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Dele Alli’s replacement? Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Fabian Delph or even Marcus Rashford?

11:28 pm, 21st June 2018

Alli did not train with England on Thursday as the medical team monitor his recovery from a thigh strain picked up against Tunisia.

Alli said he will do “everything in my power” to reach full fitness for the fixture, having taken to Twitter to voice his frustration at the injury.

However, it looks likely that Gareth Southgate will need to find a replacement.

Delph was stripped and seemingly ready to come on when Alli first appeared to take the knock in the first half against Tunisia – is he the right man to replace the Tottenham star? However, when Alli was replaced it was by Loftus-Cheek, who had an impressive cameo. And what about Rashford? Will Southgate squeeze him into the team?

Here, we assess the options…

Ruben Loftus-Cheek

Despite being very inexperienced in terms of Premier League appearances – only had 27 starts – his performances under Southgate seem to imply he’s a player the manager can trust.

Loftus-Cheek was a focal point in Southgate’s Toulon Tournament-winning side in 2016, scoring in the 2-1 win over France in the final. The on-loan Crystal Palace man played at the top of a diamond during that tournament, impressing with his direct dribbling style in an England team that won a Toulon tournament for the first time in 22 years – something Southgate took immense pride from.

Such is his belief in Loftus-Cheek, Southgate – as England head coach – wasn’t afraid to hand the youngster the No.10 shirt for a friendly against Germany at the end of 2017. Loftus-Cheek repaid that faith with a man-of-the-match display, completing 96 per cent of his passes whilst also providing a threat with his swaggering forward bursts. He looked at ease on the international stage.

“He’s got so many good attributes, top attributes, and that’s why we put him into the team,” Southgate said after the game.

An untimely ankle injury, which kept him out for three months, put his England place at risk for this tournament but he came roaring back for Palace towards the end of the campaign. Loftus-Cheek started all of Palace’s last six matches of the season which coincided with an unbeaten period as Roy Hodgson’s men took 14 points from a possible 18.

Don’t be fooled by Loftus-Cheek’s shy demeanour – the on-loan Chelsea man regularly affects games. Over the season, he averaged just over one key pass per game and completed three successful dribbles per game – both those attributes will be important to England chances on Sunday.

Fabian Delph

Seemingly originally selected in the squad for his versatility, Delph’s energetic performance in the friendly win over Costa Rica caught the eye.

The Manchester City man looked very comfortable playing off the left in the centre of midfield, linking well with the wing-back Danny Rose and providing plenty of fruitful service into Rashford. In fact, when Alli initially suffered the groin problem in the first half against Tunisia it was Delph that Southgate ordered to get stripped and ready to replace him – however, Alli played on until 66 minutes.

If Delph is given the nod, his attributes differ from Loftus-Cheek. Delph’s game is based around moving the ball quickly to his team-mates rather than providing a piece of individual spark. His passing accuracy is his real strength, which could help his City team-mate Raheem Sterling find better areas to work in than he found against Tunisia.

In his 21 appearances for title-winning City this season, Delph did average just 0.5 key passes a game – although most of those games he played as a left-wing back.

Delph could even be deployed in a deeper midfield role, alongside Jordan Henderson. However, playing with a two-man midfield base, where, of course, Eric Dier would come into consideration too, would surely be far too negative to employ against Panama. That extra beef in midfield is more likely to be showcased in the final group game with Belgium, where either Delph or Dier would be candidates for a starting role.

Marcus Rashford

Rashford’s stunning strike in the friendly against Costa Rica sparked debate about whether he should start ahead of Raheem Sterling in attack – but could Southgate squeeze both into the team to play Panama in the absence of Alli?

In a game that should develop into an attack versus defence scenario, England could decide to throw Rashford in from the start to play in an attacking role with Harry Kane.

Sterling was short of his best in Volgograd and was replaced by Rashford. The Manchester United man gave England a boost with his direct style against the deep-lying Tunisia defence and the thought of him and Jesse Lingard interchanging in behind Kane is a pacy gamble that might be worth taking.

Over to you..who should start?