The 2018 FIFA World Cup is nearly upon us, and most national team head coaches are releasing their final 23 man squads for the tournament. Among those coaches is England’s Gareth Southgate.
Southgate has been at the helm of the Three Lions for nearly two years. He took over for Sam Allardyce, following his untimely sacking, and is embarking on his first major tournament for his country.
Southgate’s squad is a good blend of youth and experience, and while there are some eyebrow-raising selections and omissions, for the most part, his England team looks about as good as it could get. Here’s a look at the team.
- Jack Butland (Stoke City)
- Jordan Pickford (Everton)
- Nick Pope (Burnley)
- Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
- Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Fabian Delph (Manchester City)
- Phil Jones (Manchester United)
- Harry Maguire (Leicester City)
- Danny Rose (Tottenham)
- John Stones (Manchester City)
- Kieran Trippier (Tottenham)
- Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
- Ashley Young (Manchester United)
- Dele Alli (Tottenham)
- Eric Dier (Tottenham)
- Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
- Jesse Lingard (Manchester United)
- Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Crystal Pallace)
- Harry Kane (Tottenham, Team Captain)
- Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
- Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
- Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
- Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)
Who Will Start?
In recent friendlies, Southgate has opted to go with a 3-4-1-2 formation, with three center backs, two wing-backs, two central midfielders, one attacking midfielder, and two strikers. While there are several options for Southgate in terms of personnel, it is safe to assume five of his eleven starters: Kyle Walker, John Stones, Eric Dier, Raheem Sterling, and Harry Kane.
Jordan Pickford is likely going to win the starting keeper job over Jack Butland. Stones will likely play as the middle center back, flanked by Walker on the right and Leicester’s Harry Maguire on the left. Maguire is in good form at the moment—despite Phil Jones’ solid season, he has been struggling of late. Gary Cahill has experience, but will have to win the job in the buildup to the tournament, due to his lack of game time with Chelsea.
Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier are safe bets to be wing backs if Southgate uses the three-back formation, although Ashley Young could replace either of them. Dier will likely be joined by Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson in the center of the park.
The front three will be Kane, Sterling, and either Dele Alli or Jamie Vardy. If Vardy is selected, Sterling will have a free role in behind both strikers. If Alli is selected, he will have said free role, while Sterling will join Kane up front.
Expect whoever doesn’t start out of Vardy and Alli to feature as a substitute, along with Lingard or Rashford as a forward, and maybe Ruben Lotfus-Cheek in the center of the park.
Maguire, Stones, Walker;
Rose, Henderson, Dier, Trippier
Sterling, Kane (C)
Youth is a big talking point for this team. Only three players (Young, Cahill, and Vardy) are over thirty. The core players of the team are perfectly aged—Kane is 24, Sterling is 23, Alli is 22, Rashford is 20, Lingard is 25, Dier is 24, and Walker is 28. That figures to be England’s core for the foreseeable future, and they could bring a free-flowing, swashbuckling approach to the tournament.
Midfield creativity. One of the biggest talking points of Southgate’s squad announcement, which we will address shortly, was the omission of Adam Lallana, Jonjo Shelvey, and Jack Wilshere. Looking at the five midfielders currently on the squad, none of them are necessarily primary playmakers who can pick a pass from deep or slide a perfect through ball past a defense. Alli defers to Christian Eriksen at Spurs; Lingard to Paul Pogba at United; Loftus-Cheek, Henderson, and Dier are more defensive minded players. England may lack someone who can take charge creatively if the team begins to stagnate.
As mentioned previously, Wilshere, Lallana, and Shelvey could have played a part for England in terms of creativity. Wilshere, however, is injury prone. Lallana has been hurt for a while, and while he featured in the Champions League Final, he isn’t at full fitness—he would likely be starting if he was. Shelvey has an erratic personality, but you cannot deny his ability to pick a pass.
Other snubs include Burnley’s James Tarkowski and Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand, both of whom could have potentially started at the back. Joe Hart could have been taken as a third keeper, potentially to mentor Pickford and Butland, but Southgate opted to give Pope the experience, as well as reward him—the Burnley keeper was significantly better than Hart in the Premier League this season.
England have underperformed greatly at their last two major tournaments. Whether that is due to tactical naivete from departed manager Roy Hodgson, or over-reliance on the old guard of Rooney/Lampard/Gerrard, Southgate’s team has a new, exciting feel to it.
However, it is realistic to expect that this will be a transitional tournament for England, who will give their young players a good experience as they gear to be more competitive in 2022, when Kane, Sterling, Alli, and Rashford are ideally reaching their career peaks.
England should advance from a fairly weak group, finishing either first or second (behind Belgium). A Round of 16 victory isn’t out of the question either, as England are good enough to best Japan, Senegal, Colombia, or Poland. However, that would most likely set up a quarterfinal date with either Brazil or Germany, which would almost certainly end their tournament. The quarters, however, is a realistic goal for this team.