The key talking points as Gareth Southgate and England gear up for the World Cup

England Training – St George’s Park – Tuesday 22nd March
(Image credit: Martin Rickett)

England kick-off their World Cup preparations with a home friendly against Switzerland on Saturday evening.

Ahead of the Wembley encounter, the PA news agency takes a look at five of the main talking points.

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The football calendar has been altered by the selection of Qatar to host a World Cup (IAdam Davy/PA)

This tournament year is unlike any other, with the World Cup being held between November and December due to the Gulf nation’s climate. That switch brings with it all manner of challenges and has led to the international calendar being altered dramatically. This camp is the first of just three that England will have before the tournament gets under way, with this month’s friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast followed by four Nations League matches in June. Southgate’s side finish the group with a double-header in September – the only meet-up of what is usually an autumn schedule comprised of three camps. With so few chances to be with the squad, England need to make the most of this opportunity.

Time to tweak the formation?

“It is important to try different formations and tactics,” Southgate said when unveiling his squad last Thursday. “We can use these games to try to understand how we approach the World Cup.” The England boss has tinkered with his tournament approaches depending on the strengths of his squad, with a three-man backline providing the platform for their run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals. Southgate switched to a four-man defence as the Three Lions finished third in the inaugural Nations League finals the following year and used that for the most part of the rearranged Euros. England moved to a back three for the last-16 clash with Germany and final against Italy, returning to that base in November qualifiers.

England debuts on the cards

England Training – St George’s Park – Tuesday 22nd March

Marc Guehi has caught the eye for Crystal Palace this season (Martin Rickett/PA)

Three defenders are vying to make their bow on Saturday. England Under-21s captain Marc Guehi’s fine performances with Crystal Palace led to his call-up for this month’s double-header, with club team-mate Tyrick Mitchell joining him after some withdrawals at the start of the week. Southampton full-back Kyle Walker-Peters was also brought in on Monday as Southgate experiments in the absence of high-profile absentees. The England manager confirmed the trio will feature at some point over the coming days.

Who will line up in goal for England?

England v Denmark – UEFA Euro 2020 – Semi Final – Wembley Stadium

Jordan Pickford faces a fight to keep the England goalkeeping jersey (Mike Egerton/PA)

Aaron Ramsdale has enjoyed a superb season with Arsenal and was set to win his second cap this month, having made his debut in November’s 10-0 cakewalk against San Marino. The 23-year-old was emerging as the biggest threat to number one Jordan Pickford but a hip injury has laid him low, meaning the other options are Nick Pope and Fraser Forster – the man brought into replace Ramsdale’s replacement Sam Johnstone.

Can Kane close in Rooney’s record?

Harry Kane File Photo

Harry Kane is closing in on Wayne Rooney’s goalscoring record (Nick Potts/PA)

It is a matter of when rather than if England captain Harry Kane surpassed Wayne Rooney as the national team’s all-time top scorer. The 28-year-old is just five shy of the former Manchester United striker’s 53-goal haul and will go level in second with former record holder Sir Bobby Charlton when he next finds the net. “That record is there, it is close,” Kane said this week. “I’d love to break it and hopefully with the games we have this year, that’ll be possible.” How much Southgate decides to utilise his skipper in these friendlies will influence how much the striker chips away at Rooney’s record tally.

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