England World Cup squad: Has Gareth Southgate made the correct calls in attack?
Gareth Southgate announced his England World Cup squad 13 days ago. Taking to Russian soil, the Three Lions must navigate through a group containing North Africa’s Tunisia, unknown quantities Panama, and highly-fancied Belgium.
Does Southgate possess the best available attacking weapons, or has he chosen the wrong personnel?
Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United).
Eric Dier’s place in England’s squad was a no-brainer. The defensive midfielder has thrived since joining Tottenham Hotspur in summer 2014. With 181 competitive games accumulated, he’s proving vital in Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs revolution.
Fabian Delph, Manchester City’s emergency left-back this season, can deputise for Dier if need be. Southgate faces a much more difficult puzzle to solve further forward, though.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is fresh off his most noteworthy campaign to date. On loan at Crystal Palace, the youngster featured in 24 Premier League games, topping his 22 Chelsea appearances during the previous three seasons.
In Roy Hodgson’s 34 matches in charge, Palace averaged 1.45 points per game with Loftus-Cheek on show. Without him, the average slumps to a point per contest. His presence helped the Eagles leave behind relegation troubles. After delivering a man of the match performance on his international debut in a 0-0 draw against Germany last November, the 22-year-old deserves a World Cup shot.
Jordan Henderson is likely to start for the Three Lions. The Liverpool midfielder has achieved prominence at Anfield. Having captained the Reds in Saturday night’s Champions League showpiece, some believe he is the rightful owner of England’s armband. There is one major drawback, however. Henderson isn’t a forward-thinker. Particularly compared to a certain player in North London who must settle for watching this summer’s action at home.
Jack Wilshere surpasses Henderson in key areas. As well as recording three league assists to his Liverpool counterpart’s one in this campaign, the Arsenal graduate had a 30% superior shooting accuracy while playing 140 fewer backward passes. Wilshere’s vision means he can break down tight defences. Henderson’s creativity lags behind.
From October 2014 to June 2015, Wilshere was voted the Three Lions' best player in six out of seven matches. He’s never convinced Southgate, though. Speaking last November, the 47-year-old made his position clear: ‘I don’t know how you can get in the England squad without getting in the Arsenal team.’ Wilshere has since completed his second-most productive season ever, featuring in 63% of the Gunners’ competitive games.
Jake Livermore’s standby status proves the English lack depth in central midfield. Although the West Bromwich Albion player is fairly solid, he isn’t at national-level standard. Bournemouth’s Lewis Cook is among the reserves, too. The 21-year-old earned his first England cap in March, playing 19 minutes in a friendly against Italy.
Harry Winks was in firm contention before injury ruled him out two months ago. The Spurs midfielder impressed on his international debut last October during a 1-0 victory in Lithuania. His composure on the ball then enabled him to shine at the Santiago Bernabeu against recently crowned European champions Real Madrid.
Jonjo Shelvey, meanwhile, never seemed to enter Southgate’s thoughts. Despite excelling at Newcastle United this campaign, concerns regarding the 26-year-old’s temperament continue to follow him around. At times hot-headed and impetuous, he received the division’s joint-most red cards this season.
Dele Alli burst onto the international scene in 2015, scoring a long-range screamer in a 2-0 friendly victory over France. The Tottenham youth’s unstoppable form during his first two Premier League seasons earned him consecutive spots in the Team of the Year. Although his profile has since diminished slightly, he can play an important part in the World Cup. Alli’s propensity for trying the unexpected makes him a competent goalscorer as well as creator.
Adam Lallana has to settle for a place among England’s five standbys. Having missed 32 club games this campaign with two separate hamstring injuries, Southgate told reporters: ‘You don’t find your fitness in a major tournament, and Jurgen (Klopp) also thinks that is the best route to go.’ Only ten days after making that statement, however, the Liverpool attacker played an hour of the Champions League final, replacing the unfortunate Mohamed Salah.
Lallana was in Southgate’s previous squad two months ago. He was also voted his country’s best player in 2016. The 30-year-old’s close control and weight of pass would have helped the Three Lions retain possession.
Jesse Lingard’s inclusion was no great shock. The 25-year-old has improved considerably at Manchester United this campaign. He scored 13 times in all competitions, beating his previous best of six. Most often deployed in the number ten role by Jose Mourinho, can Lingard thrive in that position at the World Cup?
Injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain somewhat scuppered Southgate’s plans. The Liverpool midfielder was guaranteed selection having played 150 minutes of England’s most-recent two contests. Since leaving Arsenal in January, he’s made an obvious improvement under Jurgen Klopp.
The Three Lions will no doubt miss Oxlade-Chamberlain’s dynamism. Whether from central or wide areas, he would have provided pacey, powerful, direct dribbling. Southgate could have opted for a similar player in Ross Barkley. The 24-year-old remains an exciting talent, despite appearing only two times since moving to Chelsea almost five months ago.
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City).
Both Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford are key to England’s chances. They each possess game-changing attributes, including blinding acceleration coupled with the skill to ease past defenders. Both have excelled on the left and right wing, yet the Man City star can line up more centrally while his United counterpart is a capable lone frontman.
Rashford is arguably the Three Lions’ next big hope. During his teenage years, he rose rapidly at Man United. Now 20, he’s racked up 123 competitive appearances, scoring 23 times. Impressive form led to his England debut in May 2016, wherein he broke the deadlock to help overcome Australia 2-1. Earning a further 16 caps since then, Rashford’s ticket to Russia was never in doubt.
If it comes to a straight shootout, though, Rashford can’t compete against Sterling. Under Pep Guardiola’s tutelage, the 23-year-old had a truly remarkable season to help City secure the title. Not content with providing the Premier League's third-most assists, he finished fifth on the scoring chart, with 18 goals in 33 encounters. Sterling’s 0.55 goal-per-game ratio completely overshadows Rashford’s one strike every five matches.
Southgate’s alternative options included experience in Everton’s Theo Walcott, who has 47 previous caps, and youth in Leicester City’s Demarai Gray, an under-21 regular yet to feature for the senior side. Nathan Redmond was another consideration. But Southampton’s struggles this campaign meant he scored just once in 31 games.
Danny Welbeck is perhaps fortunate to receive a call-up. The 27-year-old’s versatility, enabling him to start on either the right, left or up top, worked to his advantage. Although he usually lifts his performance while on international duty, scoring 15 goals in 37 appearances, he’s continued to play second fiddle at Arsenal since joining in September 2014.
Jamie Vardy’s heroics during Leicester’s 2015/16 title triumph will forever be remembered. Having jumped through the ranks, from non-league Halifax Town to the promised land in less than three years, the striker continues to defy expectations. He was the division’s fourth-top scorer this season, netting 20 times in 37 matches. His blistering pace coupled with outstanding finishing offers England a genuine counter-attacking route.
Following on from winning the last two Golden Boots, Harry Kane scored a remarkable 30 league goals in 37 games this campaign. Tottenham’s main threat will have a similar role at the World Cup, albeit with extra responsibility after being chosen as Three Lions captain last week. Can he lead his country while also providing the firepower up front?
Kane is no doubt the first name on England’s teamsheet. He can hurt the opposition in many ways. Having scored six headers, the top flight’s second-most since August, his aerial ability could prove vital in Russia.
Callum Wilson should have been next on Southgate’s list. The Bournemouth striker deserves national recognition after proving his worth for the past three consecutive seasons in the Premier League. Despite averaging only 0.29 goals per game this campaign, he would flourish surrounded with better quality.
In the 2016 European Championships, Daniel Sturridge was among England’s top talent. Since then, however, the 28-year-old has been banished by Klopp at Liverpool. He played the full 90 league minutes just once all season. As a result, a once promising international career is in tatters.
Southgate selected the best wingers and forwards at his disposal.
There aren't enough central midfielders in the squad, though. Shelvey’s ability to pick out teammates in advanced positions would have benefited the Three Lions.
Wilshere should definitely be participating in the World Cup. His technique, dribbling, and creativity exceed all others in England’s central midfield. If he was omitted due to lacking minutes, why take John Stones, a player with just two Man City appearances in 2018? For that matter, should Danny Rose and Gary Cahill, who both lost their first-team places at clubs this season, have received call-ups?
Southgate's decision to choose 13 defensive players and only three centre-mids could come back to haunt him.
The world’s top footballing nations, especially Germany and Spain, are all proficient at keeping the ball. Southgate’s selection means the Three Lions will struggle in that regard. Lallana was an excellent solution. Standby status doesn’t do him justice.