A month on from the 23-man England squad announcement by Gareth Southgate and looking forward to England’s first match on Monday, it’s time to analyse who will be representing the Three Lions in Russia.
With an average age of 25, the youth-heavy England squad have headed out to Russia after their final preparation friendly against Costa Rica on 7th June. Very few players remain from the 2014 squad who played rather dismally in Brazil. Clearly, Gareth Southgate wants to change things up after recent disappointment from England. Interestingly, every player in the squad plays for an English side, with most playing for Premier League teams. Only goalkeeper Jack Butland breaks this trend. Tottenham is the most heavily represented club, with five of the 23 men currently playing for Spurs. Manchester United and Manchester City both have four players representing their teams.
England manager, Gareth Southgate, has been in his position since September 2016, although this was only temporarily until November that same year. With 57 international caps himself for England, Southgate worked as England under-21 manager from 2013 to 2016 before being promoted to the senior team. Southgate replaced Sam Allardyce, who only served for one game and who had replaced Roy Hodgson earlier that year. Hodgson took England to Brazil 2014, where England were eliminated from the tournament in the group stages for the first time since 1958. England dropped to 20th in the FIFA World Rankings under Hodgson, the country’s worst position since May 1996. With a general lack of success behind him, Southgate has a lot of pressure on his shoulders for this world cup.
Three goalkeepers have landed in Russia, with one famous face remaining at home. Everton’s Jordan Pickford will wear the number one shirt and is likely to start against Tunisia on Monday. The 24-year-old has represented England at all youth levels, but has only three international caps for the senior team. Recently, Pickford made the controversial claim that he was further along in his career than David de Gea, Manchester United’s Spanish goalkeeper and generally considered as the best goalkeeper in the world, was at his age. These claims can only be backed up by his performance in Russia.
Second-choice goalkeeper this year will be Jack Butland, who was recently relegated with Stoke City. Butland played in 2012 in the Euros and is the only goalkeeper with any international tournament experience, although he was ruled out of Euros 2016 due to an ankle injury. He has eight international caps and has attracted interest from Liverpool this transfer season. The final goalkeeper in Russia, and a bit of a wildcard, is 26-year-old Burnley FC player, Nick Pope. Pope had no international caps until the world cup friendly against Costa Rica on 7th June, when he only played in the final third of the 2-0 England win.
Brazil 2014 first-choice goalkeeper, Joe Hart, was a big name missing from Southgate’s squad. This may be due to lack of form over the past two years, during different loans away from Manchester City. Of course, Hart’s performance in 2014 can not have helped his chances. Reports state that Hart feels that West Ham United manager, David Moyes, who Hart has played under for the past year, damaged his world cup chances by not playing him enough.
The defenders in Russia span the age range of 19 to 32. The youngest player on the squad, Trent Alexander-Arnold, played his first game against Costa Rica last week, despite having trained with the England team before friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy in March this year. Lauded as a key player in Champions League matches, Alexander-Arnold was the youngest Liverpool player to start in a Champions League final, during which Liverpool lost to Real Madrid.
Joint oldest player on the squad with Ashley Young, Chelsea’s Gary Cahill brings a sense of experience to the England defence this year. He is the most capped player, having played 60 international games over the course of his career. Cahill, perhaps unusually for a defender, has scored five international goals, including one in the Nigerian friendly in the run up to the world cup.
A player extolled by Alex Ferguson as possibly “United’s best ever player”, Manchester United’s Phil Jones has played 25 international games in his seven years as part of the international team. With a newborn baby at home with his wife, Jones has said that his new daughter “gives [him] a different purpose in life” and that he will “manage” the world cup, despite not being with his growing family.
With two excellent seasons at Hull and Leicester under his belt, Harry Maguire is next up with Jones. Having only five international caps does not give Maguire much experience, but his performance against Costa Rica on 7th June has critics claiming that Maguire could be a starter on the left.
A player in every international game in 2018, Danny Rose’s place at the 2018 world cup was never within question. The 27-year-old Tottenham player took part in the 2012 Olympics and has 18 international caps. With Manchester United’s transfer season interest denied, Rose should have no distractions throughout the tournament.
Central defender, John Stones, was recently selected for Euros 2016 but, despite his 26 international caps, did not actually make an appearance in any of the four games England played in the tournament. The 23-year-old City player made his name at Everton and has been playing in international games since 2014.
Tottenham’s right-back Kieran Trippier made his debut in a 3-2 defeat against France in June 2017. Since, he has appeared in 6 more international games, impressing Southgate. In a recent interview, Trippier has claimed that Southgate has improved his game and that the team have “had a lot of banter”, resulting in high morale within the team. This can surely only be a good thing as we head into the month-long competition. Kyle Walker used to play alongside Trippier, before his move to Manchester City in summer 2017. He will most likely be rotating with Trippier throughout the competition, as they both generally play right-back. However, as in the match against the Netherlands this march, we may see Walker play central defensive midfielder during the tournament. Walker was part of this season’s PFA Team of the Year, alongside teammate Harry Kane.
Alongside Cahill, Ashley Young is the oldest player on the squad, but with much less experience than Cahill, with only 34 international caps. Young’s call up was somewhat of a surprise as he had not been called up for four years before Southgate named him in the squad for friendlies in 2017 against Germany and Brazil. A famous face within the midfield will be Dele Alli. The 25-year-old Tottenham midfielder has had an inconsistent season this year, after being named PFA young player of the year in 2017. With 25 international caps and 2 international goals, Alli’s performance in the tournament will be one to watch.
Joining Alli is Fabian Delph, Manchester City’s 28-year-old midfielder. Bradford-born Delph was selected for Euros 2016 but had to pull out in the last minute due to a groin injury. Russia 2018 will, therefore, be Delph’s first international competition and will hopefully add to his current 11 international caps.
Eric Dier, generally praised as a very versatile player, plays for Tottenham in the central midfield. He was England’s captain against Germany in 2017 and has 26 international caps, with 3 international goals to boot.
In competition with Dier to start in England’s first game on Monday, Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson is returning for Russia 2018 after having started in two of England’s three matches in Brazil 2014. Henderson led Liverpool into the Champions League final this year as captain and there was discussion as to whether Henderson should be captain for the world cup instead of striker Harry Kane due to Henderson having more experience and leadership qualities, but Southgate’s decision had been made.
Warrington-born Jesse Lingard came up through Manchester United’s youth system and now plays on their senior team. At 25 years old, Lingard has 12 international caps and scored his first international goal against the Netherlands in a friendly in March. It is likely that Lingard will start England’s first match against Tunisia next to Dele Alli.
Having made his first international appearance against Germany in 2017, Ruben Loftus-Cheek joins the rest of the team in Russia. The 22-year-old Chelsea player now has 4 international caps and, in his first game, won man of the match.
Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both missed out on places at the world cup this year. While Oxlade-Chamberlain’s knee injury meant that the England squad will miss out on his 32 international caps’ worth of essential experience, Wilshere was passed over possibly due to a recent lack of form. Wilshere kept a good humour despite this, posting a humorous meme on his Instagram story, showing Hart pointing at Wilshere with the caption of “Don’t listen to them Jack! We’re good footballers”.
Finally, the selection of forwards is made up of five players, with an age range of 20 to 31. Harry Kane will be England’s captain throughout the tournament, supposedly having been told this by Southgate during the international break in March. However, there are those who claim that the only reasoning for his captainship is his skills in scoring. Kane is likely to be England’s top scorer, with statistics of 24 international caps and 13 international goals.
Over the past few days, there has been worry about Marcus Rashford’s form. He has missed two days of training in order to recover from a knock he sustained in England’s final training session on Monday. Despite this, he returned to training on Friday 15th, although it is unlikely he will be chosen for the Tunisia game on Monday. Rashford has 19 international caps to his name, but only 3 international goals. Hopefully England’s second youngest player can rectify this during this tournament.
Despite a recent tattoo scandal, Raheem Sterling will be playing at the world cup. With 38 international caps, the 23-year-old Manchester City forward follows the trend of generally well-capped forwards in Southgate’s squad.
Jamie Vardy made his international debut in 2015 and was called up for Euros 2016. The Leicester striker has 22 international caps and 7 international goals, most recently against Italy in a friendly in March. He is the oldest striker at 31 years old.
Finally, Danny Welbeck makes up the forwards. At 27 years old, Welbeck has represented his country 39 times, including in Euros 2012 and Brazil 2014. The Arsenal player has 16 international goals, most recently against Costa Rica on 7th June in the world cup warm up.
The 23-man squad looks to include many strong players and Southgate seems to have made some good decisions, having chosen to go with youth rather than experience. Perhaps this will give England an energy that they seemed to have been lacking during Brazil 2014. On Monday, we will have our first taste of Southgate’s squad and see whether England have any chance whatsoever.