Who Should England Start?
England opens their World Cup on Monday, June 18 against Tunisia. Because of the relative inexperience of the squad, there are lots of question marks over who manager Gareth Southgate will choose as his starting eleven. Here’s my opinion about how he can get the best out of this young squad.
Who starts in goal?
Jack Butland should be England’s #1. After Joe Hart’s dramatic loss of form, this spot has become wide open in the last year or two. Goalkeeper is a position where you need a steady hand more than any other on the pitch. Stoke City’s Butland has been the steadiest over the last few seasons in the Premier League. Jordan Pickford is good with his feet, but is near bottom of PL keepers in shot-stopping and commanding the penalty box.
Nick Pope of Burnley had the best season of the three. Questions remain on how much of that is down to Sean Dyche’s well-drilled defense in front of him.
Who plays in the back three?
Southgate’s back three defensive system suits this squad well. He’s selected five defenders capable of playing in these three spots.
Kyle Walker is the fastest of these five, and one of the few guaranteed starters in the squad. Southgate has called up two other right-backs, so it seems he prefers Walker on the right of the back three. His recovery pace and one-on-one defending should slot well in that spot. For the other two spots, I would leave out Gary Cahill and John Stones, and start Harry Maguire and Phil Jones.
Maguire has been the best English central defender over the past season. Phil Jones has also been a stalwart in one of the Premier League’s best defenses over the past season, Manchester United. Meanwhile, Cahill, Chelsea’s captain, has been in and out of the team following a poor season. As for Stones, he always has a mistake in him, it seems.
The Wing Backs
This team is set up to be solid at the back, rely on pace on the wings, and create chances to score up front. It’s not set up to dominate possession. For these two spots, attacking ability is almost of more value than defensive ability.
With Walker in defense, this leaves a choice of either Kieran Trippier or Trent Alexander-Arnold at right wing-back. Quite simply, Trippier doesn’t have pace. He has a good cross and a decent set-piece, but doesn’t fit in as well as the 19 year old Alexander-Arnold’s skillset does into this team.
For left wing-back, it’s between Danny Rose and two utility-men: Ashley Young and Fabian Delph. As with the right side, pace is the difference maker here. Danny Rose has the ability to stretch the opposition with his pace, while the other two don’t. Young also suffers from being right-footed, which hinders the balance of the formation.
Dier or Henderson (or Delph?)
This is the all-important midfield pivot position. This position should belong to Eric Dier. What he brings that Jordan Henderson lacks is the versatility to hold the midfield area and start attacks, and also to slide into defense when cover is needed. Using Delph or Henderson as a late substitute to preserve a lead, or possibly even to start against a better team (i.e. Belgium) is a good option with this formation, but they should play alongside Dier, not instead of him.
Alli or Lingard?
There’s been a narrative in the English media that Dele Alli has regressed at Tottenham. Jesse Lingard, on the other hand, has improved and challenged Dele for this spot.
That storyline is a bit of an exaggeration, as Dele was top-five in the league in assists, and as important to Spurs’ attacking play has he ever has been. He’s the player most capable of providing the X-factor for this England team, a moment of brilliance from midfield, creating a goal out of nothing. He should be an automatic starter. Lingard is also capable of a moment of magic, and should be one of the first substitutes off the bench in case England need a goal.
The Front Three
Harry Kane is England’s captain and best goal scorer, enough said. The question is who starts in the other two spots alongside him. For me, these are the toughest two choices Southgate has to make for the first match. I would start Jamie Vardy and Raheem Sterling.
Vardy has proven he’s an elite goal scorer, plain and simple. For the last three seasons, he’s consistently scored goals for Leicester, whether the club has been been good or bad, and against poor teams and great teams. Some see him as a substitute, but I think he compliments Harry Kane’s game well, running the channels while Kane spearheads the attack. He should start.
Sterling seems to be England’s most controversial figure at the moment. Putting aside off-field tabloid nonsense, his England goal-scoring record is extremely poor. However, he’s coming off his best season for the league champions, and is the most capable of any of England’s forwards of both using his pace and setting up goals.
Marcus Rashford is very close to challenging Sterling and Vardy for a forward spot, and maybe, just maybe after being frustrated at his playing time under Jose Mourinho this past season, this could be his breakout tournament on the world stage. If Sterling’s poor England form continues, replacing him with Rashford would be the first change I’d make.
Danny Welbeck was definitely not chosen for this squad based on his past season with Arsenal, but for his England scoring record – 16 goals in 39 caps (thats 8 times better than Sterling!). For me he should only be used in case of injury, or if the other strikers aren’t firing.
As for Ruben Loftus-Cheek – sorry, maybe next time.