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World Cup Preview – England (28/32)

England

UEFA

Group G

Best World Cup Performance: Winners – 1966

Current ranking: 12th

History:

England’s football heritage is second to none, yet the 1966 victory has become a bitter sweet memory due to subsequent underachievement. Their last outstanding performance at a World Cup was Italia 90’, when England came agonisingly close to the final, but missed out after defeat to eventual champions Germany. Three Lions manager Sir Bobby Robson was rewarded for his brave selection of Paul Gascoigne, who was allowed creative freedom to provide for the clinical Gary Lineker.

At the turn of the millennium England had a wealth of young talent that were dubbed the ‘golden generation’ and instantaneously the pressure was piled on that group of players to succeed. They wilted under the weight of expectations, but Gareth Southgate’s current group might benefit from those players retirement as he ushers in a new era.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Burnley).

Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Harry Maguire (Leicester), Danny Rose (Tottenham), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Ashley Young (Manchester United).

Midfielders: Dele Alli, Eric Dier (both Tottenham), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea).

Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal).

Group Fixtures

  1. Tunisia Vs England, 19:00, 18/06, Volgograd Arena, Volograd
  2. England Vs Panama, 13:00, 24/06, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
  3. England Vs Belgium, 19:00, 28/06, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad

Manager: Gareth Southgate

Gareth Southgate has brought so much stability to the England setup, it’s difficult to comprehend this is his second senior managerial appointment, after three years with Middlesborough. He was promoted from his role as under 21 coach during the turmoil of Sam Allardyce’s sacking, with just a single game under his belt.

Southgate has transitioned expertly, eloquently explaining his decision to leave Rooney out of the set up from an early stage and taking the role in his stride.

It’s yet to be seen how the former England defender will fair in Russia, but signs are promising and the lack of expectation from England fans might generate a greater level of freedom on the pitch.

Qualification:

England won UEFA group F in typical fashion going unbeaten in a group containing Slovakia, Scotland, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta, although the statistics mask the on pitch performance. Southgate’s side were transitioning to a new style during qualification, but they can be incredibly dour to watch, often slow to transition the ball up the pitch, which is a shame relative to the abundance of pace the side possesses.

Towards the end of qualification Southgate switched to a back line containing three centre backs, which has been popularised in English football since Antonio Conte’s title success using the system with Chelsea. This has allowed England defensive solidity, which is arguably the weakest area of the squad, but by prioritising defence Southgate has detracted from England’s greatest strength, the attacking potency of players such as Kane and Sterling. With friendlies still to be played it’s crucial that the manager is able to strike the balance between attack and defence.

Captain: Harry Kane

It’s somewhat of a surprise that Kane has been selected as England captain, given that Henderson is Liverpool’s skipper. However, Kane certainly doesn’t lack leadership qualities, they just might not appear quite so obvious. It’s not Kane’s style to bark instructions in the same manner as Roy Keane used to for Manchester United, instead he will lead by example and is a consummate professional both on and off the pitch.

Providing Kane manages to find the back of the net with a regularity close to the level he produces for Tottenham Hotspur, the decision to make him captain will go unquestioned. If he fails to do so then Southgate may have left himself open to scrutiny, as it could be argued Kane should focus solely on scoring.

Danger Man: Raheem Sterling

England’s squad contains multiple sources of danger if utilised correctly, though Raheem Sterling has produced imperious displays in a Manchester City shirt this campaign. Finally, Pep Guardiola has been able to make consistency a key aspect of Sterling’s game, and if the Englishman is to truly announce himself on the world stage, it is imperative this transitions into a Three Lions jersey.

18 Premier League goals this season is the same as the total he managed for Liverpool during his four year spell, yet Sterling only managed two goals in 37 appearances for England and they came against Lithuania and Estonia.

Young Player: Marcus Rashford

During Marcus Rashford’s last tournament appearance for England, he came on as a substitute and in five minutes he completed the most successful dribbles on the pitch, this was of course the infamous encounter with Iceland. This stat exemplifies that Rashford is a valuable asset either starting or coming off the bench, as England lack urgency in other areas of the pitch and the fearless Mancunian can be scintillatingly direct.

He’s had an indifferent season at Old Trafford but displays such as the one against Liverpool, where he scored an exquisite brace, prove he thrives on the pressure of a big occasion. Southgate has worked with him before at youth level and it wouldn’t be surprising if he is given a chance against opposition such as Belgium who will attack England and leave space for Rashford to exploit on the counter attack.

Premier League Players

Not a single player from the squad has played outside of the Premier League, with the exception of Eric Dier, having formerly represented Sporting CP. This means the England squad represent nine different Premier League teams at club level, the only squad member not currently playing for a Premier League club next season is Jack Butland, following Stoke City’s relegation.

Prediction:

Few will be surprised if England stutter to second in the group and face Poland in the round of 16. They’re spearheaded by Robert Lewandowski and although he’s their most potent goal threat, they also have a rigid back line that will be difficult to break down. Should England get past this test, they’ll set up a quarter final encounter with Germany and there is a strong chance the defending champions will be sending England home. Germany are one of the pre-tournament favourites and especially as Manuel Neuer has just returned from injury, their squad has very few weaknesses.

Written by Harvey Sayer.

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