My England World Cup 2018 Squad Picks

My England World Cup 2018 Squad Picks

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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My England Squad Link:

Goalkeepers: 

Joe Hart

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Despite criticism, Joe Hart is England’s go to guy.

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.

Jordan Pickford

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Pickford is Hart’s closest contender for the no.1 goalkeeper shirt.

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.

Nick Pope

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Nick Pope has established himself as Burnley’s no. 1 this season.

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.

Defenders:

Kyle Walker

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Many criticized Walker’s move to Man City, but he is responded with his first major trophy in English football.

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.

Kieran Trippier

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Kyle Walker’s understudy turned Tottenham’s Mr Reliable at full-back. A worthy replacement.

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.

Harry Maguire

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Harry Maguire has been a assured performer both for Leicester and England.

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.

Chris Smalling

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Chris Smalling’s leadership and determination has made him a mainstay in Mourinho’s United defence.

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.

John Stones

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Stones may have lost his place in the City team but his abilities is strongly admired by Southgate.

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.

Eric Dier

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Another Tottenham Mr Reliable. 

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.

Phil Jones

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Mourinho’s trust in Jones has been rewarded with brilliant performances in defence for United.

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.

Danny Rose

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Danny Rose has enhanced his position as England’s no.1 left back this season.

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.

Ryan Bertrand

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Ryan Bertrand has shone in the midst of adversity for Southampton this season. 

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.

Midfielders: 

Jack Wilshere 

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Despite his injury record, Jack Wilshere has been a mainstay in the Arsenal starting 11 this season. 

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.

Jordan Henderson

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Another Leader in the England dressing room, Jordan Henderson. 

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.

Dele Alli

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Dele Alli has endured a bit of a blip this season compared to last but there is no doubting his abilities. 

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.

Jesse Lingard

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Jesse Lingard has enjoyed a very fruitful season at Old Trafford. 

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.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek

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Loftus-Cheek has blossomed under Roy Hodgson this season for Crystal Palace.

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.

Jonjo Shelvey

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Jonjo Shelvey, despite his troublesome nature has been mightily impressive under Rafael Benitez for Newcastle.

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 

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Raheem Sterling has made massive improvements under Guardiola this season. 

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.

Strikers:

Marcus Rashford

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Although he has not been used sparingly this season, Marcus Rashford has matured considerably this season. 

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.

Danny Welbeck

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Danny Welbeck enjoyed a fruitful end to the season – will that be enough to break into the squad?

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

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Jamie Vardy has enjoyed yet another emphatic goal scoring season in the Premier League. 

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?

Harry Kane

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Yet another fantastic goal scoring season for Harry Kane – can he continue that form in Russia this summer? 

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!

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Monaco’s Ligue 1 Title Triumph Proves You Don’t Need Riches to Succeed.

Monaco’s Ligue 1 Title Triumph Proves You Don’t Need Riches to Succeed.

Wednesday 17 May 2017, Monaco secured the Ligue 1 title for the first time in 17 years after a 2-0 win at home to Saint-Etienne.

Needing a point to be crowned French champions of the eighth time, the mesmerising young forward Kylian Mbappe, 18, scored the opener in style latching onto a fine through ball from Falcao, skipped around the goalkeeper slotting in his 14th league goal of what has been a remarkable and breakout season for the French starlet.

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Kylian Mbappe, 18, notches his 14th league goal of the season in the title clincher against Saint-Etienne.

Forward Valerie Germain made sure of the victory in injury time with a tap-in from close range. The home side all but secured the title before kick off, with Paris St Germain three points behind with just one game to go and a far inferior goal difference.

French Ligue 1 Table

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Mon 38 30 5 3 107 31 75 95
2 Paris St G 38 27 6 5 83 27 56 87

The new champions rarely looked troubled in registering their 11th consecutive victory and subsequently lifting a trophy that has eluded them since the turn of the millennium. As coronations go, their performance the week before – a 4-0 win over Lille – a pitch-perfect, a performance that was microcosm of the team’s style, attacking prowess, evolution and success it has produced this season.

Players such as Thomas Lemar, Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Fabinho and Benjamin Mendy have all written their own narratives this season, you could even throw in right-back Djibril Sidibe. Putting aside the brilliance of Radamel Falcao, all of these young players have encapsulated what Monaco have been about for the past couple years, a club hell-bent on bringing through youth. Remember players such as Anthony Martial and James Rodriguez? Yeah, these guys. Even if these talents aren’t home grown, Bakayoko and Bernardo Silva for example – moulding and nurturing them into household names, almost overnight on the back of an unlikely title and en even improbable run to the semi-finals of the Champions League.

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Monaco have notched an incredible 107 goals in Ligue 1 this season, the second best record behind Barcelona (116) of any club in Europe this season.

Throw in the experienced players such as Radamel Falcao, Danijel Subasic, Kamil Gilk, Joao Moutinho and Valerie Germain, coach Leonardo Jardim has managed to expertly blend in experience with youth to create a side worthy of blowing any of the big sides in Europe – fair enough they were outplayed and outclassed by Juventus in the semi-final, but they did give the Italian giants a run for their money at certain points in the tie.

Fair play to Jardim, for getting the best out of Radamel Falcao who looked a lost cause in the Premier League during his time at Manchester United and Chelsea, has been reinvigorated scoring 28 goals in 41 appearances – returning to the kind of form that labelled him the best forward in Europe in his glory days at FC Porto and Atletico Madrid, offering a firm rebuke at his critics that still linger in England.

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2016/17 has seen the return of the prolific Radamel Falcao, notching 28 goals in 41 appearances in all comps.

Still only 21, left-winger Thomas Lemar has overcome doubts and questions about his size and goal-scoring abilities to become – along with Bernardo Silva – one of Monaco’s most creative fulcrums as well as his break into the French squad. Only three players in Ligue 1 has recorded more assists than Lemar – a total of 9 assists and also 9 goals in the process, a remarkable return for a player slowly finding his awesome potential.

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Thomas Lemar has enjoyed an incredible breakthrough season at the Stade Louis II.

On the other wing, is Bernardo Silva who has shaken off the injury that kept him out of last year’s tournament Euro 2016 to perhaps become the best playmaker in France. His stats over the season tell its own story – a player who has been brimming with confidence ever since the start of the season – 8 goals, creating 58 chances, laying on nine assists for his teammates, completing 897 passes with a pass completion rate of 81%, of which 71% of those passes have been forward attempts. No wonder why clubs such as Manchester United and Barcelona have been sniffing down his neck since the turn of the year.

Of all the young crop of stars in this Monaco side, Silva is the most likely to depart the Stade Louis II with Jose Mourinho sharing the same agent as the Portuguese starlet. It is believed Mourinho feels Silva can be the player to take United to the next level in the Premier League – adding the sort of thrust and quality to their game, a quality they have sorely missed this season, as a result, failing to mount a serious assault on the Premier League title many expected when Mourinho signed.

Whatever happens, Jardim will hope his young starlets stay another year after such a remarkable season.

Then there’s probably the hottest young prospect in the whole of European football, Kylian Mbappe. He has caught the eye from a number of suitors around Europe including Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Real Madrid. 21 goals for a player of his age is no joke, then if you add in his 6 goals in the Champions League – 5 in the last 5 in the Knockout stages meant he was the youngest ever player ever to reach that feat in the Knockout phase. Truly outstanding for a player so young. It’s not only his scoring prowess but the way in which he goes about his business. The way he weaves past his markers with consummate ease, using his skill, speed and agility to bombard his opponents. He sure ain’t the finished article yet, but he is a true representation of Monaco’s progress and evolution over the past few years.

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18-year-old Kylian Mbappe has been on fire this season.

The size of Monaco’s achievement should not be understated. Yes, they too have a billionaire owner and resources to recruit and hone outstanding players, but their operating budget is still roughly a third of Paris Saint-Germain’s.

Certainly, most of their players aren’t home-grown or brought through the academy ranks but the club and Coach Leonardo Jardim must take huge credit for nurturing these players into world beaters. Fabinho was scouted from mid-table Portuguese side Rio Ave (initially on loan) and has been a revelation since his switch from right-back to midfielder resulting in major interest from Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Kamil Gilk was hardly the most astute defender at Serie A side Torino, but he’s been outstanding. Left-back Benjamin Mendy has massively improved since his move from Marseille. Jemerson has been a steel alongside Gilk in central defence, and he only joined the club from Atletico Miniero last summer. All in all, Leonardo Jardim has redesigned and re-invigorated these players into one of Europe’s most exciting teams while wiping away the misery of finishing an astonishing 30 point lead from Paris Saint-Germain last season. This title has been majestically won, not bought, and rightly so.

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The man behind Monaco’s renaissance this season – Leonardo Jardim.

When Monaco spent upwards of $160million on players in a single transfer window four years ago, it appeared that French football had a new powerhouse in town. The club had only been promoted to Ligue 1, but utilized the resources of a Russian Prince, Dmitry Rybolovlev to secure the signatures of world class talent such as James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao. A second place finish followed, as fans revelled in a long awaited challenger to the Qatari wealth of Paris Saint-Germain. However, Monaco were unable to maintain their spending power and had abandoned its lavish spending, and one by one, those ‘Galactico’ signings departed.

PSG, meanwhile, continued to lure the some of the best players in the world to the French capital, utterly dominating French football and wrapping up last season’s Ligue 1 title by early March. Over 30 points clear of their nearest challengers in 2015/16, PSG’s star studded squad were expected to look down on their closest rivals once again.

How wrong the were.

In an era of super agents and the trend of spending big buck to secure ‘World Class’ talent. Monaco’s CEO Vadim Vasilyev has abandoned those traditions and has gone for all for a more grass roots approach. In a game where a former leading British pundit famously once stated “you can’t win anything with kids,” Monaco ended the season atop the French League comfortably 8 points in front of their Mega-rich rivals.

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Monaco’s emphasis on youth has reaped many rewards – an almost unprecedented Ligue 1 title – their first in 17 years.

So what is the next step for these brilliant group of young stars? Questions have been inevitably been raised on the sustainability of an exciting Monaco project. Will they keep some of their young stars this summer? Over the course of the year, widespread reports rapidly emerging surrounding the futures of the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Fabinho, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva and Thomas Lemar. Three of those most likely to leave, Bakayoko who has been attracting much interest from Antonio Conte at Chelsea. As stated previously, Bernardo Silva reportedly on the verge of completing a move to Manchester United for a fee of around £70million. Last of all, Benjamin Mendy could be on his way also, with Manchester City and United interested in his services after an outstanding season at Left-back. Even coach Jardim has been subject of intense speculation recently regarding a move to Arsenal replacing Wenger but those rumours seem to have weathered down much to the joy of the Monaco board.

These rumours are just a few of the dozen making the rounds, but the club are already planning for the future with highly-rated Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans joining the club for a fee of around £21million. An attack-minded central midfielder, his tactical versatility and eye for goal make him an ideal replacement for Bakayoko, even if he does not possess as much physical presence.

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Monaco are already building for the future, with the signing of hot prospect Youri Tielemans expected to be completed within the next few weeks.

More players are sure to follow, but Monaco also have an impressive stable of players out on loan as well. Allan Saint-Maximin’s dazzling ability on the ball has impressed at Bastia, while Corentin Jean and Rony Lopes have also looked good in flashes. Malian midfielder Adama Traoré, a former U-20 World Cup Golden Ball winner, remains an intriguing if erratic prospect.

Many are afraid the club will not be able to carry on its dominance at the top of Ligue 1 for much longer, but the club itself are confident they sustain its challenge despite the supposed mass exodus expected to occur this summer, but the lack of competition for Ligue 1’s top places, at least compared with the Premier League, allows the team to attract young players who have proven themselves to some extent but are not yet full fledged stars. There are some stories emerging that they might just be able to keep some of their star players this summer. If that’s to happen, expect them to challenge PSG again next year and sustain another assault on the Champions League.

As Leicester City remarkably won the Premier League last season without the trend of splashing the cash, Monaco have followed suit – instead, nurturing and moulding emerging talents into League champions. You don’t need the riches to succeed.