The build-up to England’s attempts to end 52 years of hurt and suffering without a major international trophy in Russia this coming summer is well and truly on.
Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions will walk out in Volgograd to face Tunisia in their opening game at the 2018 World Cup on June 18 with the hopes and expectations of a whole nation weighing heavily on their shoulders. Will this be the year England finally give the whole country something to shout about rather than the despair and agony we get on a regular basis.
This week Gareth Southgate and coaches of all the other World Cup nations have to submit a provisional squad of 35, which has to be cut to 23 by June 4. Ahead of Southgate announcing his official squad on Wednesday, here is my squad picks to board the plane to Russia this summer.
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Say all you want about Joe Hart, Gareth Southgate is a huge fan of his and the West Ham goalkeeper is a shoe in to be one of the first names on the plane for this summers tournament. Despite his recent mistakes and the criticism placed on him, Hart is still capable of some World Class saves plus his leadership and communications makes him one of Gareth Southgate’s most trusted players in his squad. Don’t be surprised to see Hart with the armband when England start against Tunisia.
Arguably Everton’s best player this season, if he had better defenders in front of him, Pickford will probably look much better than he already his. His knack for unbelievable saves and his ability to play out from the back is a characteristic Gareth Southgate endears to. Probably Joe Hart’s strongest contender for the England no. 1 jersey.
Nobody wants to be last choice when it comes to goalkeepers in major international tournaments, you don’t even get a look in but if you take a peak at Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope’s story, you’d be surprised as to how he is making the plane to Russia. Considered as Burnley’s no.2 when the season started, an injury to Tom Heaton has allowed Nick Pope to come in and put in some wonderful performances in between the Burnley sticks. He could even be challenging Heaton for the number 1 jersey when the new season starts in August. Permitting he does make the squad, Pope should be delighted at how far he’s come, representing England at a major tournament should be a highlight in his career so far.
Easily England’s best full back and another man worthy of Gareth Southgate’s trust in amongst the whole squad. Not only can he be useful at right full-back but the win against against the Netherlands two months ago showed that Walker can be useful at centre back if Gareth Southgate chooses to go with a back three in Russia.
Mauricio Pochettino’s Mr reliable Kieran Trippier is a worthy replacement for the departed Kyle Walker. The former Burnley man has established himself in the Tottenham defence and has put in some stern performances this season for the North London club. If Southgate opts for Kyle Walker at centre back in a 3 man defence, don’t be surprised to see him deployed at wing-back. His deliveries are a force to be reckoned with.
Another player who’s rise to prominence has been mightily impressive, so much so that Manchester City were interested in his services in the January window. Maguire has been a mainstay in the Leicester City defence this season, couped up for a bargain from Sheffield United last summer. His ability to carry the ball from the back and his remarkably tall frame makes him a shoe-in to start England’s opening fixture against Tunisia. I am a huge fan of his.
Say what you want about Chris Smalling as well as Joe Hart, do not be surprised if he is rewarded with the captains armband in Russia. Smalling has been remarkable for Mourinho and Manchester United this season, no reason why the Special One picks him every week. I had my doubts about him also but not only has he become assured and matured at the back for United but his recent knack of popping up with vital goals this season has endeared him to the United faithful – finally.
I am a huge fan of this guy. John Stones is a player I can’t help but admire, his ability to start attacks from the back, his bravery at keeping possession in his own penalty box and defensive qualities makes him a definite in my England squad. If there was ever a brave and noble defender in the squad its John Stones. He may have lost his place in the City line-up as the season developed but Stones is well liked by Guardiola, and his characteristics is mainly the reason why.
Whether he plays in the middle or at the back, you know Eric Dier will put his all in. Another player Mauricio Pochettino places so much trust in. The only thing you can probably argue about Dier is what his best position is and that is what Southgate will be eager to address before England kick off on June 18.
You may disagree with this choice but Phil Jones has made remarkable improvements under Jose Mourinho this season. Jones will literally put his body on the line for the cause and that is why Mourinho trusts him so much. A worthy addition to Southgate’s defensive choices.
Like him or love him, Danny Rose is England’s best left back choice. There is no doubt about that, and he will be one of England’s key outlets in attack this summer in Russia. Not only has he been a force in attack for Tottenham but he has impressively refined his defensive abilities and is more assured when under pressure. England’s number 1 left-back for years to come.
Southampton have had a poor season in the Premier League this campaign, only just beating the drop before their last fixture against Manchester City but one player who has performed on a consistent basis for the club is left-back Ryan Bertrand who not only has been a good performer but he has also led impressively since Mark Hughes was appointed the new manager. A worthy understudy to Danny Rose.
Still a huge fan of Wilshere and that’s why I feel he has to be on the plane in Russia. It looks as though he has overcome his injury troubles and has become a regular in the Arsenal line-up this season. His ability to carry the ball from midfield is a very underrated characteristic – one England really need if they are to progress in this summers World Cup. You can’t argue with Wilshere’s inclusion.
Whenever I bring up Jordan Henderson, a lot of people aren’t convinced and I am shocked at that. Henderson has enjoyed probably his best season in a Liverpool shirt, and when he isn’t in the team, you can see the difference, the balance he brings in between the defence and attack is what Klopp admires in Henderson. He will be a key player for Southgate in Russia, no doubt about it.
A lot people are hesitating over whether Dele Alli should start England’s first game against Tunisia and I somewhat agree but there is no doubting what Alli brings to the table. His confidence, tenacity and the ability to pop up at the right place at the right time is what marks him out apart from the rest. Alli has grown considerably this season despite some minor blips. You just can’t rule him out this summer.
What a season Jesse Lingard has had under Mourinho. Many doubted his talents before the Portuguese coach stepped in and Lingard has rewarded Mourinho’s faith and trust in him. Ferguson did once say Jesse Lingard will be a late bloomer and that prophecy has truly come to fruition this season. Gareth Southgate is also a huge fan of his underrated abilities, so don’t be surprised to see Lingard start over Dele Alli when England kick-off against Tunisia.
Every squad has to have one or two wildcards and Ruben Loftus-Cheek is one of mine. A player I can’t help admiring. His impressive showing when given his England day-view against World champions Germany which rewarded him with the Man-of-the-match award has certainly put his abilities and talents on the map again. Still only 22, it feels like he has been around for a long time – well, he has. A recent injury picked up as the season drew to a close looked to have ended his World Cup hopes but he has come back fighting, ending the season on a high once again. I would personally beg Southgate to put him on the plane if I had the chance, a serious talent.
Make of this choice what you will but Jonjo Shelvey is another wildcard of mine. He maybe a trouble maker but his ability is what England need this summer and it is one none of the other midfielders in this squad are blessed with – the ability to pick a pass out of nowhere. Shelvey has that in abundance. If you analyse his performances this season, you’ll see why I have picked him for my England squad. You need to take a gamble sometimes.
Raheem Sterling has been amazing under Guardiola this season. Each and every department of his game which needed some work has been well fine tuned by Guardiola and Southgate will hopefully enjoy the fruits of Guardiola’s labour this summer. Sterling will be a formidable attacking outlet for England in Russia. A stellar showing for City this season which has garnered 22 goals throughout the whole of the campaign, a remarkable return for a player who has received much criticism in the past. He has answered those critics with aplomb, and long may it continue.
The future of English football Marcus Rashford will hopefully have a World Cup to remember this summer. The youngster has enjoyed three glorious seasons in the red colours of Manchester United and although he has not been used as much as he would have expected at the start of the season, the striker has matured considerably under Mourinho. His tactical discipline has been a key attribute he has picked up this season, being deployed in various positions in which Mourinho has instructed him to, and to devastating effect. Much of England’s hopes will hinge on the form of the young Marcus Rashford. No pressure.
I was unsure of this choice because Danny Welbeck can be so frustrating at times, but I can’t deny the fact that whenever he is called upon for England, he somehow turns up, and it may not be because of his goal scoring or assists but it his ability to disrupt the flow of a defence with his constant running and harassing of defenders, a useful trait alongside Jamie Vardy, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling in which Southgate can harness to great effect this summer.
Jamie Vardy may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but trust me he is your cup of water on a barren spell without any liquid. He is that crucial to Leicester and he has shown that once again for yet another season. Check out his goal scoring exploits for the last few seasons and you’d be mightily impressed. His emphatic penalties can be useful too also – if you know what I mean. Typical England eh?
Is there an end to this guys goal scoring talents. Absolutely remarkable. He may not have one the Golden Boot for the third time in a row this season – beaten by the brilliant Mo Salah of Liverpool – but yet, he still delivers when Tottenham need him. Harry Kane has now notched over 20 goals in a season 4 times in a row now. Remember those talks going around saying he was a one season wonder once upon a time? Yeah, that’s long been forgotten. This man means business. All our nations hopes and ambitions this summer cannot come to life without the one and only Harry Kane. Go on Son!