The World Cup is 30 days away and England manager Gareth Southgate will announce a provisional 35 man squad tomorrow. Broadsport gives their take on who Southgate should take.
As with most international tournaments, since David Seaman retired, England do not have a standout number one keeper. Joe Hart seemed to have made the spot his own a few years ago, but his career has derailed since Euro 2016.
He was arguably at fault for one of Iceland’s goals in that humiliating loss, Pep Guardiola felt Hart was not good enough with the ball for his City team and he has had a poor season at West Ham. Surely he cannot still be Southgate’s first choice?
Recent friendlies against Holland and Italy show that he is now fighting for his place on the plane. The number one spot is a tussle between Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford. Both these young keepers have had mixed club seasons.
They can both come out of the season with their heads held high despite the rest of the teammates failing to meet expectations. However, they are both prone to an error – which for keepers will most likely lead to a goal.
One keeper who many fans are saying should be in contention is Nick Pope. A year ago, no-one outside Burnley will have heard of him, but a season-ending injury to Tom Heaton threw him into the cauldron that is the Premier League.
He has not been fazed by it at all and according to statistics has been the best performing English goalkeeper this year. Fraser Forster is an outside choice but his poor form this season means Southgate will think twice before picking him.
The only issue with Butland, Pope and Pickford is their lack of international experience. This might sway Southgate to take Hart purely for his experience. If he is taken he should not be first or second choice.
Broadsport chooses Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Nick Pope. Joe Hart has been below the required standard in the last two seasons and does not justify a place on the plane. Barring injury the number on spot will be battled out between Butland and Pickford. Pope’s form this season has been phenomenal and he deserves a call-up.
Gone are the days when England managers had a choice between Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Gary Neville and the likes. England are not only lacking international experience defensively but also quality.
Gary Cahill is the most experienced centre-back who could make it to Russia but he is not playing for Chelsea and is very low down the pecking order. He did play more toward the end of the season but was at the heart of a Chelsea team which were easily dismantled by Newcastle. It seems like Manchester City defender John Stones is the first choice centre back.
Despite his obvious qualities he has had a dip in form in 2018 and is prone to an error. It seems like Southgate will deploy three at the back. Harry Maguire has had an excellent season at Leicester and will most likely be on the plane. He has not missed a minute of Premier League football this season.
That leaves space for three other centre-backs. It seems like Chris Smalling is out of favour with Southgate having failed to make the last two squads. Phil Jones was a regular before Christmas but he has been hampered with injuries. Smalling has been consistent for Man United this season and really should be in the squad.
The final three spots will be battled out between Jones, Smalling, James Trakowski and Michael Keane. Mawson and Gomez were in content until they suffered season ending injuries. Trakowski and Keane have all done well for their clubs this year but lack the international experience required from a centre back. Eric Dier will be selected as a midfielder by he has been used as a centre back at Tottenham
Trent Alexander-Arnold has played excellently for Liverpool this year and with the lack of obvious options could be someone to take a gamble on.
Southgate experimented with Kyle Walker at right centre back against Holland and Italy and he seemed to fit in well to the system. This gives Southgate an element of flexibility in defence and also means that Kieran Tripper will most likely be used and right wing back. Nathanial Clyne would also be in contention but has struggled with injuries this year.
Left wing back is poses an interesting choice. In October Ryan Bertrand and Danny Rose seemed to have secured their spots on the plane. However, Jose Mourihno has used Ashley Young as a left back this seasons. He has been one of Manchester United most consistent players.
Young’s experience and versatility will be extremely useful. While he did him self no harm against Italy and Holland while Bertrand brought Southampton’s poor form into his game.
Broadsport chooses John Stones, Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker, Kieran Tripper, Ashley Young, Ryan Bertrand, Trent Alexander-Arnold, James Trakowski and Chris Smalling.
Much like in defence, England fans are longing for the days of Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Owen Hargreaves. One issue through qualifying was finding the right blend between defensive cover and attacking thrust in midfield.
The Eric Dier-Jordan Henderson axis lacked creativity and was very lethargic. They will both be in the squad but should not be starting together. The issue is who can partner them?
England are lacking a box to box midfielder like Gerrard or someone who can control the tempo of the game, like Michael Carrick. One option is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin who has been playing at number 8 for Liverpool.
His performances have been good but he will not be going to Russia after suffering an injury which ended his season.
This opens up a midfield spot with a number of outsiders looking to make the plane. Jack Wilshire would be one of the first names on the team sheet if it wasn’t for his injury record. He might have lost his last chance to make it to Russia after pulling out of the squad for the recent friendlies.
Will it be worth taking a risk on someone of Wilshire’s quality despite his injury record? He could win England games with his creativity but could leave them lacking bodies if he gets injured.
Lewis Cook has made the last two England squads and has done very well for Bournemouth this season. He might not be a fan favourite but is someone Southgate clearly likes.
Other options include Jonjo Shelvey, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Danny Drinkwater, Jake Livermore and Harry Winks. All four will have to work hard to make the squad but a late surge in form might mean they make the squad. Shelvey and Loftus-Cheek have been excellent all season for their clubs, while Drinkwater, Livermore and Winks have suffered from injuries or dips in form.
Behind the striker Southgate is drowning in choices. Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli all offer different but exciting prospects. They look to be nailed on for a place in the squad and will need to fight for a place in the starting 11.
Broadsport chooses: Eric Dier, Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jonjo Shelvey.
England’s forwards is probably the easiest positions to pick. Harry Kane is the first name on the team sheet and barring injury, he will lead the line this summer. Youngster Marcus Rashford will be the second choice and could also be deployed on the wings, his blistering pace and eye for a goal will make him a danger against any team.
Jamie Vardy will also be on the plane. Despite a mixed season for Leicester he has led the line well and scored important goals. The only question Southgate has is whether he should start with Vardy and Kane upfront, they both showed in the final game of the season that they are a danger. This could be something to consider in the friendlies prior to the tournment.
The fourth strikers spot is still up for grabs. It was hoped that Daniel Sturridge’s loan move to West Brom would mean he got game time and pushed for a ticket to Russia. However, he has once again found himself on the treatment table and will not be in contention for the World Cup.
Danny Welbeck is back to fitness for Arsenal but has fallen down the pecking order. He made very little impact in the friendlies and will need to do a lot more to make the plane. Jermaine Defoe has said he is hoping to impress Southgate and he might be someone to consider as a ‘super sub,’ especially with his experience.
Broadsport chooses Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck.
Full Broadsport Squad:
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Nick Pope.
Defence: John Stones, Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker, Kieran Tripper, Ashley Young, Ryan Bertrand, Trent Alexander-Arnold, James Trakowski and Chris Smalling.
Midfielder: Eric Dier, Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jonjo Shelvey.
Forwards: Harry Kane (c), Marcus Rashford, Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck.
Featured image credit: Sky Sports.