There is a tendency for fans and pundits to select their England team in a similar way to fantasy football; their desire to see England cast off the shackles and throw caution to the wind for once leads to tactical recommendations that would not be seen either at club level or in other elite international teams.
Sometimes, even the managers are swept up in it; Roy Hodgson fielded Danny Welbeck, Raheem Sterling, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge all in the same team in World Cup 2014 and Dele Alli, Adam Lallana and Harry Kane alongside Rooney and Sterling in France two years ago, with just Eric Dier protecting the defence.
Gareth Southgate’s formation for England’s penultimate Russia 2018 warm-up match, the 2-1 win over Nigeria at Wembley – where he fielded Alli and Jesse Lingard either side of Dier, with Sterling behind Kane – hinted at a similarly adventurous approach.
That system may work against the ‘smaller’ nations, such as Tunisia and Panama, who England face in their first two Group G matches, where England need to be on the front foot and the threat of a counter attack isn’t so great.
However, as uninspiring as it may be, a two-man holding midfield axis of Dier and Jordan Henderson may well be needed against the elite nations, should the Three Lions get that far.
It won’t go down well with those who want to see a tubthumping England side, but it is a tactically mature idea; even Brazil, famed for their Samba style, now shield their defence with a holding duo, well aware that their current crop is not vintage and that having elite attackers isn’t that useful without keeping the back door shut behind.
It remains to be seen if Southgate thinks that way, but it may well be that Alli and Lingard will go from playing alongside each other in midfield to competing for the most advanced spot in the engine room.
Looking at the stats makes the perception of the two players’ seasons interesting; Lingard is seen as having the season of his career, while the Alli is perceived as having dropped his level in the past year.
Yet, the Tottenham man is ahead on all the statistical measures and his closer relationship with Harry Kane is something else that may give him the edge.
Also, Alli is more of a central midfielder, who can burst forward at this stage of his career but may also end up playing further back anyway; whereas Lingard is a converted winger, and now a number 10.
He is disciplined and hard working, but Alli feels a more natural fit to settle into the midfield trio, arriving late onto crosses to slot home.
But who would you choose? Let us know by voting between Alli and the £31.5m-rated Lingard below…