XI is. They're the decisions that he'll live and die by in this tournament.
Would you bring Phil Foden into the team to play Wales?
I'd be tempted to, not because of the fans demanding it, just to get him some minutes and mix it up a little bit. What Foden gives you is assists and goals. There's going to be times in the Wales game where we need creativity and magic, and he possesses that.
I'd be tempted to change the whole front three. I would probably give Grealish and Foden a start. You can use Rashford's pace and power off the bench, and I'd play Wilson. It just gives the Welsh a different headache, and it gives everyone minutes, keeping them fresh ready for the knockout stages. It also protects the players after two games in five days.
There's the other areas of the pitch as well. He might not mix up the front three, it could be in midfield. Our most important player in some respects is Declan Rice, because he is our out-and-out holding midfielder. He's nailed that place down. But he's played a lot of minutes for West Ham and England over the last year.
Unfortunately, the only way you get away with making changes and keeping everyone happy is by winning the match. Unless we do that, he's going to face criticism.
What would your starting XI be v Wales?
If Kyle Walker's fit, I'd play him. Not because of Tripper's performances at all, I just think give him a game and get him ready for later in the tournament. Because if we face France, against Mbappe, he's the one right back in the world you'd want. You don't want him to go into that game without any minutes. I'd leave John Stones and Shaw in there, and I would bring Ben White in for Maguire. Just to protect him, not in a critical way.
I would play Jordan Henderson in the holding role and give Declan a breather. I'd leave Bellingham and Mount in there, just because I think they're two of the fittest players in the team. They're both creative, and they both give us that athleticism in the middle of the pitch that teams really struggle to deal with.
I'd go Wilson, Foden and Grealish, and give the others a rest.
The other thing as well, from a mental point of view, is that if all the players know that they're not necessarily 100 per cent guaranteed to start, the performance goes up, because everyone's fighting for the places. The intensity increases. The players who come in will be thinking, if I put in a wonderful performance here, I might keep the shirt. It keeps the group healthy, because you can get a bit despondent if you're away in a group thinking that you're never going to get any game time. You might put on a brave face and try and be professional, but it's deflating.
In this particular format, in a group where we've basically already qualified, it's a great opportunity to rest players, it really is.
Danny’s England XI v Wales: Pickford; Walker, White, Stones, Shaw; Henderson, Bellingham, Mount; Grealish, Foden, Wilson
How do you think England will approach the game?
I think the mindset is that we go into this game desperately trying to win, really being positive, on the front foot, showing the world what we've got, and actually responding from a negative performance. Although the USA performance wasn't disastrous, it was disappointing, and you'd expect a reaction naturally. I don't think the manager will need to be too vocal in making sure they start better and sharper in this game.
There won't be any thoughts other than trying to dominate them and win the game early. Go and get an early goal or two, because that's beneficial in so many ways. It gives you the confidence, fans are happy, it just changes the dynamic. Whereas if it becomes a bit scrappy, and it's a stalemate after 50 or 60 minutes, you start to think about the judgement that's coming and it creates less of a feel-good vibe for the group moving forward.
Any top football player thrives on confidence and momentum. If we put in a good performance and dominate the game, it means everyone moves on to the next step at a World Cup with a spring in the step. There's a feel-good factor when you go out for training, you're not thinking about the headlines. Although the players would never say it, it does create doubt in your mind when you've got a lot of people thinking someone else should be playing instead. It puts pressure on you.
So, I actually think we'll come flying out of the blocks. I think they'll really want to make a point of not starting the game like they did against USA.
What did you make of Wales' performance against USA and Iran?
I thought the second half against USA showed good character. I thought they really got back in that game. Ultimately for Wales, they're just lacking quality. They don't have tremendous athletes, they don't have great athleticism in the middle of the park which, in this tournament, is evidently important. Their best players are nearing the end - Ramsey, Bale, Joe Allen hasn't been fit. It was always going to be difficult for them.
The Iran game will be disappointing for Wales, because it wasn't really the defeat, it was the manner of it. They didn't cause any problems to the Iranians. They were on the back foot for long periods. I think they'll be disappointed with the showing rather than the result. Sometimes you can lose a game and be unlucky and have a right good go. It just felt that they didn't have it in them. There wasn't enough energy and quality in them.
I think for the Welsh, looking at the situation in the group and the opposition, it's now about pride. If Wales were to win, even if they went out and England went through, that's a very proud moment in their history that'll be remembered for a long time, and those players could be very proud of that. This isn't just about qualification, it's about Welsh pride. You've got to be wary of those things as an England player, you can't just think that the Welsh are going to roll over. There's no way that's going to happen.
Ultimately it’s disappointing, because it's their first World Cup since 1958 and they would have wanted to put on a better show. Unfortunately, the pool of players they have to choose from just isn't big enough. They rely heavily on those big players and time catches up with all of us.
Where could Wales cause England problems tomorrow?
I don't think they will. They might have a couple of good crosses in the box. Kieffer Moore can cause any defence problems with his physicality and his aerial presence. But they've got to get good possession higher up the pitch. I don't see them causing problems.
You might get Wales fans saying that's an arrogant ex-England footballer, but it's not. It's someone who watches football and thinks that if England are anywhere at it, they should dictate the tempo of the game. Inevitably, when you play against good quality opposition, you end up dropping off and protecting a little bit. I don't think the Welsh will go gung-ho on trying to win it till the second half anyway, but I just can't see an area on the pitch where they've got anybody that can cause us a lot of problems.
What's your prediction for the game?
Which teams have impressed you most at this point in the tournament?
Brazil look to have a nice blend of creativity, tenacity and experience.
On the flip side, Argentina have been a let-down. I know they got through the game against Mexico, but I think we all thought, because of that unbeaten run, that they were going to come and blitz teams. They don't quite look like they've got the legs.
The French are obviously a concern because, although they've got their injuries, they look like they've got a nice balance. Giroud plays that role so well, and the two wide men are just electric. Mbappe is the best player in the world bar none at the moment. He's got absolutely everything.
One team that I don't think anyone thinks are going to do particularly well, especially after they lost the first game, is Germany, but I saw enough against the Spanish to know they've got some talent. They've got Kimmich and Gundogan in the middle of the pitch, who can control tempo and dictate play. And let's be honest, they had plenty chances against Japan to win the game. There's talk about them not having a recognised striker or somebody who plays that role particularly well, but I've got a sneaky feeling Germany might go further than we think.
Morocco have surprised me. They look solid, they look quick. They've got some good players. I've seen both their games and they could cause someone problems in the knockouts.
Which players have caught your eye?
Mbappe is the obvious one. I saw him live and it was just incredible. When you see a player live, it sticks in your memory more.
Federico Valverde is somebody who I think is just going to get better and better. He's so dynamic and is such a good player. It was wonderful to watch him in the flesh.
Musiala, too. There's been a lot of hype, but I see why. He's got this wonderful balance and touch and he could have a big tournament.
And although they've gone out, I have to give a mention to Alphonso Davies. Wow. He’s really had the freedom to go forward, because he normally plays left back for Munich, and he's been phenomenal.