It’s just over two weeks until the World Cup kicks off in Russia, and slowly but surely the hype around the England camp is growing. With a young squad and relatively inexperienced manager at the helm the optimism surrounding England isn’t quite at the levels we have seen in the past, but a couple of promising performances in the two warm-up friendlies would almost certainly see the pressure on the Three Lions grow enormously.
With heavyweights such as Germany, Spain, France, and Brazil all boasting incredibly strong squads even the most optimistic of fans won’t be expecting a repeat of 1966, but many will be hoping for them to break the quarter final curse that has plagued the last few decades. England haven’t made the semi-finals of a major international tournament since Euro 1996, and the last time they made that stage in the World Cup was in 1990.
Can the current crop of players be the ones to end that streak?
Read More: England’s World Cup Timeline in Russia
England’s Potential Starting Lineup:
Formation: England have played their fair share of prestigious friendlies since World Cup qualifying ended, facing off against Germany, Brazil, Netherlands, and Italy. Clearly Gareth Southgate is focusing on building his team up for the difficult World Cup matches, and playing three central defenders seems to be key to his gameplan.
Each of the last five England games have been built on a base of three central defenders. Moving further up the field, the England squad selection seems rather lacking in the deeper central midfield role, suggesting that he’s planning on utilising two central midfielders instead of three. Indeed, whenever Harry Kane is available Southgate tends to put him in a lone striker role, backed up by two more advanced attackers that can drift wide.
The absence of Joe Hart caused some stir in the media, but after such an horrendous couple of seasons for Torino and West Ham it’s really no surprise that he wasn’t selected. This leaves England with three rather inexperienced goalkeepers, and Jordan Pickford looks the most likely to take the starting berth. Jack Butland is more experienced internationally, but while it certainly wasn’t a fault of his own his relegation with Stoke is bound to have affected him. Pickford earned a big move to Everton last season and has adapted well at Goodison Park, and looks set to claim the number one shirt ahead of Butland and the uncapped Nick Pope.
Righ Centre Back: Kyle Walker
With five recognised full backs in England’s 23 man squad, it seems clear where Southgate’s intentions lie. The last two friendlies have seen Kyle Walker operating as the right sided centre back, and with so many full backs included it seems like this will be his favoured position in Russia. He has the speed and strength to perform in that role, and his ability on the ball will be a huge positive as England look to play out from the back.
Centre Back: John Stones
Stones has been the one almost omnipresent figure in Southgate’s England back line. He has started in every game since England switched to a back three, and after a season of huge improvement under Pep Guardiola it’s easy to see why. Stones has been lauded for his ability on the ball, but the past year has seen his defensive ability increase hugely and he has certainly become less of a liability. He looks certain to claim that central role in the back three.
Left Centre Back: Harry Maguire
He travels to Russia with just four international caps to his name, but we’re expecting Maguire to be a key figure in England’s back line. He made the move to Leicester last summer and established himself as a constant presence on the Foxes team, performing well enough to earn a call up from Southgate. He made his debut against Lithuania back in October as England switched to three at the back. He has started in three of these five games, and on the two occasions he didn’t start he was replaced by Joe Gomez and James Tarkowski. Neither of these are travelling to Russia.
Right Wing Back: Kieran Trippier
With Kyle Walker occupying the centre back role, that leaves England with two right sided wing backs to choose from – Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold. The 19 year old Liverpool breakout star has undoubtedly impressed, but he is still uncapped at international level and isn’t likely to be pushing for this starting role. Trippier, meanwhile, has stepped up to the plate at Spurs after Walker’s departure last summer, and with Southgate starting him in four of the last five England matches he looks set to be a key figure for England.
Left Wing Back: Danny Rose
Rose spent the first portions of the season sidelined for Spurs, but following his recovery he quickly returned to the starting lineup for both club and country. The fact that both him and Trippier have spent the entire season marauding forward to try and tee up Harry Kane is undoubtedly a bonus too, and we expect him to lay claim to the starting role ahead of the likes of Fabian Delph and Ashley Young.
Central Midfielder: Eric Dier
Dier’s ability to play in a number of positions undoubtedly factored into Southgate’s squad selection for the World Cup, but it’s his ability in his preferred position that will have had the largest influence. Dier has been a key figure in Mauricio Pocchettino’s Spurs side in recent years, and since 2016 he’s been a regular in the white of England too. Operating in a defensive midfield role, he will provide cover for the wing-backs and break up play to give more protection to the central defenders. He has featured in four of England’s last five matches, always in a defensive midfield role.
Central Midfielder: Jordan Henderson
The Liverpool captain may still be reeling from their Champions League Final defeat, but Henderson will undoubtedly play a big role in Russia. He’s likely to operate alongside Dier, but in more of a deep lying playmaker sort of role. He’s perfectly capable of breaking up play in the centre of the park, but his main task will be to act as the go-between for the defence and the more advanced players. He has done that very well at Liverpool all season.
Right Attacking Midfielder: Raheem Sterling
England’s attacking setup is built around Harry Kane when he plays, for very obvious reasons. Southgate tends to prefer playing Kane in the lone striker role, and reinforcing him with two more attack minded players a bit deeper. Raheem Sterling will be one of these after his incredible season at Manchester City, where he scored 23 goals in all competitions. He is expected to operate as the right sided one of these attacking midfielders, where he’s able to drift out to the flanks and provide a bit of added width when necessary.
Left Attacking Midfielder: Dele Alli
Whenever Kane plays for England, Dele Alli isn’t far behind him. You can certainly see why too – Alli is young, talented, passionate and has a great eye for goal. Not only that, but he’s been linking up with Kane for the last three seasons at Spurs with great effect. The two know each other well on the football pitch, so he’s an obvious choice as a number ten if you’re trying to get the most out of the star striker of the Three Lions.
Striker: Harry Kane
As if it wasn’t obvious enough who England’s main striker would be this summer, Southgate made it even clearer by handing the 24 year old Spurs man the captain’s armband. The manager has made it his goal to get the most out of England’s most talented goalscorer since taking over, and he’s finally getting there. England have scored 12 goals in the six games that Kane has started under Southgate, but only scored 11 goals in the ten games where Kane hasn’t. Kane himself has seven goals from those six starts, compared to the two goals in his last ten starts under Roy Hodgson. He is always utilised as a lone striker, so it’s looking like Jamie Vardy will have to make do with a spot on the bench for the most part.
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