Gareth Southgate must choose his England World Cup squad on form
In September 2016, Gareth Southgate was put in temporary charge of the England national side. After two games in charge, he was chosen as permanent manager. Next year's World Cup in Russia will be the task that shapes his future. When the time comes, Southgate will have to choose his squad wisely for the Three Lions to maximize their chances at the tournament finals.
The World Cup draw has revealed England's opponents. Belgium, Panama, and Tunisia are the other teams in Group G. England shouldn't have too much problem progressing. Belgium was quite dominant in its qualifying process. It should give England a good match when the sides meet in Moscow on June 28th. Hopefully, the pair will have both ensured their respective progress to the elimination rounds, making the match little more than a glorified friendly.
England's first group game is against Tunisia in Volgograd on June 18th. Panama follows six days later. Realistically, England should win those two games. At the last Euros, though, the nation's footballing reputation took a hit after an abject performance against Iceland. Or is it simply that our expectations are too high?
In the last World Cup, the Three Lions were drawn into a group with Uruguay, Costa Rica and Italy. Losses against Italy and Uruguay were difficult to swallow, but nonetheless within the realm of possibility. What annoyed was the final fixture, a draw to Costa Rica. Even though the unrated Ticos beat Italy and Uruguay, England's final result was just unacceptable. Southgate's job is to avoid the repeat performance of the last two tournaments that England fans fear the most. By underestimating any side, this team is overestimating itself.
Since having his caretaker status removed after the 3-0 win over Scotland, Southgate has managed ten games, four friendlies, the rest World Cup qualifiers. Among the latter, all were wins apart from a 2-2 draw with Scotland. On the other hand, there hasn't been a win from any of the friendlies. A loss to France, a draw the only result in a home-and-home versus Germany, followed by another against Brazil last month weren't too encouraging. This is the quality opposition England must beat to restore its tarnished reputation.
Southgate did use those matches to give debuts to several youngsters. That could prove key should any major injury worries crop up. As the Three Lions transition into a new generation, the more experience young cubs gain, they more confident they will be when the meaningful matches arrive. Giving certain players a taste should promote ambitious competition within the squad. For too long, the sense of entitlement among top stars hindered England's depth.
Thirteen players were given debuts by Southgate during 2017. Players such as Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick bowed out quietly. It's a positive change.
The new manager seems intent on choosing his players based on current form, which doesn't necessarily bode well for Joe Hart and Gary Cahill. If the pair haven't reclaimed their starting roles come spring, it won't be easy choosing less experienced players to fill the 23 seats on the plane next summer. Tough decisions are what a manager is paid to make, however. We can only hope Gareth Southgate makes the right ones.