World Cup: Here's who the stats show should start for England vs Iran

Pope over Pickford, Trent DOES start and there’s no place for Raheem Sterling… as Gareth Southgate mulls over his selection for England’s World Cup opener, here’s who the stats show should start the clash with Iran

  • England open their World Cup campaign in Qatar against Iran on Monday
  • Gareth Southgate undoubtedly has a starting XI in mind for the Group B clash
  • But he is unlikely to go with the players that the statistics show he should opt for
  • Here, Sportsmail lists the 11 players who the statistics say should be in the XI
  • Here is Sportsmail’s GROUP B GUIDE: England, Iran, the United States and Wales 
  • Click here for the latest World Cup 2022 news, fixtures, live action and results

The squad has been picked, the bags have been packed and the players have flown to the tiny gulf nation of Qatar. The time for talking is – almost – over.

Gareth Southgate’s England side have made it to their Al Wakrah base ahead of their opening Group B game against Iran on Monday, the start of what the manager hopes will be another successful campaign at a major tournament.

But which 11 players will don the famous Three Lions shirt on Monday afternoon? Southgate undoubtedly knows – or at least has an idea of – the XI he will select for the clash with Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium.

Yet it may be very different from what the statistics show. Here, Sportsmail takes you through the team which the numbers say Southgate should pick for their eagerly-awaited first game in Qatar.  

Gareth Southgate’s side have made it to Qatar ahead of their World Cup opener versus Iran

England’s 26-man squad arrived in Doha on Tuesday, with their first match set for Monday


While Jordan Pickford is widely expected to get the nod for the No 1 jersey in England’s opener, the statistics suggest it should in fact be Newcastle’s Nick Pope between the sticks.

Pope has more clean sheets, fewer goals conceded per game and fewer defensive errors than Pickford.

The Newcastle stopper has clean sheet percentage of 50 per cent, more than double Pickford’s figure, and has only made one defensive error compared with the three made by Southgate’s preferred option.

Newcastle goalkeeper Nick Pope has outperformed Jordan Pickford so far this season 

Pickford has a higher amount of saves per game – 4.29 – and saves from inside the box, but the Newcastle man is ahead on every other statistical metric analysed.

Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale is a distant third, although he has the same clean sheet percentage – 50 per cent – as Pope following the Gunners’ flying opening to the Premier League season. 

His goals conceded per game of 0.81 is also less than Pickford’s 1.21, although that is largely because Everton have shipped far more than Mikel Arteta’s side.

Ramsdale was chosen as the third goalkeeper seemingly ahead of Nottingham Forest’s Dean Henderson – a decision supported by the statistics from the season so far.

Pope came out on top in an analysis of England’s three ‘keepers – graphic by

CENTRE-BACKSJohn Stones and Eric Dier

England’s defensive injury crisis has hampered the build-up to the tournament for Southgate and left the England manager with far fewer choices than he might have hoped for.

But at centre-back, it is loss of form – as well as frequent spells on the treatment table – that are causing Southgate a headache or two.

John Stones, Harry Maguire, Eric Dier and Conor Coady, with the option of an injured Kyle Walker, have been picked as centre-backs for Qatar in England’s squad.

With Walker unlikely to be fit for the group stage, Southgate may be forced into playing a back four instead of his usual five.

Eric Dier could be given the nod to start at centre-back with Manchester City’s John Stones

Stones appears to have nailed down one of the two starting spots despite his patchy injury record since August. 

The Manchester City defender has played the second-fewest number of matches – 11 – of the four but has the highest number of tackles per game and is second only to Dier, who has played twice as many games, when it comes to successful duels.

The 28-year-old has the most assists with two and has also chipped in with one goal, the same as Coady but in three fewer matches.

Stones’ partner in Qatar, should Southgate go with a back four, should be Dier, according to the statistics.

The Tottenham man has the highest amount of duels won, interceptions and goals scored, and joint-highest number of accurate long balls, as well as the second-most tackles behind Stones.

But he is the only one of the four contenders to have been dribbled past this season.

FULL-BACKSTrent Alexander-Arnold (RB) and Kieran Trippier (LB)

Newcastle right-back Kieran Trippier is the standout name on the list of players analysed, which also includes Luke Shaw, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kyle Walker.

Trippier has the best figure of all the statistics – combined goals and assists, big chances created, accurate crosses, accurate long balls, duels won, tackles per game and key passes – in a clean sweep for the 32-year-old.

But Trippier is in at left-back in this team as he can play on the opposite side – and did so for Southgate at the Euros – whereas Liverpool’s Alexander-Arnold, the next best full-back according to the numbers, has to be on the right.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is rarely picked for England but offers Southgate a right-back option

Alexander-Arnold has been regularly criticised for his defensive attributes but he is clear of Shaw using every statistic except for duels won.

He has created seven big chances, compared to Shaw’s four, and has one more assist than the Manchester United defender having set up three goals for his club in the Premier League.

Walker comes in in last place of the four but that is largely because he has missed City’s last 12 matches in all competitions with a groin problem.

Had he have been fit, he may have even featured as the right-sided central defender in a back five, which has been Southgate’s go-to formation in big games at major tournaments.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD – Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham

In this formation, two central defensive midfielders are required and there are few other options than to go with Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham.

Mason Mount has also performed well but in this system, he would be more attacking rather than a holding player. 

Bellingham has the lowest key passes per game of those compared but is top of the charts on passing accuracy, touches per game, duels won and tackles per game. 

Jude Bellingham is being tipped to start against Iran – and the statistics support that call

The Dortmund starlet comfortably has the most touches per game – 75.23 – and his duels won of 8.36 is more than double of any other contender – hardly surprising given his flying start to the campaign for the German side.

It is pretty even between Rice and Mount, but the West Ham man edges it by virtue of being more comfortable in a deeper role.

Mount has not quite hit the heights of a certain Leicester man so is not in the starting XI at all. 

FORWARDS – Bukayo Saka (RW), James Maddison (CAM), Phil Foden (LW)

These are perhaps the three most hotly-contested spots in Southgate’s starting XI or Monday’s match.

England are blessed with numerous attacking talents and it is possible Southgate – who often opts for a defensive approach, much to the chagrin of Three Lions fans – may only have room for two of them.

But the statistics show a trio of Bukayo Saka, James Maddison and Phil Foden would be most effective for Southgate’s side.

Maddison was by no means a shoo-in to be on the plane to Qatar despite his superb form for Leicester. The 25-year-old outperforms all of his rivals, including Foden, Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford, Mount, Saka and Raheem Sterling, according to the majority of the figures.

There is no place in the statistics starting XI for Raheem Sterling, despite his form for England

He has seven goals and four assists, 6.36 entries into the final third per game and 2.43 key passes, as well as creating three big chances.

Saka and Foden are the next best on the list. The Arsenal star has played only 14 games because of injury but has four goals and six assists, combined with 2.14 key passes per game, which is second only to Maddison.

Foden has the most goals among those on the list having found the net eight times for City so far this season. 

STRIKER – Harry Kane

You probably don’t need statistics to tell you that the England and Tottenham captain should start the Group A opener on Monday afternoon.

Harry Kane’s only real rival to spearhead England’s attack is Newcastle striker Callum Wilson, whose injury issues have contributed to his figures being far lower than that of the Spurs talisman – although Wilson has a better goal conversion percentage.

Kane has scored 13 goals, seven more than Wilson – who has played half the number of games that the Spurs striker has this season.

The Newcastle forward also has one less assist than Kane – two compared to three – from his 11 appearances.

Kane’s place in the starting XI was never in doubt, but Wilson will be next in line should the 29-year-old suffer an injury after being picked in the travelling party ahead of Brentford’s Ivan Toney. 

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