There’s no going back now for Gareth Southgate, who has placed his faith, and England football hopes, in the 23-man squad selected for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Undoubtedly, the choice of players also revolves around the tactical preferences he deployed throughout the qualifiers.
World Cup 2018
Utilising three central defenders is pretty much cast in stone for Southgate, which means he will also continue using two wing-backs down the flanks. Having also shown a preference for playing two strikers, it’s in midfield where there’s the most tactical flexibility within his 3-5-2 formation.
Depending on how defensive or attacking the Three Lions boss wishes his team to play, there are usually two options in the middle. An anchorman behind two creative central midfielders, or a more robust double-pivot in the centre with an attacking midfielder behind the strikers?
Key players: What the stats show
Interestingly, the England squad at 16/1 odds to win the World Cup is exclusively made up of Premier League players. Indeed, it’s the only squad at the 2018 tournament entirely comprised of players from just one league.
Looking at the Premier League clubs providing the heart of the England World Cup squad, Tottenham Hotspur top the list with five players. They are closely followed by Manchester City and Manchester United with four, while Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester City each contribute two. Arsenal, Stoke City, Everton and Burnley each provide one player in the Three Lions’ 23-man list.
Unsurprisingly, the strongest contingent of players represents Premier League clubs who were in the top four. Arguably, it’s going forward where England also boast the strongest numbers. Raheem Sterling enjoyed an excellent campaign, scoring 18 goals and providing 11 assists with Manchester City. Meanwhile, Harry Kane scored 37 goals in all competitions for Spurs and will captain his national team. His better-than-one-in-two ratio for England (13 in 24) is also a big part of why he’s likely to get the nod ahead of Leicester’s Jamie Vardy (7 in 21).
Creativity and scoring threats from midfield will also be just as vital at the World Cup. Dele Alli notched up an impressive 9 goals and 10 assists with Tottenham, while Jesse Lingard’s potent 87.8% pass completion percentage was accompanied by 8 goals and 5 assists at Manchester United.
His teammate Eric Dier was productive at both ends of the pitch, with 61 tackles and 2,248 passes across the Premier League season. In the Champions League, Dier stormed to a pass accuracy of 83%, underlying his ability to keep the ball with his teammates and start crucial attacks.
Who’s likely to make up the England defence?
In defence, Kyle Walker has had an extremely impressive season with 14 clean sheets and a huge average of 73.81 passes per game. No other England player achieved more passes in the Premier League (2,362) and his ability to play the ball at the back will be key to Southgate’s way of playing. With the England boss liking his three centre-halfs to be able to play, this is why he’ll be favoured over Harry Maguire and Michael Keane.
John Stones and Maguire had a near-identical record when adjusted for the number of appearances made but the Manchester City star’s 69.22 passes per game to the Leicester man’s 45.79 would have helped his cause.
Gary Cahill may not have had the most successful season and could realistically be seen as a surprise starter, but his goal threat surely plays a part in his squad inclusion. The Chelsea defender has 27 Premier League goals in his career, five in the Champions League and five for England. The manager will be looking for him to profit from Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier crosses (121 and 122 respectively) if chasing the game late on.
The last line of the defence, Everton’s Jordan Pickford, has burst on to the scene in the last couple of years. He’s made 256 saves since the start of the 2016/17 season – more than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League. The Three Lions will need the former Sunderland keeper’s reflexes throughout the tournament. Though, he’ll likely face considerably fewer shots in a much more defence-minded side.
What is the Three Lions’ ideal starting 11?
Based on line-ups utilised predominantly throughout qualification for the World Cup, and various friendly matches over the last two years, it seems that Southgate prefers to use his defensive midfielder option, with the attacking midfielder deployed as a plan B if the team are chasing goals.
Up against opposition from Belgium, Tunisia and Panama, England are priced at 6/5 odds to win Group G and qualify for the knockout stage. Here’s a look at what appears to be the strongest England starting 11, which Southgate is likely to rely on most heavily in the first three games in the World Cup groups:
Goalkeeper: Pickford (Everton)
Defenders: Walker (Man City), Stones (Man City), Cahill (Chelsea)
Midfielders: Dier (Spurs), Trippier (Spurs), Lingard (Man Utd), Alli (Spurs), Young (Man Utd)
Attackers: Kane (Spurs), Sterling (Man City)
As expected, this was the England starting 11 which Southgate chose for the pre-World Cup warm-up game against Nigeria at Wembley, which ended in a 2-1 victory. Two goals to the good at half-time, this starting line-up looks set to be the one that faces Tunisia in Volgograd on 18th June, where hopefully the Three Lions will get off to a winning start at Russia 2018.