Now that England manager Gareth Southgate has named his squad for the 2018 World Cup, the typical four year cycle of disappointment and pessimism has now reached its third stage: optimism and hope. Another tournament is on the horizon, and despite all the opinions we hold about the national team, it’s the time of year where all English fans from across the country come together and support the team, through thick and thin.
Now, with the squad chosen, I go through who I think should start come June 18th, what role certain players need to play, and which players could count themselves unlucky to not be selected.
This year, Gareth Southgate has been quite inventive in his approach to selecting his squad, opting to choose young and in form players over big name power and experience. Southgate left out mainstay goalkeeper Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere among others, and went with youngsters including Trent Alexander Arnold and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. He has been given credit for this, for being bold, but he still has his sceptics.
It’s safe to say Southgate is going to play a back five, with two wing backs and three centre backs, so im going to base my selection around the formation of 5-2-3.
Jack Butland – Former number one Joe Hart had predominantly been featuring for a Manchester City team that were not conceding too many shots in games. So when it came around to tournament time, Hart was suddenly exposed to a barrage of efforts (more than he was used to), and often he became overwhelmed. Butland on the other hand, has spent his entire season attempting to stop Stoke from getting relegated. He has been faced with the challenge of sometimes single-handedly trying to save the Potters in matches, often coming to their rescue and has been credited with multiple man of the match performances in those efforts. Other choice Jordan Pickford has had an indifferent season, drifting in and out of form. He has certainly showed glimpses of a fantastic keeper, but his inconsistency, and the frailties he has shown of late makes Butland the best candidate to start for me. As for Nick Pope, he will relish the opportunity should it come after a breakthrough season with Burnley, but for me he is just behind the other two in terms of ability.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – The phrase ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ comes to mind when talking about Liverpool’s home grown right back. A lot of critics have said that this year’s surprise pick isn’t proven yet, or that the tournament has come too soon. But this year, TAA has played a pivotal role in Liverpool’s stunning Champions League run. He thrived along with his teammates in the group stage/knockout format of that competition, which fits the World Cup mould perfectly. He showed accomplished performances against tough opponents like Manchester City and Roma, and could yet become one of the youngest Champions League winners in history. Plus, fans are always calling for England to take a risk and give a youngster a go, so what better player to apply this too than Alexander Arnold? At wing back, he has the speed and energy to bomb up and down the right flank and his crossing ability is one of the best in the squad. Kieran Trippier provides a more than solid back up option to choose from, and players like Ashley Young, and my next first choice defender, can also fill in there if needed as well, making right back a strong position depth wise in this squad.
Kyle Walker – Probably England’s strongest defender, Kyle Walker has really become an established winner over the last 12 months. He was part of Manchester City’s incredible title winning team following his move from Tottenham, and is an integral part of England’s back line. Playing him as part of a back three, out of his natural position at first seemed outlandish, but on reflection it does make some sense. When we come up against teams like Tunisia and Panama, who we will dominate in possession and press high up against, we will certainly be vulnerable to counter attacks. Having a centre back with the pace that Walker possesses is invaluable, and could be a key to stopping any possible threat on the counter. As well as that, because he is naturally a right back, his adaptability makes him an crucial member of the first team squad.
John Stones – Groomed this season under Pep Guardiola, England’s only play-making defender will have some freedom to roam with the ball this summer. He still has a little way to go, but Stones has certainly come leaps and bounds over the past year or so, and alongside Jones and Walker makes up a fairly sturdy back three.
Phil Jones – A Southgate favourite, Jones is used to playing in a back three with Manchester United. His no nonsense style of defending is a vital asset, and his lack of pace is complemented by his fellow centre halves. Not much more to say about Jones, he is a safe starter for me.
Danny Rose – In many ways, Rose can count himself quite lucky to have made the squad this year let alone the first team. A long term injury and a surge of form for Ben Davies ousted him from the Tottenham first team, and he has been nowhere near his usual self this season. However, he has always put in 100% for his country, barely put a foot wrong, and in a big game situation, should have the experience and enough ability in his natural position to make him a more viable option over Ashley Young.
Jordan Henderson – Henderson’s role in this team should simply be: to spray passes, open up play and roam the half way line attempting to feed the attackers. He has had a superb season at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield, and had circumstances been different, we could have been seeing a full Liverpool midfield of Henderson/Milner/Oxlade-Chamberlain. He is a key part of the team, an engine and potential captain. His leadership on the pitch will also be invaluable.
Eric Dier – Tottenham’s Eric Dier also has just one simple yet important role in this team: sit in front of the back four, protect the defence, and break up the play. Dier needs to be the man to do the dirty work, and cannot leave this role often, or risk exposing gaps in front of the centre backs. Especially against Belgium, or teams we may meet who pose a strong attacking threat, Dier will need to remain disciplined and strong, because on his day he can show real leadership qualities. But on bad days, he can be lost in the shuffle and made to look like a schoolboy. It’s time for him to stand up and be that leader.
Jesse Lingard – With TAA and Danny Rose used as wing backs, Lingard won’t have to particularly stick to the touchline and can drift between the left and right of attack. Another Southgate favourite, he fits the mould of the formation better than Dele Alli can because of his versatility. Despite what most Manchester United fans will say, Lingard did have a good season, and is a very exciting player on his day. He, Alli and maybe Rashford could interchange, but I foresee Lingard getting the nod.
Raheem Sterling – One of England’s most in form players over the course of the season, Sterling has come into his own. 18 goals and 11 assists from the wing, England’s third highest top scorer, he will certainly be one of our biggest attacking threats this summer. He will also want to write the wrong of his near dismal 2016 European Championship campaign, and prove he can compete on the grand stage with the best in the world. There is no reason judging by his last 8-9 months that he can’t. He can also interchange with Lingard, Alli, and Rashford and swap wings comfortably if needed.
Harry Kane – Well, what’s left to say about Harry Kane? I’d go as far as to say he is probably the first person on 99% of England fans team sheet. When fit and firing, he is one of the deadliest strikers on the planet, and any hopes of progressing far this year might rest on his shoulders. A disappointing Euros in 2016 gave him a few critics, but no one can deny what he brings. A fear factor, something players like Gerrard, Lampard, and Rooney used to do, and he is widely regarded as England’s only real world class player. Could also be captain if needed.
Now the first team is done, what options do we have if we need to switch things up? Here are the other key squad players we could call upon to make a difference in Russia.
The Back Up
Jamie Vardy – In any other squad, he would probably start, but with Harry Kane and the formation we will be using, he works perfectly off the bench. When we need to hit a long ball over the top of a defence onto a running striker, who better to choose than the Leicester City hitman? His fresh legs can stretch a defence, and he can work well with Kane, giving a ‘big, strong, small, fast’ striker dynamic.
Dele Alli – Like Vardy, would probably start in most teams, but the formation means it probably suits Lingard and Sterling better. However, his rawness and natural flair gives him something that none of the others have. He is not fazed by the big occasion and this tournament could be his if he plays to the highest we know he can.
Marcus Rashford – Similar to Vardy, his fresh legs can be painful to slower defenders, and like Alli, his skilfulness can strike fear into the opposition. Great option, despite what a certain Mr Mourinho says.
Jordan Pickford – I put Pickford here simply because in years of old, when Joe Hart couldn’t play, we were screwed. Now however, if Butland can’t play, we have two solid backups in Pickford, and even Nick Pope.
Fabian Delph – I’ve included Delph because of his versatility. This is a key aspect of a tournament squad and I’ve stressed it many times over this article, but he can fill in pretty much anywhere if needed. Same can apply to Ashley Young.
Quite honestly the other players in the team (Young, Loftus-Cheek, Maguire, Cahill, Pope, Welbeck, and Trippier) are there to make up the numbers really, although Trippier could feature if TAA isn’t trusted.
Here are some players that could feel aggrieved they wasn’t included:
Adam Lallana – I mean, he is part of the standby team, but he has made one start all season, and we saw what taking an unfit, rusty player can do when we took Jack Wilshere in 2016. If fit, he’d 100% be included, but in truth, the tournament has simply come too quickly after injury.
Jonjo Shelvey – This was my wildcard pick, because of his forward thinking mentality. He always looks up and has the natural gift of being able to spot a pass from miles away that no one else saw. He has the ability to change a games dynamic and England really could have used his passing to their advantage hugely.
Andy Carroll – Okay here me out. Picture this: We’re playing Tunisia, and it’s just not happening for us. Their defence has stayed strong and compact. Kane’s up top, Vardy and Rashford have come on and we still haven’t broken through their tough back line. Southgate looks to the bench, and there he is. When ground based football isn’t working, chuck on the big man up front and suddenly we have a new outlet. Tunisia haven’t got a clue how to defend our sudden long balls that they hadn’t planned for! Carroll adds that difference. Welbeck, Rashford, Vardy, it’s all quite samey. Carroll is that wildcard, the plan B, the means the switch up out style if needed. While he may not ever get on the pitch, the option to have him there means we have the chance to switch it if the match calls for it.