England can play Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli together - Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate insisted he sees no reason why Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli cannot play together for England as he confirmed the Manchester United attacker will start Saturday's friendly against Nigeria.
Lingard has emerged as a key figure for England in a season that yielded 13 goals in all competitions for United, and he started both friendlies against Netherlands and Italy in March while Alli was left out amid suggestions that Southgate harboured reservations about the Tottenham midfielder's focus and attitude.
Lingard and Raheem Sterling are expected to provide the main support for Harry Kane when England kick off their World Cup campaign against Tunisia on June 18, but Southgate is adamant that he has not ruled out the possibility of Alli working in tandem with either of his two preferred wide forwards.
"I don't see it as a straight contest between any individuals," he said in a news conference. "Absolutely [Alli and Lingard] could play together. All of our attacking players, whether that's from midfield, wide, forwards, all have different attributes and different strengths.
"Jesse is a fantastic player at recognising the space away from the ball. He's a great link between midfield and attack. He gets between the lines brilliantly, he's intelligent. We've worked with him for a long time and had belief in him."
Lingard heads to Russia on the back of his best individual season for United, and he credited Jose Mourinho for playing a big role in his impressive development.
"I think it's been my consistency," he replied when asked to pinpoint the reason for his rapid improvement.
"The manager's put his trust in me, he's played me week in week out and [encouraged] me to keep consistent and score goals and help the team as much as I can. When you do that on a regular basis it opens a lot of doors for you."
Southgate has been open in recent weeks about the fact that England's strongest XI is close to fully formed in his mind, and he added that minor tweaks rather than wholesale experimentation should be expected in the upcoming friendlies against Nigeria and Costa Rica.
"You won't see too many tactical changes, but these two matches are an opportunity for us to look at one or two players in certain positions, combinations of players," he added. "There's a physical aspect to the games in that certain players need minutes more than others, one or two that have missed training this week.
"There are a lot of things weaved into how we'll use the two games, and we'll also have an internal game before we fly to Russia.
"It won't be a case of the team that starts tomorrow starts the first match [of the World Cup], but as with all the friendlies we'll use them for a specific purpose and changes within that to look at things we might want to do in the summer."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.