After all of the leaked teamsheet nonsense, Gareth Southgate ended up making just the one change to England’s starting line-up for the match against Panama on Sunday afternoon.
Dele Alli missed out through injury and in stepped Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the 22-year-old who spent the 2017-18 campaign on loan at Crystal Palace from Chelsea.
The midfielder made his World Cup debut in England’s 2-1 win over Tunisia last week, coming on for Alli in the 80th minute, and did enough during his cameo to convince Southgate to start him against Panama.
In truth, this was the perfect World Cup game for Loftus-Cheek to start. England were expected to comfortably beat Panama, a team that looked far inferior on paper.
And the Three Lions didn’t disappoint, hammering their Central American opponents 6-1 in Nizhniy Novgorod.
Loftus-Cheek didn’t get himself on the scoresheet, although he did provide the ‘assist’ for Kane’s third goal of the afternoon. His shot from outside the box deflected off Kane’s heel and ended up in the back of the net past Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.
He played the full 90 minutes and Gave Southgate some food for thought ahead of Thursday night’s match against Belgium. Alli is likely to return to the starting line-up if fit, although there’s no pressure on England to win this match with qualification for the knockout stages already secured.
Crouch hits the nail on the head about Loftus-Cheek
Subsequently, Southgate may opt to stick with Loftus-Cheek for this game and keep Alli fresh for England’s Round of 16 opponents.
Like the rest of us, former England striker Peter Crouch was extremely encouraged by what he saw from England on the weekend.
And in his latest column for the Daily Mail, the veteran forward hit the nail on the head about Loftus-Cheek, who could emerge as one of the surprise packages at this summer’s tournament in Russia.
“There was so much to enjoy. I thought, for example, that Ruben Loftus-Cheek was very good," Crouch said. “I love watching Loftus-Cheek. His power and pace at close quarters is frightening and he has got every attribute to be a top player for a long time.”
Gary Lineker also told a nice story about Loftus-Cheek
It’s very hard to disagree with that after watching his performances for both club and country over the past 12 months.
Loftus-Cheek appears to possess all the tools required to become an elite-level midfielder and it would be a shock if Chelsea can’t find room for him in their starting XI next season.
Gary Lineker also told a nice story about Loftus-Cheek on Sunday. He revealed how he knew the England international would make it from a young age.
“I’ve watched him since he was 11 years old,” the 1986 World Cup Golden Boot winner said. “He played in the same team as my son in the Chelsea academy for years.
“I kept saying to my son, Tobias: ‘If this kid doesn’t make it then I’ll be shocked’. He’s got so much about him.”
Should Ruben Loftus-Cheek start ahead of Dele Alli against Belgium? Have your say by leaving a comment below.