The World Cup is officially here and the general consensus from England fans, press and pundits alike has been fairly positive. There appears a genuine optimism that this team could go deep into the tournament.
England manager, Southgate, has been experimenting with his team and intelligently using friendlies to figure out both his best XI and potential alternatives, which he could pull from his sleeve, should Plan A fail.
“I believe this is a squad which we can be excited about. We have a lot of energy and athleticism in the team, but players that are equally comfortable in possession of the ball and I think people can see the style of play we’ve been looking to develop.” Gareth Southgate
Goalkeeper: Jordan Pickford
Southgate has been clever by not announcing his No.1 too early, and why should he, he hasn’t promised a starting position (publicly) to anyone else in the team, so why should the goalkeeper be unique? However, Pickford appears to have established himself as Southgate’s No.1, due to his impressive maturity, wonderful reflexes and ability to play the ball out from the back with his feet.
The Everton stopper is very inexperienced and has only played three times for England, yet Pickford only conceded once in that time.
Back him to secure a vital clean sheet in England’s opener against Tunisia: 2/3
Right-Wing Back: Kieran Trippier
Kyle Walker has been a stalwart in this position for some time, however Southgate’s recent decision to move Walker to the centre of defence in March meant Trippier deservedly became Southgate’s first choice. The Spurs man has thrived under the guidance of Pochettino and has emerged from Walker’s shadow as a complete full back.
Trippier is fantastic going forward and his delivery quality is a real asset, especially at set-pieces.
“His quality on the ball is outstanding. There were two set-plays, the one just before the goal – a free-kick bang on the money – then the corner for Gary.” Gareth Southgate speaking after the friendly against Nigeria.
Right-Centre Back: Kyle Walker
In the past year, this is a player who under Pep Guardiola has evolved from a good wing-back into one of the world’s best in his position. That may be the case but Walker will not be playing in his preferred role this tournament.
“The position I am playing now for my country, at right centre-half, could I have played it two years ago? Probably not. It was comfortable for me because of the work I have done at Manchester City. My game has developed tremendously under Guardiola.” Kyle Walker
Walker’s attacking attributes are widely known but it’s his defensive ability that has improved at Man City, which has been highlighted by the England Manager moving him into a central back three. Walker could be an integral player for England in their World Cup campaign and his pace could provide essential cover should one of his defensive partners make a mistake.
“I’m a team player. I will do anything for the team. If the gaffer thinks the best way for me to help the team out is to play there, I am all for it.” Kyle Walker
Centre-Back: John Stones
Let’s face it, there’s no Terry or Ferdinand within England’s current selection pool and although Stones is susceptible to the odd mistake or concentration lapse, he is the future of English defending and so must play to gain vital tournament experience.
Gareth Southgate’s rearguard has often been labelled England’s weakness, however they have only conceded three goals in ten games, including clean sheets against both Brazil and Germany
“The amount of top teams that we’ve stopped from scoring speaks for itself.” John Stones
Back England to beat Tunisia 1-0, 2-0, 3-0: 10/17
Left Centre Back: Gary Cahill
The veteran defender has forced his way back, not only into the 23-man squad but also into a potential starting position. If anyone resembles the no-nonsense playing style of England legend, John Terry, it’s Gary Cahill, which in the day of elegant defending, may be exactly what England require. What’s more, he is well versed within a back three system, having played it for two years under Conte at Chelsea.
“We get more width in the game and can push players on. Depending on the state of the game it can be a three or a five.” Gary Cahill on England’s defensive setup
Cahill may also be prone to the odd defensive lapse but he possesses vital major tournament experience and also offers a genuine aerial threat during offensive set-pieces – We saw this through his impressive header against Nigeria.
Left-Wing Back: Danny Rose
It’s been a frustrating season for Danny Rose, who only managed 10 Premier League appearances for Spurs due to injury, which resulted in him losing a firm grip on England’s left back role. Ashley Young’s impressive domestic form will have also been a thorn in the side of Rose, and there is a genuine case for the Man Utd wing back to start.
However, Rose is a player of the highest quality, and what’s more he is left-footed, which certainly benefits fast-flowing attacking play coming in off the flanks. We all know Young needs to cut in onto his right foot to offer a quality delivery.
CDM: Jordan Henderson
There is no doubt Eric Dier has been Mr. Reliable for both Spurs and England and a permanent fixture within both sides in recent years. However, if the rumours are true Southgate only playing one ‘pivot player,’ then Jordan Henderson would be our man.
Henderson’s performances for Liverpool this season have been of the highest order and his prominent role within Liverpool’s Champions League campaign should by no means be overlooked. The Liverpool skipper’s presence may just take the pressure off Harry Kane, so he can focus on doing what he does best.
“He’s quicker than Dier, he gets about more, he gets his foot in. Dier gets his foot in but Henderson has that pace to recover. Dier’s recovery runs aren’t as good as Henderson’s. Maybe you could argue Dier’s a better passer or can drop in as a centre-half but I just think against a good side or quick side, you’d want a central midfielder sitting who’s got legs.” Danny Murphy speaking to ESPN
Alli or Lingard? It’s a topic that has been debated since the closing stages of the domestic season due to Alli suffering a slight dip in form whilst Lingard enjoyed a purple patch. At one point it looked as though ‘J Lingz’ would be in with a real chance of starting.
However, such is the quality of both players, it seems as though Southgate will in fact opt for both of them in his midfield, likely at the expense of Eric Dier.
Alli’s relationship with Kane cannot be underestimated, with the Spurs man knowing exactly the kind of runs to make in order to free up space for the England skipper. What’s more his ability to pick out a key pass is almost unrivalled in this England side, and his 17 assists last season back this up.
Back Alli to finish as the tournament’s top Assist Maker: 33/1
Gareth Southgate wants to play with one man holding and two going forward, and it is increasingly likely that one of those two will be Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard. It’s no secret that Southgate is a huge fan of Lingard and there was a sense of vindication when Southgate discussed Lingard’s progression – The Man Utd man was part of Southgates U21 side at the 2015 Euros.
14 Goals for Man Utd this season certainly hasn’t hurt the cause of Lingard, especially given the crucial moments of some of his strikes.
“If there has been a question mark of the past couple of years it was if he is going to convert his finishing from what we see in training into matches. This year he has done that so it is a really good moment for him.” Gareth Southgate
Fancy Jesse Lingard to finish the tournament as England’s leading scorer? Back him at 10/1
This guy has been labelled the man ‘England loves to hate.’ Rewind a few weeks and it appeared the British media had identified their scapegoat for England’s World Cup failings, however credit to both Southgate for defending his player and Sterling for remaining resolute. It appears Sterling has matured a great deal under Guardiola, both on and off the field, and he now looks like a real danger in the final third.
“I heard people suggesting Sterling might not play. He has to play for me.” Paul Merson
There’s still question marks surrounding his finishing but given his impressive goal tally last season (23), it’s safe to say Sterling knows where the back of the net is…He just needs to do it on a more regular basis for his country.
Raheem Sterling for England:
Back Sterling to prove his critics wrong and score first against Tunisia: 4/1
England Captain, Southgate’s first name on the team sheet and England’s one truly World Class player. When he burst onto the scene, the one-season-wonder labels were then followed by two, however soon after his class was appreciated by the masses and England fans knew they had a new talisman.
41 goals from the recent season could have been a much bigger talley if Kane had not suffered an injury setback but Southgate will be confident that Kane can step up to the big occasion.
Back Kane to win the World Cup Golden Boot: 16/1
So there you have it, our England Starting XI against Tunisia … Let us know your thoughts on our team!