It’s that time again. Last night, England played their final game before the selection of the 23-man World Cup squad, and Gareth Southgate has some important decisions to make ahead of the tournament, which starts in 78 days’ time.
Since qualifying for the World Cup in October 2017, the Three Lions have made some promising performances in some tough friendly matches, a run which gain three draws against Brazil, Germany and Italy, and the 1-0 win in Amsterdam against a seemingly-lacklustre Netherlands became a much more positive result after the Oranje put in an impressive performance to beat European champions Portugal 3-0 away from home.
Now, it is important not to get too ahead of ourselves, but the way in which England have performed since achieving qualification gives England fans a reason to be cheerful, and perhaps most dangerously, optimistic. With a new formation, a different style of manager and (finally!) some players that even the neutrals can call ‘world class’, here are our predictions as to who will make the plane to Russia.
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland, Joe Hart
Perhaps the easiest decision that Gareth Southgate has to make. Having held the position as England no.1 over the past three tournaments, it looks increasingly likely that Joe Hart will move the baton on to a different man for Russia 2018, as the on-loan West Ham ‘keeper was unused during both of the March friendlies against Holland and Italy. Southgate does, however, value Hart’s experience, and he will probably settle for the position of third-choice goalkeeper behind the in-form Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland.
As for who will take the number 1 jersey, it should realistically be Pickford. The Everton stopper has kept clean sheets in both of his England caps – against Germany and the Netherlands – whilst also showing his excellent distribution skills and, thus, his important contribution to England’s build-up play from the back. Butland will probably feel hard done by, especially considering he waited in the wings whilst Hart was first choice, but has not done enough, compared to Pickford, to warrant a place in the starting line-up.
Defenders: Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, James Tarkowski, Ryan Bertrand, Ashley Young
Southgate surprised many by opting to play Kyle Walker as a right-sided centre back in both of the March friendlies, but two assured performances by the Manchester City right-back has proven that this decision has paid off. Alongside Walker should be John Stones and Phil Jones, the latter having missed the recent friendlies due to injury. Meanwhile, Harry Maguire and James Tarkowski, who both made their England debuts during the 2017/18 campaign, have done enough for both club and country this season to be taken as back-up central defenders. Left out of the squad would be Chris Smalling, who is out of form at Manchester United, while Gary Cahill has been given many chances – and not taken them – for England in recent tournaments, and at the age of 32, has probably played his last game for the national team.
With the Three Lions opting to play three-at-the-back ahead of this summer’s tournament in Russia, the wing-backs are very easy to choose from. Kieran Trippier, having made some encouraging performances for Tottenham this season, should make the right-hand side position his own, while Ashley Young shown for both the Three Lions last night against Italy, and for Manchester United this season, that he is more than capable of playing as a left wing-back. Ryan Bertrand should be taken as cover, as while Danny Rose made two appearances in the most recent international break, the Spurs left-back has only made six Premier League appearances all season, so may be rusty by the time the World Cup comes along. Furthermore, the 3-5-2 system that Southgate has decided to play this summer, does not suit the playing style of Fabian Delph, despite a strong run of games this year for champions-elect Manchester City.
Midfielders: Eric Dier, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana
Over the last two England games, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has really come into his own at the heart of the midfield, with two energetic displays against the Dutch and the Italians. If he continues playing like this for Liverpool until the end of the season, the former-Arsenal man could end up being one of the first names on the team sheet for the first World Cup game against Panama. Out of all of the midfielders mentioned above, Eric Dier is the only defensively minded option so should also make the starting line-up, and both Dier and Chamberlain will compete for places with Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere, who should still be considered if he can continue his good form for Arsenal, despite being missing during the international break due to injury.
Further forward in the midfield, both Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli’s contributions in front of goal this season for Man United and Spurs respectively mean that their place on the plane is fairly secure, while Raheem Sterling is, alongside Harry Kane, one of England’s brightest talents that can be considered ‘world class’. Meanwhile, Adam Lallana is coming back into the international stage despite a horrific injury during pre-season for Liverpool, but considering the talent that is ahead of him in the pecking order, shouldn’t be expecting too much action in this summer’s tournament. The tournament will come too soon for Lewis Cook, who made his Three Lions debut on Tuesday night, while Jake Livermore should not be anywhere near that World Cup squad when considering his poor performances for West Bromwich Albion this season.
Strikers: Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Jamie Vardy, Danny Welbeck
With 35 goals in 39 games in all competitions for Spurs this season, Harry Kane probably has the safest spot on the plane, providing he can recover from injury in time. He will be expected to lead the line for England this summer, and could potentially captain the squad. Covering for Kane should be Marcus Rashford, who recently proved that he can produce big moments in big games with his brace for Manchester United against Liverpool. Jamie Vardy performed well against Italy on Tuesday night – getting on the scoresheet in the process – and an impressive 14 Premier League goals for Leicester City this season should earn him a ticket to Russia. Meanwhile, Danny Welbeck’s England record – 15 goals in 37 games – means that he has more goals to his name than anyone in that Three Lions squad, and that record, plus his recent return to the Arsenal side should allow him to take the final striker spot for the national team. The injury-proneness of Daniel Sturridge and the inconsistencies of Tammy Abraham and Jermain Defoe mean that all three will be watching the World Cup from their sofas.
What do you think? Is there anyone we have missed who deserves to go to Russia? Or is there anyone in our list that has not done enough? Let us know in the comments….