Alan Smith expects Gareth Southgate to make 'two or three' changes against Belgium
Dele Alli should return to the England starting XI against Belgium if he is fit, insists Alan Smith.
Alli missed the 6-1 victory over Panama on Sunday due to a thigh strain picked up in the first Group G win over Tunisia, but could return for the final group game against Roberto Martinez’s side on Thursday.
England have already qualified for the last 16 alongside Belgium, and though Gareth Southgate admitted he wants to give other members of his squad game time Smith says Alli should return.
When asked if Alli should start if everyone is fit, the former England striker said: “Yes, he did really well in that first half against Tunisia, getting around the right-hand side countless times, and unlucky not to score.
“He’ll be gagging to get back out on the pitch and find the net. He looks in fine fettle, though the injury has knocked him back a bit.
“Hopefully he’s available again but there is that understanding with Harry Kane, and there is that experience he has at international level.
“I think Ruben Loftus-Cheek did really well, and he is an option, but I think in these tournament situations you’d go with Alli and that know-how ahead of Ruben.”
1:07 Alli trains on Monday morning as he continues to recover from a thigh injury after missing the Panama win
With debate heightening as to whether England or Belgium would be better placed finishing second in Group G as opposed to top, Martinez has already stated he will be making several changes to his starting XI.
And Smith admits England will want to give some of the bench minutes in Kaliningrad, particularly with games coming thick and fast.
“Southgate mentioned keeping all the squad involved after the last match. But some of those key men like Jamie Vardy, to call upon them further down the line when they haven’t had much of a touch of the ball, it would be difficult for those concerned.
“You want to keep the momentum going, of course you do, but you want to freshen it up a little bit. Just maybe two or three changes, nothing more than that.
“Dier and Rose are names we thought were in with a shout of starting the first game, so they’re in contention. I think Danny Rose is second to Ashley Young at the moment because of his lack of match action and perhaps sharpness with Tottenham.
“With Eric Dier it almost seemed like a 50/50 between him and Jordan Henderson at the start of the tournament. These are the questions, and a strong squad is vital in these tournament situations where the games come quickly.
“Rashford did ever so well when he came on against Tunisia, but he did ever so well from the start against Costa Rica at Elland Road. He’s definitely playing with confidence, so that is certainly a move that Gareth Southgate would think hard about. But I’m pleased he went with Raheem Sterling, and I think he had a good game.”