The deliberations are done, some difficult phone calls have been made and now we know the make up of England’s World Cup 2018 squad for Russia 2018. 23 men have been given the task of ending 52 years of hurt and to bring the trophy home but has Gareth Southgate made the right decisions?
For many, there are some surprises in the squad but it reflects the manager’s ethos since he took over from Sam Allardyce. Youth and form has been taken into account while experience has been overlooked for those who simply aren’t on top of their game right now.
At the Back
Southgate’s first tournament squad can be summed up just by looking at the three goalkeepers. Joe Hart was left out and rightly so because, while he is England’s most experienced stopper by far with 75 caps, he is horribly out of form and isn’t even first choice for his loan side West Ham United.
With Hart gone, the three keepers travelling to Russia have less than nine caps between them. Presumably, Burnley’s uncapped Nick Pope is there for experience so the role comes down to a straight fight between Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford.
In defence, there is a greater blend of youth and experience and this section includes England’s most capped player Gary Cahill. Presumably the Chelsea man will line up in the heart of defence with possibly Phil Jones or John Stones lining up alongside him.
Kyle Walker enjoyed a successful first season with Manchester City and is seen as England’s first choice right back and while some were surprised to see his teammate Fabian Delph included, City fans are quick to point out that he has enjoyed an excellent campaign with the league champions.
Tottenham’s Danny Rose may take his place on the opposite left flank providing he stays fully fit after a season dogged by injuries but there could be competition from Manchester United’s Ashley Young if Southgate opts for a more attacking wing-back option.
The other defenders on the plane to Russia are Harry Maguire, Kieran Trippier and Liverpool’s uncapped Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Middle of the Park
Only five players have been officially listed as ‘midfielders’ so that could give us a clue to Southgate’s final formation with many suggesting that he will start with a 3-5-1-1 or a 5-3-2 formation. There was mixed opinion over the decision to leave Jack Wilshere at home while Adam Lallana has been placed on standby after his late bid to prove fitness following a long injury lay off.
That leaves Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard and Ruben Loftus-Cheek battling it out for the slots in the middle of the park although it can be assumed that Raheem Sterling who is grouped with the forwards, will move out to the flanks or drop behind the front men.
It wasn’t the best of seasons for Dele Alli at Tottenham but he did finish the campaign strongly, so it could be assumed that he, along with the experienced Jordan Henderson, will be the first names inked in to Southgate’s starting XI.
Harry Kane to start up front is the biggest certainty within this entire squad – providing that the Spurs striker stays fit in the lead up to Russia 2018. The main question is whether Kane will line up alongside a strike partner or whether Southgate keeps his remaining out-and-out attackers on the bench.
Jamie Vardy is the most likely option in a two-man attack and the Leicester man shared four goals with Harry Kane in his side’s extraordinary 5-4 defeat to Spurs on the last day of the Premier League season. Manchester United fans would argue the case for Marcus Rashford and while some were surprised to see a call up for Danny Welbeck, the Arsenal man is England’s leading scorer in the squad with 15 full international goals.
Those that have followed England since Gareth Southgate took over will not be surprised by some of the choices made here. As a man who has, himself, worked his way through the FA ranks as a manager, he’s not afraid to promote youth and to focus on form rather than reputation.
Much could depend on the form of Harry Kane who was disappointing in his first major tournament at Euro 2016. If England are to rely so heavily on the Spurs man by playing him as a lone striker then he needs to bring his club form into the international arena at Russia 2018. For much of his time as a senior England player he has managed to do that but he cannot draw more blanks if the side is to go deep into the tournament.
As we’ve seen as we’ve worked through the squad list, a simple 4-4-2 is unlikely given the way that the manager has set up his teams in the past and considering that a number of players, including Sterling, Dier and Trippier, can be very flexible in terms of the roles that they play.
A 3-5-1-1 is far more likely with wing backs being deployed to support the teams down the flanks and to supply the lone striker. We’ve mentioned some likely starters and we feel ourselves that there are no question marks over Walker, Cahill, Alli, Henderson, Sterling and Kane, leaving six berths to fight for.
Many are suggesting that Jordan Pickford will start in goal but for us, Jack Butland gets the nod with marginally more experience and an impressive season behind a weak Stoke City defence. Kieran Trippier is better suited to an attacking role down the right flank while Ashley Young could edge ahead of Danny Rose on the opposite side.
We’re not confident with the centre backs but John Stones has been less error-prone than Phil Jones so we would like to see the Manchester City man partner Cahill and Walker across the back. In midfield, Henderson and Alli are central with Sterling out wide while Lingard in behind Kane offers a nice attacking look to a team that should be picking off Tunisia and Panama in the early group games.
Our England Starting XI
Butland, Walker, Stones, Cahill, Trippier, Young, Henderson, Alli, Sterling, Lingard, Kane.