World Cup: A Review of the Official England Squad
May 24, 2018
On Wednesday afternoon, Gareth Southgate finally unveiled his official England squad for the upcoming World Cup in Russia.
This came after a challenging period for the manager, who has been unable to consider potentially key squad members including Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez for selection due to injury.
Overall, Southgate’s selections have been largely well-received by fans, who seem encouraged by the former centre-backs adherence to his principles and desire to prioritise form over reputation.
To this end, there were also some high-profile omissions from the squad, which is packed full of youth and dynamism. But is it a gamble playing this team for tournament football?
The team at the Bet Hut takes a look.
Goalkeepers: Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford and Nick Pope.
Manchester City stopper Joe Hart was the first big name to be left out of Southgate’s squad, with the 75-cap veteran not even included as a standby. Despite serving as England’s number one during the last three major tournaments, Hart has fell out of favour with both club and country in recent times while he also endured a difficult time on loan at West Ham this season.
In truth, Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford were always likely to be selected ahead of Hart, as while they’ve shipped a combined 126 goals in the Premier League season they also contributed 141 and 121 saves respectively. By this metric, these keepers ranked first and fourth respectively in the EPL, and largely deserve their place in the squad.
Unsurprisingly, Burney’s Nick Pope claimed the third and final spot, having kept an impressive 11 clean sheets this season and helped his side to achieve the sixth best defensive record in the division.
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Gary Cahill, Fabian Delph, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Danny Rose, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, Ashley Young.
It’s at this point that Southgate’s squad becomes slightly unbalanced, with 10 defenders selected including six wing-backs. Now, while some will argue that this makes sense given the manager’s desire to play with three-at-the-back, his selection leaves little room for tactical innovation as the tournament progresses.
The four central defender picks are largely devoid of controversy, with Harry Maguire and John Stones preferred by Southgate at least partially due to their impressive ability on the ball. The selection of Gary Cahill and Phil Jones appear slightly more contentious, but these players boast considerable experience and he type of physical presence that may prove crucial in Russia.
Chris Smalling can be considered unfortunate to miss out, though his place was always in danger given Southgate’s concerns over his distribution. After all, he played 29 league games as his club side Manchester United claimed the second best defensive record in the EPL, while recording more than two interceptions and five clearances per match.
The real concern revolves around the selection of three right and three left wing-backs, including Fabian Delph and Danny Rose. Both players have featured sparingly in the second half of the season, while Rose has struggled with injury for much of 2017/18.
Selecting both Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold also seems confusing, particularly with the outstanding Kyle Walker in the squad. This suggests that Southgate may well decide to utilise Walker’s pace on the right-hand side of the back three, while deploying Arnold at right-back and holding Trippier in reserve.
Midfielders: Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard, Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
While Southgate may be inundated with defensive options, this has left him with few midfielders. In fact, just five have been selected, while Adam Lallana, Jonjo Shelvey and (most controversially) Jack Wilshere among the most contentious omissions.
The main issue is that England’s threadbare midfield is devoid of creativity, particularly in central areas of the pitch. So, while Dele Alli and the industrious Jesse Lingard can provide pace and thrust, they’ll most likely start higher up the pitch as part of Southgate’s preferred 3-4-3 formation.
This leaves Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson holding the fort in the centre of midfield, and while these players boast plenty of energy and physicality they have a relatively limited passing range and may struggle to maintain possession against better quality sides.
The promising Ruben Loftus-Cheek would appear to be an antidote to this, but it would represent a risk to play him as one of two central midfielders without additional cover in behind.
Ultimately, Southgate may regret leaving all three of Lallana, Shelvey and Wilshere at home, notwithstanding injuries and a lack of match fitness. The former is included as one of five standby players, and there is hope that Lallana can yet play his way into the squad perhaps at the expense of one of Southgate’s surplus wing-backs.
Forwards: Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jamie Vardy, Danny Welbeck.
Harry Kane was a shoe-in as England’s number nine, with the forward having scored another 30 EPL goals this season and 76 in his last 86 outings for Spurs. He has also scored 12 goals in 23 appearances for his country and will look to continue this record during the summer.
He’ll be ably supported by Jamie Vardy, who boasts raw pace and energy and has struck 23 times in 42 games this season. The prospect of Vardy playing in partnership with Kane is also an exciting one, as his could offer England some much needed flexibility in terms of threat and shape.
After a record-breaking season in front of goal which saw him score a record high of 23 goals, Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling has also made the grade. He’s likely to start on the right of Kane as part of a three-man attack, where his movement and finishing will add another dimension to England’s front line.
Despite a lack of form and opportunities, Manchester United’s precocious striker Marcus Rashford also warrants inclusion. We only hope that he can take some confidence and positivity into the tournament after a relatively disappoint season at Old Trafford, but there’s no doubt that his pace, movement and quality of finishing can change any game in a heartbeat.
Danny Welbeck has claimed the fifth and final striker spot, and this is one selection that has drawn criticism from fans. However, Welbeck adds some much-needed flexibility with his ability to left, right and through the centre, while his record of 15 goals in 37 internationals should not be ignored.
The last word
Overall, Southgate has largely selected a young and dynamic squad based on form, although it may be argued that players like Danny Rose and John Stones have been picked because of their natural attributes rather than their exploits this season.
However, the imbalance between the defence and midfield needs addressing, particularly when you consider the versatility of Kyle Walker and Eric Dier (who is equally comfortable in defence and midfield). On reflection, it would therefore have made sense to omit Kieran Tripper and Fabian Delph and instead selected someone akin to Jack Wilshere or Jonjo Shelvey, to introduce some creativity into the midfield and transition seamlessly between 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 when required.
This may also have freed up a space for an additional striker, with players like Glenn Murray and Andy Carroll capable of adding a unique dimension in the final third.
It must be remembered that fringe players have often performed key roles at major tournaments, with David Platt, Salvatore Schillaci and Paolo Rossi offering famous examples.
In this respect, it may be argued that Southgate’s slightly unbalanced grouping is a little one-dimensional, and bereft of squad players who change games over the course of a tournament.