One of the bigger talking points following England’s 2-1 win over Tunisia on Monday night has been the performance of Raheem Sterling and whether he should be dropped for Sunday’s game against Panama.
I have laid out good reasons below why it would be a knee-jerk reaction to drop the Manchester City star and why Southgate should keep faith in the young playmaker.
Southgate has more or less adopted the Manchester City system and if any player in the team fits that system best it is Sterling. It is the perfect role for him, just behind Harry Kane, a role he fulfils at City, and it is highly debatable whether any other player could fit in as seamlessly.
Sterling did not have a great game but neither did Dele Alli or Jesse Lingard and a few others as well. However, for some reason. it is always Sterling that everyone turns their attention to, and is really quite simple: they expect so much more of him because he is regarded as a world-class player.
Think about that for a minute. If he was not such a quality player, would there be so much focus on him? Of course there would not. He is picked on far more than any other player because of his talent, his club performances and his potential. So why would England drop a player of that quality after just a single game in this World Cup?
Who would replace him? Marcus Rashford? Ruben Loftus Cheek? That simply makes no sense to me and smacks of lack of perspective. Yes, both players were impressive when they came on, but in all fairness, most players would have been. The humidity in the stadium was obvious and players all over the pitch had slowed down. Any fresh player would have done well in those conditions. The Tunisian defence had sat back completely and was there to be attacked and when given a chance Rashford fluffed his lines.
If Danny Rose had come on for Ashley Young then the clamour today would be for Rose to replace Young. The list of players who could have been made to look sluggish once they had been substituted is endless. The conditions, as well as the antics on the field of play, simply made any substituted player look inferior to whoever came on.
The biggest question must surely be: can Sterling reproduce his club form against Panama? And if he can, what will that do for his confidence and for England?
The answer is clearly, yes. Panama are not a good side and are exactly the sort of opponent that could give Sterling the boost he clearly needs. Dropping him now would in effect eliminate him from the entire tournament. His confidence would be hit, and to ask him to come in and perform in the knock-out stages thereafter would be folly. He needs to be shown faith and be given the confidence of his manager. Anything less would be bad for England and bad for the player.
If Sterling fails to improve against Panama then fair enough, others must be given their chance, England really should be beating Panama even if Sterling has a poor game, but the upside is immense if Sterling puts in a good performance. That would carry into the Belgium game and beyond. The downside is manageable if he puts in a bad performance, but the upside is huge. Surely that is worth giving the player another chance for.