Sterling v Rashford: Who should start for the Three Lions?

Raheem Sterling Marcus Rashford England

Dream Start for England

It's been a very long time since we last saw a start to a major tournament like this from England. 2 wins, 6 points, 8 goals - the numbers make great viewing for fans up and down country. The expectation level in the lead up to Russia 2018 was the lowest we've seen for years, but that hasn't affected Gareth Southgate's young side who're absolutely relishing the test on the biggest stage of all. It would seem strange after such a positive start that you'd want to change the team, but there's a couple of dilemmas facing the 47 year-old as we creep ever closer to the business end of the tournament.

The biggest one being the debate surrounding Raheem Sterling's performances. Playing in an advanced role in support of skipper Harry Kane, there's pressure on the 23 year-old to repay his managers faith with goals and as of yet it hasn't really happened for him. The Manchester City man is clearly a quality player and just because he hasn't scored it doesn't mean he's played badly, but with a forward as good as Marcus Rashford waiting in the wings there's plenty of pressure on him to deliver.

Many England fans are calling on Southgate to switch things around and give the 20 year-old a starting place ahead of Sterling going into Thursday's clash with Belgium and permanently going forward. He may have scored 11 less Premier League goals than Sterling in the Premier League last season but he's always impressed in an England shirt so it's a big call for Southgate. Who should he choose? Read below to hear our thoughts and let us know yours by tweeting us @FootyAccums!

Stick with Sterling?

This is one of the youngest and most in-experienced England squads ever on display at a major tournament, with 10 players having 20 or fewer caps. Gareth Southgate made a bold call with some of the selections in his 23 man squad to represent the Three Lions over in Russia which adds more pressure to the experienced players. One of which is Raheem Sterling, who despite being at the age of just 23 can already boast a huge total of 40 caps to his name. Only Jordan Henderson (41) and Gary Cahill (60) have more than the forward who're currently in the squad but despite that his position in the team appears to be under serious threat.

He comes into the World Cup following the best season of his career to date for club side Manchester City. He netted an impressive 23 goals for the Citizens, but his two performances in Russia have come under the spotlight after failing to get on the scoresheet, resulting in some heavy criticism. The majority of it seems unjust, with the media often harshly digging him out but something that can't be ignored is his poor goalscoring record for the Three Lions. 2 goals in 40 caps is far from good enough for a player of his calibre and we expect so much from him, especially after tearing it up for City.

Raheem Sterling Gareth Southgate England
Gareth Southgate's man management of Raheem Sterling deserves a lot of credit, with the 23 year-old constantly under the spotlight from the media

Gareth Southgate clearly trusts him and has shown his faith by starting in him 3 of England's last 4 games - which includes both of their matches in Russia. He's been a handful in both games with his blistering pace and on Sunday he managed to have a large hand in 2 goals, but with the tournament now approaching the business end we need someone who can put the ball in the back of the net. Harry Kane has been on fire with 5 goals in 2 games but we can't just rely on him to save us like he did against Tunisia. Sterling has more than enough quality to be this man, but he just struggles to produce the ruthless consistency that's seen him be such a success domestically.

Time for a change?

Raheem Sterling's position probably wouldn't be under so much threat if we didn't have the strength in depth that we do - with Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford knocking loudly on the door to get in the side. Rashford is the one that's been getting the most attention after impressing in England's warm-up friendlies and generally looking a major threat whenever he's represented the Three Lions. The 20 year-old is without a doubt one of the most exciting players in the Premier League & Europe and the World Cup could prove to be the perfect stage for him to take the next step. He's struggled for regular game time at Manchester United which is much the opposite to his city rival he's competing with, but when he has featured he's really looked a force to be reckoned with.

When playing for his club side he's been forced out wide to accommodate Romelu Lukaku, but for the Three Lions he's played in his favoured central position and has looked a real threat. He started England's 2-0 win over Costa Rica there and played a big part in that result, scoring a superb goal and picking up the man of the match award. That effort took him to 3 goals in 20 caps for England - meaning he's netted one more than Sterling in half as many games.

Marcus Rashford Gareth Southgate England
The majority of Rashford's appearances for club & country this season have come off the bench

Rashford isn't prolific like his potential strike partner Harry Kane but what he is very good at is playing on the shoulder and terrorising defenders with his pace. He also looks to be a much more 'natural' finisher than that of Sterling too, despite netting 11 fewer Premier League goals than the 23 year-old over the course of last season. Something that's strangely held him back slightly both at club and international level though is his ability to change games off the bench - which surprisingly can be a bad thing. His direct playing style and ridiculous pace makes him a huge threat when coming on in the final 20/25 minutes - something he did to great effect in England's opening win against Tunisia.

Our Verdict

The strength in depth that Gareth Southgate has at his disposal means that there's healthy competition for places all over the pitch which is great and with qualification already secured, it means that there's scope to rest and rotate against Belgium on Thursday. Bizarrely, England could win the group and get a much tougher draw as the competition develops so it'll be interesting to see how we approach it. But Southgate said he wants to win to carry through our positive momentum which will be music to the ears of the fans following our superb performance on Sunday against Panama.

We're expecting him to make a couple of changes for the Belgium game and we can definitely see Rashford getting some minutes. He's yet to start in Russia and whether he comes in to replace Sterling or Kane - who could potentially be rested - it will be a good move. These selection headaches are always welcome for any manager and if the Manchester United man can get a goal or a positive performance under his belt it only means good things moving forward for England, so we think he should definitely be thrown into the XI for Thursday night with the view to keeping his place for the next round.

As for Sterling, we'd like to see Southgate retain his faith in him because he is clearly a top player who has a lot to offer. He's experienced at international level and despite not hitting the heights he has for Manchester City with England, he's definitely capable. But with Three Lions in need of another natural goalscorer to partner Kane in attack, we think Rashford's earned his chance to start and if they can hit it off, it could have devastating consequences for opposition defenders.

Marcus Rashford England
Eyes on the ball: Rashford's performances can't be ignored and he deserves to start in Kaliningrad

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