Gareth Southgate walks off Raheem Sterling after subbing him out against Tunisia.
Photo: Alastair Grant (AP)

During an open training session yesterday, England assistant coach Steve Holland was photographed holding notes that appeared to reveal the starting lineup for Sunday’s match against Panama. England don’t want Panama to know this! They don’t want anyone to see those notes. So here they are:

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The notes indicate that Ruben Loftus-Cheek will start in midfield in place of Dele Alli, who suffered a thigh strain against Tunisia. The FA confirmed last night that an MRI revealed a muscular issue, which would seem to give weight to the photographed teamsheet. Which is a big deal because said teamsheet also shows Marcus Rashford starting at striker in place of Raheem Sterling.

England manager Gareth Southgate tried to ignore the reports, but when directly asked about it, tried to blame the media.

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Three things. First, this is not actually that big a deal, and does not aid Panama all that much. The moves were relatively obvious: Sterling, despite a good early chance, all but disappeared as the Tunisia match went along. Rashford and Loftus-Cheek were both quite good as substitutes. Alli is hurt. If you had asked most observers to predict England’s XI against Panama, this would’ve been it.

It’s also not as if Panama’s preparations change significantly, no matter who England’s second striker is. Oh, and if England can’t beat Panama even having tipped its lineup, England have way bigger issues than opsec.

Second, it is obviously–obviously–not the media’s job to “help the team.” This is news, and it’d be malpractice not to report the news. (Maybe this is not actually so obvious, given the vocal reaction from a big chunk of England fans so far.)

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Third, I don’t think Southgate actually believes what he said. He’s been around long enough to know the deal, especially with the English press. But it’s way better for everyone involved for him to blame the media rather than blame his assistant. In the end, everyone here is playing their roles to perfection.