As you all know, the World Cup fiesta is only a matter of a couple of months, with the recent friendlies giving us a taste of what to expect in June.
Below is my personal analysis of England’s possible 23-man squad in Russia this summer, which starting XI should Gareth Southgate pick and why.
Original parts of this content can also be found in this thread.
As always, I’m open to all discussions and debates; feedback is also much appreciated.
There is a huge debate here, although I think it is important to first of all analyse the Three Lions’ system of play: England play a 3-4-3 formation with a possession-based style of football in order to carry out a proper positional play & create goalscoring chances.
This type of football requires patience & precision in buildup as it is a very complex yet organized playing style. The main goal of positional play is to constantly create a series of advantages: numerical (overloads), positional and qualitative (1v1) superiority across the pitch, as well as utilizing an aggressive approach off-the-ball with a high press and counterpressing system.
Starting from the defensive third, it is possible to spread such advantages all over the pitch & into the final third with a ‘domino effect’, afterwards create dangerous chances: therefore, the goalkeeper plays a key part in the team’s buildup during the possession phase.
His distribution is key not only to maintain possession under pressure, but also to exploit spaces between the opponent’s defensive lines – and quickly utilize them. Composure on the ball and shot-stopping abilities – which include sweeping in behind a high line – are demanded.
England have 4 possible options in goal right now: Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland, Joe Hart & Nick Pope.
Jordan has the best distribution among the quartet and is also very good in goal, therefore is best suited for the job. Joe is the most experienced, but quite error-prone & has lacked game time at West Ham.
Jack has been solid for Stoke this season, but is behind Pickford in terms of distribution. Nick has been a fine surprise in the league this year, but Burnley’s direct style of football and lack of experience don’t quite favour him under Southgate though.
John Stones & Kyle Walker are surely going to start in Russia this summer, and recent tactical tinkering by Southgate has seen the latter play – convincingly – as a right centre-back: a role he could maintain this summer. What is still uncertain is who will play as a left centre-back.
Harry Maguire and Joe Gomez are likely to battle it out as I expect Eric Dier to play as a central midfielder. The former is comfortable with this system while the latter is tactically flexible – something Southgate really appreciates. I guess form will play a key part in his final choice.
Question marks come from the veterans: Phil Jones is injury-prone, Gary Cahill is no longer a regular at Chelsea while Chris Smalling has been labelled ‘not good enough’ on the ball. Defensive wildcards are James Tarkowski (who looked shaky on his debut vs Italy) and Alfie Mawson, but I don’t see any of these two in Russia right now.
Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose are likely to start as wing-backs, although Ashley Young is closing down on the latter. Ryan Bertrand is a solid choice and could be experimented in a back three if needed.
This is another big area for debate: Dier & Jordan Henderson are defensively solid, but don’t offer much threat going forward, especially if paired together. England’s midfield lacks creativity in possession and Jack Wilshere’s injury woes are a big concern in this sense. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been in form for Liverpool this season, but is also a very risky gamble if put in that position at an international tournament.
Jesse Lingard’s current form puts him ahead of Dele Alli in the race for a No10 role.
Raheem Sterling should – and will – start: he’s been excellent all season & also developed well under Pep Guardiola in terms of tactical awareness, as we all saw in Tuesday’s performance vs Italy.
Adam Lallana could play a key part if fit, while youngster Lewis Cook might surpass Ruben Loftus-Cheek and James Ward-Prowse should he end the season on a high.
Jake Livermore is out of favour – partly due to West Bromwich’s terrible season – and Danny Drinkwater lacks game time at Chelsea.
I expect Dier to start in midfield, while his partner is a conundrum at the moment (I personally have a solution for this though as I will explain later on).
It’s clear to all that Harry Kane will lead the line & is expected to solve England’s underachievement in front of goal lately – his fitness is a big concern but I do expect him to recover in time. He surely has a difficult task ahead, but has already shown that he can prove himself in big stages (for ex. the Champions League this season).
Marcus Rashford is definitely on the plane to Russia, although I think he would be much more useful with a partner upfront rather than as a lone striker, especially for his off-the-shoulder runs rather than his linkup play. Jamie Vardy’s pace also offers a good plan B, which is a more counterattacking approach.
Below is the 23-man squad I expect to make the final cut.
Pickford, Butland, Hart.
Stones, Walker, Trippier, Rose, Bertrand, Maguire, Gomez.
Dier, Alli, Henderson, Lingard, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Young, Lallana, Wilshere, Cook.
Kane, Sterling, Rashford, Vardy.
Below instead is who I would start if I were Southgate:
There are three reasons why I chose this XI:
a) it can easily swap into a 4-4-2;
b) the backbone is made up of players who are used to the system & style of play, but also play together in their various clubs (mainly Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City), which means they’ll need very little time to adapt: this the biggest problem when building a team with a strong tactical identity;
c) I’d personally try Dele in his former role: he’s not as creative as Wilshere, but his ability to make attacking runs from deeper position, as well as his flair when driving forward with the ball make him an excellent box-to-box option alongside a more disciplined player like Dier.
These are my personal views on the issue: if England are able to improve their attacking play & maintain tactical discipline, I believe that the quarter finals could be a realistic goal.
Who would you call up/start and why?
Let me know with a comment below.