World Cup 2018: Have England picked the right squad?! By Daniel Dwamena

World Cup 2018: Have England picked the right squad?!


The 2018 World Cup is almost upon us. You know, the time when we tell ourselves that England do not stand any chance of winning the tournament, but somehow get pulled in to think that we could do something constructive if they had a little bit of fortune along the way. As hard as some of us try not to believe, we get drawn in. You see the partisanship with flags on their cars, others with their houses decorated and we start to think that just maybe something could happen. Could this be the summer that the football gods shine on England again?

You begin to ponder that just momentarily football could unite such a divided country, with England ending their barren spell without a World Cup. At the very least we just do not want them to embarrass themselves. You then remember however you do not have to be the best country/team to win a cup competition, this is as you do not have to play against everyone, it all depends on the luck of the draw. Knowing these things, some of us after being pessimistic for so long, then eventually have a slight change of heart and decide to strap in for the ride that we promised we would not go on and end up cheering on England to go as far as they can. It becomes escapism from the vigour of life and we live in hope that it will run as far as possible. The sheer beauty of the World Cup, is you do not even have to watch football voraciously to get involved with the festivities. The World Cup is the most watched sporting event in the world and when it is in course you just cannot escape it.

In regards to England, you do not even have to be a ‘student of the game’ and you will have still heard that 1966 was the last time England won this trophy. Do England really have any chance of having a good run in the tournament here in 2018?, or should they just look to prepare for the future? This was the dilemma facing England Manager Gareth Southgate. Here was Southgate’s chance to prove he was not just a ‘yes’ man, and a man who was bold enough to build a side that if they were not to be successful, then worst case scenario they could at least entertain us, and make us believe there was substance for a real push in future tournaments to come.

Southgate at the press conference after naming his England World Cup squad. Picture from independent.co.uk

Knowing all this; Southgate was now in a curious position. Though deep down as England have not been in a World Cup semi final, let alone final since 1990, the English Football Association will not be expecting England to realistically win the tournament. On the other hand, there is slight pressure. England’s youth teams (Under 21 level and younger), have recently done very well in their tournaments. The senior team now had to step up to the plate and show they can keep flying the flag. England’s Under 21’s reached the Semi Final of the 2017 European Championship. The Under 20’s won the 2017 World Cup, and the Under 19’s lifted the 2017 European Championship. This is all as well as the Under 17’s thrilling victory over Spain to claim the 2017 World Cup for their age group.

England also have won back-to-back Toulon Tournaments in 2016 & 2017, another tournament where players only under 21 can feature. Though the Toulon successes were not as widely publicised as the earlier mentioned tournaments, they were still admirable achievements. Incidentally, Southgate was the man in charge of the 2016 Toulon winning side, a huge part of why he was trusted with taking charge of the senior England squad. Was Southgate going to revolutionise England, or was he just put in place as a form of appeasement by the FA? As Southgate was considerably younger than his predecessor Roy Hodgson, recruiting him allowed the FA to have a defensive mechanism. The FA could say they had tried something different and that they were not stuck in the dark ages.


Who made the cut?

Rather than naming a preliminary squad as some other countries were doing, Southgate opted to straightaway name the 23 players he will take and in addition has named some standby players. So whom has Southgate decided to take to the 2018 World Cup in Russia? Let us have a look.

Goalkeepers

Jack Butland, 25 years old (Stoke) – 7 International Senior Caps

Jordan Pickford, 24 (Everton) – 2 Caps

Nick Pope, 26 (Burnley) – Uncapped at Senior level

Standby goalkeeper – Tom Heaton, 32 (Burnley)

These three keepers were to be expected seen as they were picked by Southgate in England’s last two friendlies against Holland and Italy. They all overall deserve their spots, however that is partially due to a lack of great competition rather than them all overwhelming us week in and week out with their displays.

Jordan Pickford is in line to be England’s starting World Cup keeper. Picture from dailymail.co.uk

Joe Hart (West Ham) has had a below average campaign to say the least and has rightfully not been considered, he made costly individual errors and looks a shadow of the keeper he once was, international retirement is nigh. Tom Heaton (Burnley) has only just returned from injury and lacks the game time to get in ahead of his teammate Pope and he will be the keeper on standby. Alex McCarthy (Southampton) has done well since replacing Fraser Forster in goal at club level. I think the other keepers just edge him out, only really as they have all played over 30 league games this season and should be more fine tuned than McCarthy who made 17 appearances, McCarthy at 28 however could have an international future.


Defenders

Trent Alexander-Arnold, 19 (Liverpool) – Uncapped

Gary Cahill, 32 (Chelsea) – 58 Caps

Phil Jones, 26 (Manchester United) – 24 Caps

Harry Maguire, 25 (Leicester) – 4 Caps

Danny Rose, 27 (Tottenham) – 16 Caps

John Stones, 23 (Manchester City) – 24 Caps

Kieran Trippier, 27 (Tottenham) – 5 Caps

Kyle Walker, 27 (Manchester City) – 34 Caps

Ashley Young, 32 (Manchester United) – 33 Caps

Standby defender: James Tarkowski, 25 (Burnley)

Alexander-Arnold provided some glittering displays for Liverpool, especially going forward. He did though have a few tricky games defensively and this is arguably Southgate’s bravest pick. Cahill gets the nod for being the most experienced man in the whole squad more than his form this season, he was taken out of the Chelsea team and has only recently regained his place. Phil Jones has shown a distinct lack of ability to move his feet at critical times and has had and up and down season, I personally would have left him behind. Jamaal Lascelles at Newcastle would have been a better choice for me; he has good aerial ability and has impressed as well as showing leadership qualities for a team who were expected to go down and stayed up comfortably. John Stones lost his place in the Manchester City side but is England’s best central defender on the ball and has improved defensively so was always going to go. Swansea’s Alfie Mawson, a centre half with good ball distribution has had surgery otherwise he would have been a player I would have like to have seen in the squad.

Starlet Alexander-Arnold with the man who gave him his big chance Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Picture from skysports.com

Rose and Young are the options at left back and personally I would not have taken either of them. Young has a stronger case than Rose though. Young has had a few very good performances, while Rose when returning from injury struggled to oust Ben Davies from the Tottenham starting xi. Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand would have been someone I would have liked to have seen chosen at left back. Bertrand is a steady defender who has composure and set piece capabilities. Walker and Trippier are no brainers at right back, though Southgate may deploy Walker as a right-sided centre half, if he chooses to play with 3 centre backs. In my eyes Walker’s best asset is going forward and feel he should be played to his strength at right back or right wing back. This may mean the surprise pick Alexander-Arnold may see more game time they we initially expect.


Midfielders

Dele Alli, 22 (Tottenham) – 23 Caps

Fabian Delph, 28 (Manchester City) – 9 Caps

Eric Dier, 24 (Tottenham) – 25 Caps

Jordan Henderson, 27 (Liverpool) – 38 Caps

Jesse Lingard, 25 (Manchester United) – 10 Caps

Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 22 (Crystal Palace on loan from Chelsea) – 2 Caps

Raheem Sterling, 23 (Manchester City) – 37 Caps

Standby midfielders:

Lewis Cook, 21 (Bournemouth)

Adam Lallana, 30 (Liverpool)

Jake Livermore, 28 (West Bromwich Albion)

The midfield was the area of the squad that was always going to define how we felt about England’s chances. Alli’s selection was a no brainer, he provides a goalscoring threat and has in recent months also shown he can provide as he finished with 10 assists in the league. Alli’s club teammate Eric Dier makes the cut, but as it seems Southgate may possibly go with three centre halves, and Henderson will start, Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere can feel aggrieved at not being apart of the squad. Dier’s versatility will have got him in as he can play in central defence too. Wilshere’s passing abilty, creativity and dribbling would have provided England with something extra. Fabian Delph is another player whose versatility has got him into the squad. Delph is of course naturally a central midfielder, but he has played the whole season at left back for Manchester City. His ability to play left back too is why I was fine with Rose and Young staying behind. I will point out that Jonjo Shelvey (Newcastle) should have been given a call-up as his form has warranted it. Shelvey has had a very good season and is a great passer of the ball and plays with tenacity. I’m not sure whether the fact he plays for Newcastle or his baldhead is what has made Southgate overlook him. Creativity could be what England lack and pressure will be on Alli to make good passes as well as timing his runs into the box.

Southgate will hope Raheem Sterling will continue his flying form in the World Cup. Picture from squawka.com

Raheem Sterling fully deserved to be in the squad on the back of what technically has to go down as a breakout season. Jesse Lingard did not finish the season as well as he started it, however he has had enough good moments to warrant a place in the final 23. His pace and intelligent runs could be telling, though I feel he should be someone to bring off the bench as a game changer, rather than play as a starter. Loftus-Cheek has come back from injury just at the right time to be included and his good feet, drive and presence will be very useful. Injuries meant that Adam Lallana barely played this season, so him only being a backup is understandable. Lallana has an all round game that compliments tournament football and his lack of game time is a big blow. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Liverpool) was unlucky to get a really bad injury to his knee or he would have been in the squad and would have been a starter. My surprise pick would have been Fulham’s teenager Ryan Sessegnon. He is a player that can operate anywhere on the left side and is a wildcard that I think could have worked. He would have been a goal threat as well as providing good width. After picking Alexander-Arnold though it seems Southgate thought this would be a bit too much to take him along to Russia.


Forwards

Harry Kane, 24, (Tottenham) – 23 Caps

Marcus Rashford, 20 (Manchester United) – 17 Caps

Jamie Vardy, 31, (Leicester) – 21 Caps

Danny Welbeck, 27, (Arsenal) – 37 Caps

Southgate was not likely to be daring and bring Tammy Abraham (Swansea), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Leon Bailey (Bayer Leverkusen) or Ademola Lookman (Leipzig on loan from Everton). These players are all under 21 and will have big futures in the game. He was also not expected to take journeyman Glenn Murray, who though 34, was the 4th top scoring Englishman in the Premier League. Only Kane, Vardy and Sterling scored more goals than his 12. Knowing all these things, to an extent the forwards/strikers picked did not bring any huge shocks. Goal machine Kane is an automatic choice and so is Vardy, who was the fourth top scorer in the league overall with 20 goals.

Marcus Rashford has not had the greatest season, but had to go as he has looked good at international level thus far. Out of the front men he gives something different, he will be unlikely to get the chance centrally, so will have to contribute from wide. Rashford has hopefully been practicing his crossing in that regard. Danny Welbeck is much maligned. A hard worker who does numerous things well, bar finishing, which is kind of what you want your striker to be good at isn’t it? Love him or hate him, Welbeck is the top scoring player in this whole England squad with 15 international goals and as they say, numbers do not lie…

The Premier League’s 2nd top scorer Harry Kane will carry England’s goalscoring burden. Picture from 101greatgoals.com


Overall

Overall there are at least about five changes that I would have made to the squad selected and they are very key ones in positions that could seal England’s fate. This is as the likes of Bertrand and Wilshere would have been in my starting line-up and Shelvey would have had a shout also of starting as no one in the squad can pass the ball consistently better than him.


Written by Daniel Dwamena @DubulDee    

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