Gareth Southgate has admitted Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier could be fighting over one place in England’s World Cup side.
Both men have captained the side during his reign and, of Southgate’s 16 games in charge, Dier has started 12 and Henderson has started nine.
But his desire to play with two attacking options in central midfield – roles filled by Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli in the weekend win over Nigeria – means one of his trusted lieutenants could miss out. We did say it was our one-on-one battle to watch.
Dier played the anchoring role at Wembley and Henderson will take over for Thursday’s farewell friendly against Costa Rica at Elland Road, but decision time is looming for the Group G opener against Tunisia.
“I’d be amazed if the two of them aren’t important figures for us during the tournament, but there is clearly the possibility they might not both play in every match,” said Southgate.
“It is a key decision, but that’s management isn’t it? You either select players, or you choose your system and pick the best people to fit into it. They’re the tough calls.
“But I think we will only want to play with one ‘pivot’.”
There remains a possibility that Henderson could play in the more advanced role, but that would be a change of gear given his shielding responsibilities at Liverpool, while Dier is capable – but not eager – to play in a back three.
At present, though, it seems likely one will be on bench duty in Volgograd on June 18.
“Henderson can play as a number eight, so that gives you an option, Dier can play as a centre-back…so they both have another way into the team. We’ll have to look at that,” added Southgate.
Jamie Vardy is another who may fall foul of Southgate’s tactical preferences.
The Leicester striker netted 20 goals last season but he may be short of chances with Harry Kane certain to start as centre forward and Raheem Sterling preferred as his foil.
Vardy is another player set to start against Costa Rica, alongside Jordan Pickford in goal and the likes of Fabian Delph and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but Southgate’s selection will be based mostly on conditioning for the tournament.
“We’ve looked at (Kane with Vardy) in training and at the moment we’ve not gone with it,” he said.
“We’ve had Harry with Raheem – we liked the look of that.”
Southgate has promised to start five of his Yorkshire-born contingent in Leeds – Delph, Vardy, Harry Maguire and Danny Rose are all likely to get their chance with one of Kyle Walker and John Stones holding their spot.
He joked that the Football Association was becoming almost as reliant on the White Rose county as the England cricket team and gave a vote of confidence to the idea of taking the national side away from Wembley.
That may become a more regular occurrence if Wembley gets sold and Southgate is clearly open to more regular road trips.
“I was fortunate to play in a period where we played every game at the old Wembley, and then in that period (of redevelopment) when we were going round the country,” he said.
“They were great experiences. It’s a balance of the prestige of a national stadium, something really special, but also being able to go to the heart of the communities which support the national team and make them able to connect with the team even closer.
“This is a chance to do that and it’ll be a different feel for this group of players.”