VITAL EXPERIENCE: Ashley Young
THE DOMESTIC season has concluded and now the attention turns to next month’s World Cup in Russia. In a World Cup year, the England squad is the most eagerly anticipated list of 23 names in the country.
Assuming Gareth Southgate uses a back three as he has done in England’s last five matches, who should be on the plane to Russia? We look at the players in contention to represent the Three Lions…
One of the biggest dilemmas facing Southgate is in goal, as Joe Hart’s plummeting stock threatens his place, with no shortage of suitors.
Jordan Pickford, (Everton) and Jack Butland (Stoke City) have already leapfrogged Hart, and if Southgate follows through on his promise of picking on form rather than reputation then Nick Pope (Burnley) should be on the plane instead of Hart.
Pope has kept 11 clean sheets this season, the most of any English goalkeeper in the Premier League, seven more than Hart has managed at West Ham.
In defence, John Stones (Manchester City) has been first choice centre-back under Southgate, and despite a lack of game time should still be in the first 11.
Stones’ team-mate Kyle Walker (Manchester City) made two impressive appearances as part of a back three in recent friendlies, and Phil Jones (Manchester United) has been solid across the other side of Manchester and should make the squad if fit.
Injury means Joe Gomez will miss out, meaning Harry Maguire (Leicester) will likely hold onto his spot in the squad and the manager’s plans.
If Southgate is going to take another centre-back, there are several candidates, Chris Smalling (Manchester United) has been a regular in a defence that was second best behind runaway champions City.
Smalling has not been selected for England in recent months, due to Southgate’s preference for ball playing centre-backs, but would be a dependable player to have in reserve.
With Walker playing in a back three, Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur) has stepped up and made the right wing-back position his own.
Left wing-back is trickier to select, as Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur) has had a poor season and fallen down the pecking order at Spurs, but others in that position have also struggled.
Ashley Young (Manchester United) could therefore start as first choice in the position after a good season at Old Trafford and is the oldest in this squad, turning 33 before the semi-finals.
After Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final, several of their players will make the plane, and Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) has been a crucial part of the success of that team.
At just 19 he would be the youngest member of the squad, but his performances would justify his selection, as he has nailed down the right back slot at Anfield.
The England midfield is regarded as being considerably weaker than in previous years, but Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur) can often produce something special when needed, while Jesse Lingard (Manchester United) has had an excellent season and impressed for England against Italy and the Netherlands.
Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) and Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur) will be expected to fight it out for the role at the base of midfield, but injury for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain means there are several spots up for grabs.
A key test for Southgate could be convincing the retired James Milner (Liverpool) back into international duty.
Milner has been pivotal in recent months for Liverpool and has the ability to play in three or four positions, as well as providing experience to what will be a young squad.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Crystal Palace, loan from Chelsea) performed well as he made his England debut last year against Germany, and would add a different dimension to midfield, with the ability to drive forward from the middle of the park, as well as providing a physical presence.
Finally, a ball playing midfielder can prove the difference in many games and Jonjo Shelvey (Newcastle) has shown he can unlock an opposition defence on numerous occasions this season.
If the midfield is considered weak, then England’s attack is in considerably ruder health, with Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur) surely the first name on the team sheet, given his imperious goal scoring form over the last three years.
GOAL KING: Harry Kane
Alongside Kane, Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) has had an excellent season, scoring 18 top flight goals and setting up plenty more. His movement and turn of speed making him a real handful for opposition defenders.
Another jet-heeled attacking option for England is Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), whose pace and ability to take on his man means he will likely get plenty of chances to torment defences in Russia.
England’s ranks forwards should be completed by Jamie Vardy (Leicester), whose knack for getting in behind could prove decisive in tight matches.
Despite a weak midfield, the rest of the squad for this year’s World Cup is stocked with talented players, particularly in attacking positions which could make for an exciting World Cup for England.
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