Already a World Cup winner and just 23, Raheem Sterling will find himself in an unfamiliar position when he lines up for England in Wednesday’s friendly against Spain at Wembley.
Sterling is more accustomed to a place on the left side of a two-man attack, but he is expected to line up as a right winger for Sam Allardyce’s team in front of captain Harry Kane.
The Liverpool forward has switched roles four times already in his career and a similar scenario is likely to unfold when Sterling comes up against Spain, who boast a formidable trio of Barcelona star Luis Suarez, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
Sterling and Allardyce’s side must do a lot better than they did in the 0-0 draw in Croatia last week, when England dominated possession but failed to get their final ball correct or impose any rhythm on the game.
So Spain must be an examination of the Three Lions’ ability to press high and press high. Three Lions boss Allardyce is determined to keep the game as fast-paced as possible, despite his team struggling to create opportunities against a Croatia side that frustrated them last week.
“We have to try and keep it as quick and fast as possible, because if Spain get their basic structure right, they’re almost impossible to break down,” Allardyce said.
Spain coach Luis Enrique has mixed up his attack, with Suarez and Real Madrid winger Marco Asensio set to make their starts for the full match against England.
Suarez and Bale will start on the left and right flanks, with Diego Costa on the bench. Real Madrid attacking midfielder Isco starts on the left for Spain, with Thomas Partey and Alvaro Morata joining Suarez in the middle.
Ronaldo returns after missing the Croatia match through injury, but fellow striker Thiago Alcantara joins him on the sidelines as the Bayern Munich center back has a muscle strain.
Spanish captain Sergio Ramos is set to return to the lineup for the first time since injuring his knee in the last match against France in September.
In order to keep Ronaldo at bay, Allardyce may have to turn to Chelsea left back Marcos Alonso, who signed a new long-term contract with the Blues just three days before arriving in England.
Alonso has played as a winger, and he operated in the No. 10 position for Chelsea in the last few games, moving forward when asked by manager Antonio Conte. Allardyce is not sure whether Alonso would start on the left or right side of the attack, but his defensive game is what the former Bolton manager most wants from his wingers.
“It’s never been the case in the past that we’ve chosen wingers who could keep the ball well and quickly get into the final third,” Allardyce said. “But some of the players we’ve got at this moment are very good.”
Aside from Dejan Lovren, Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos is the only member of his team that is unbeaten in Europe this season. Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Salah has scored seven goals in his first eight Champions League games, already a personal best.
All that should change on Wednesday, with the former Real Madrid midfielder at center forward for Spain.
France can wrap up the top spot in Group C with a win against Romania.