It’s been 22 years since England made it any further than the quarter finals of a major international competition and over half a century since they tasted their only victory in the World Cup, and on Wednesday 16th May Gareth Southgate announced the latest flock of players to try and live up to the standards of the 1966 squad.
Southgate opted to bypass the announcement of a provisional squad in favour of skipping straight to the point and naming his final 23-strong squad along with some backup options. This could prove a shrewd move, as it avoids any disenchantment by those players who are dropped from the provisional squad and allows the selected 23 to get their head in the game instantly rather than having their preparations clouded by doubt.
Two years ago England were led to a humiliating defeat to Iceland in Euro 2016 by the same manager – Roy Hodgson – That oversaw a dreadful group stage elimination in Brazil four years ago. He was replaced by Sam Allardyce in 2016, but a swathe of controversy saw Allardyce sacked after a single game in charge and replaced by Under 21 manager Gareth Southgate.
The former Middlesbrough man took England to their usual standing at the top of their World Cup qualifying group and comes into Russia 2018 with a eight wins, six draws, and two defeats in his 16 games at the helm. As you would expect from the former England Under-21 manager, he has named a squad with a healthy amount of youth prospects in place. There are a few notable and perhaps controversial absentees though:
Check out our England World Cup Timeline for our thoughts on The Three Lions’ chances.
Full England Squad
Manager – Gareth Southgate
Jack Butland (Stoke, 25 years old)
Jordan Pickford (Everton, 24 years old)
Nick Pope (Burnley, 26 years old)
Gary Cahill (Chelsea, 32 years old)
Kyle Walker (Manchester City, 27 years old)
Phil Jones (Manchester United, 26 years old)
John Stones (Manchester City, 23 years old)
Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur, 27 years old)
Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur, 27 years old)
Harry Maguire (Leicester, 25 years old)
Ashley Young (Manchester United, 32 years old)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool, 19 years old)
Jordan Henderson (Liverpool, 27 years old)
Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur, 24 years old)
Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur, 22 years old)
Jesse Lingard (Manchester United, 25 years old)
Fabian Delph (Manchester City, 28 years old)
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Crystal Palace, 22 years old)
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City, 23 years old)
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United, 20 years old)
Danny Welbeck (Arsenal, 27 years old)
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur, 24 years old)
Jamie Vardy (Leicester, 31 years old)
Tom Heaton (Burnley), James Tarkowski (Burnley), Lewis Cook (Bournemouth), Jake Livermore (West Brom), Adam Lallana (Liverpool)
It’s clear that Gareth Southgate is looking towards the future with this squad. Just three of the 23 players named are over the age of 30, and considering those three players are the ever present centre back Gary Cahill, converted wing back Ashley Young, and Leicester’s star striker Jamie Vardy it’s no great crime that they’ll be on the plane to Russia.
Apart from that, every other player is either a hot prospect or in the prime of their careers. Liverpool’s breakout prospect Trent Alexander-Arnold has been rewarded for his fine form with a call up at just 19 years of age, displacing the 20 year old Marcus Rashford as the baby of the squad. The average age of the final squad comes in at 25.4 years old, so there is plenty of energy among the players and most will have more World Cups to looks forward to after Russia.
One of the biggest areas of controversy is the downfall of Joe Hart. The Shrewsbury-born goalkeeper made his debut just short of a decade ago and has been England’s first choice goalkeeper for years, but with four younger keepers all ahead of him in the pecking order it appears his international career may be over. Despite the controversy, it’s no great surprise that he hasn’t been included. He has had a dreadful few years since Pep Guardiola took over at Manchester City, first enduring a poor loan spell at Torino before going between the sticks at West Ham this season, who ended up with the joint worst defensive record in the Premier League.
On the defensive side of things there are a few talking points. The injured Alfie Mawson and Joe Gomez both miss out for obvious reasons despite their impressive seasons, whilst Everton’s Michael Keane, Manchester United’s Chris Smalling, and Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand have also been overlooked. All three of these were probably borderline decisions, but in the end Southgate has opted for the form of Alexander-Arnold over Bertrand in a very strong full back position, whilst Cahill, Jones, and Stones were deemed more capable centre backs than Keane and Smalling.
The injury prone Jack Wilshere and Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey are the most notable absentees further up the pitch. It’s rather easy to side with Southgate on the Wilshere issue considering how often he picks up knocks, and taking someone who could easily spend the entire tournament in the physio room is a big risk. Shelvey’s omission is courting more controversy though after an excellent season captaining Newcastle, but it was always going to be tough when up against Henderson, Alli, and Dier. Elsewhere, it’s deemed too soon to give the talented Ryan Sessegnon a spot on the plane and both Theo Walcott and Tammy Abraham won’t be in tow.
It’s quite clear what Southgate has in mind for this World Cup. He has chosen one of the youngest England squads in history for a World Cup, but seems fully aware of the importance of experience too. Cahill, Walker, Henderson, Young, and Welbeck all have over 30 international caps and heaps of club experience, which Southgate deems enough for him to leave player such as Hart at home in favour of a more deserving goalkeeper. One eye is firmly on the future here, but that’s not to say that any players who are massively deserving of a spot have been left out.
Star Player: Harry Kane
It’s impossible to choose anybody else as England’s star man. In fact, he is perhaps the only member of the current England squad that can be considered a potentially world class player. Harry Kane comes into Russia 2018 on the back of another stunning season at club level, and with 23 caps and 12 goals under his belt at international level he will certainly be the go-to man for The Three Lions in Russia.
The 24 year old Spurs striker broke a number of long standing records this season, surpassing Alan Shearer’s record of 36 Premier League goals in a calendar year and in doing so also breaking the record for the most amount of Premier League hat-tricks in a calendar year. This made it a total of 56 goals for 2017 in all competitions, a number that was high enough to make him the top goalscorer in Europe and end a seven year spell in which only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had won the award. He was beaten to the Golden Boot by the emphatic Mohamed Salah, but still enjoyed his best ever goalscoring season and notched 30 league goals for the first time in his career.
He doesn’t slack off at international level either. Kane scored just 80 seconds into his international debut and holds a record of a touch over a goal every two games for England. It helps that club teammates Eric Dier and Dele Alli sit behind him in the midfield too, as well as Danny Rise and Kieran Trippier in the wing back positions. He is so revered by Southgate that he actually builds the formation around him, playing two up front when he’s not in the squad but deploying him as a long striker when available. If anybody in this squad can lead England to unlikely glory in Russia it’s Harry Kane.
One to Watch – Marcus Rashford
The inclusion of Marcus Rashford isn’t exactly a surprise, but it’s important to remember that Manchester’s latest export is still just 20 years of age. He already has 17 caps to his name and was part of Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad despite having only made his Manchester United debut four months before.
He became the youngest ever player to represent England at the Euros when he came off the bench against Wales, but since then he has cemented his position in the starting lineup under Southgate. Rashford has started five of England’s last seven matches and came off the bench in the other two, a statistic that hints at how important he is in Southgate’s plans.
Admittedly his record of two goals in 17 appearances isn’t good for a player who is often seen as a striker, but the last two seasons have seen him migrate towards a wider role. The chances are we will see Rashford on the left side of a three-pronged attack, and at 20 years of age we certainly haven’t seen the best of him yet.
Read about more potential breakout stars in the upcoming World Cup.
England have been migrating towards the fashionable three at the back formation recently, and the squad selection seems to indicate that Southgate will continue with this approach in Russia. The three central defenders will be protected by two wing-backs and the more defensively minded of the central midfielders, whilst the other will be free to link up with the trio of exciting forwards.
The number one spot between the sticks is still up for debate, but Everton’s Jordan Pickford is the pundits favourite after a decent season with Everton. Kyle Walker is likely to provide a bit of pace on the right side of the back three, and John Stones’ passing ability will be crucial for linking up with the midfield. The other centre back spot could go to anyone, and it’s whether Southgate prefers the experience of Gary Cahill or the form of Harry Maguire. Spurs duo Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier are likely to be the first choices at wing back.
To be honest, the midfield is lacking any notable depth. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is almost guaranteed to play, but it’s possible that Eric Dier and Dele Alli could be rotated in the remaining midfield position depending on the strength of the opposition. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a great all-rounder, and his recent form could allow him to push his way into the starting lineup if he performs well in training.
The front three will undoubtedly be spearheaded by Harry Kane, although if the Spurs man is in need of a rest backup option Jamie Vardy isn’t exactly a poor striker. Raheem Sterling is likely to get a starting berth after his sensational season with Manchester City, and Marcus Rashford will take his place on the opposite flank. If Southgate opts for a narrower front three we could see Alli in place instead of Sterling or Rashford.
England Potential Lineup: Pickford, Walker, Cahill, Stones, Trippier, Rose, Henderson, Alli, Sterling, Rashford, Kane
Manager: Gareth Southgate
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