Foul Throwdown: Picking our 23-man England World Cup squads
Gareth Southgate has announced that he will be naming his 23-man World Cup squad on Wednesday, May 16. We thought we'd beat him to the punch.
Oddly, there's much about our prospective England squads we agree on, but as always we find some crucial points to argue about.
Hopefully the England boss has a notebook handy.
ALMOND: Ok. First off, there are three ‘keepers rather than four here. I don’t want Joe Hart anywhere near that plane. I want him as far away as he is from the ball when he comes for crosses. I don’t care if he’s experienced, but he only has experience of losing with England and I just don’t think it’s worth using a squad spot on someone who no one actually wants to get near the field.
As for the starting berth, I think Pope is probably the best keeper out of the three, but I’d go with Pickford to start that first game. I’d pick him thanks to his distribution and his relatively greater experience than Pope. Mentally, playing at Everton this season is the closest any of them have been to the knife-edge support England receive at major tournaments – it can get nasty, quickly.
Butland provides perfectly adequate depth as the third choice.
JONES: We’re agreed that the three ‘keepers making the squad must be Pickford, Butland and Pope. Pope is a fine goalkeeper and Pickford is the best option we have with the ball at his feet, though I fear he may take one risk too many at some point. But, I also think Butland should start the first games in the group stage, at least (should he have a stinker, Southgate needs to be brave enough to change things up). He’s as good a shot stopper as any of the others, his distribution is reliable - if not spectacular in the Pickford mould - and I think he can be trusted to keep his head.
JONES: Gareth Southgate has made it abundantly clear that he is going to set up in Russia with a three centre-backs and wing-backs system. My picks here will reflect that. My midfield choices allow me to start with Dier dropping into this back three, alongside John Stones and Kyle Walker, who impressed as a right-sided centre-back in the recent friendlies. Central cover is provided by Leicester’s Harry Maguire, Gary Cahill and Phil Jones.
Having Walker amongst the central unit makes room for the impressive young Alexander-Arnold to take up the right wing-back berth. Ashley Young has earned his spot on the opposite flank this season, where he can compete for a starting spot with Fabian Delph (Guardiola once more showing us the light there). Kieran Tripper also makes the journey.
ALMOND: Great teams are adaptable. But I don’t think anyone thinks this England team is great. They might be good, but not great. So, I think if we’re playing five at the back with wing-backs, and committing to it, we need to make sure we have enough depth to survive injuries and even loss of form without fundamentally changing the shape. I think five front-line centre-backs, plus Dier and even Walker, if push comes to shove, cover this adequately.
Based on what we’ve seen from these players at club and international level, I’d start Stones, Tarkowski and Lascelles. To be clear, I don’t think Lascelles will be picked in the squad at all, let alone start our first game in Russia. However, I think there is a need for leadership in the team, rather than arbitrary ‘experience’ and I think Lascelles could provide this. Stones and Tarkowski surely provide enough ball playing ability to make up for any deficit Lascelles might have in this regard.
The starting full-backs of Young and Walker are ably deputised by Trippier and Delph, with the latter also able to cover the midfield if required.
ALMOND: We’ve already talked about the impact losing the Ox will have on this England midfield in the Summer. If I were Gareth Southgate, I’d have spent less time at the SuperBowl (only joking Gareth, I like you really) and more time on the phone to James Philip Milner desperately trying to persuade him to reconsider his international retirement. He’s been key to Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final this year, and everyone he’s played with talks about how he improves the team. Milner is a Joe Hart who’s good enough to actually get on the field.
Failing that, I’d take a risk on Lallana’s fitness as he’s a man who could make a real difference carrying the ball and unlocking the door of a stern group stage defence. All the other names are fairly standard; Alli, Lingard, Milner (Lallana), Loftus-Cheek and Henderson, with Dier offering squad depth at centre-back too.
JONES: I agree that Milner must go to Russia, and, for me, should be starting in our midfield too. Milner alongside Henderson gives us a solid central pairing, who are comfortable playing together, and pack more craft and guile than they’re often given credit for. Milner’s Champions League assist stats this season back that up – he has 9 so far this campaign, a competition record already with the final still to be played.
Alli, Lingard, Lallana and Delph round up my midfield picks. Ruben Loftus-Cheek can count himself unlucky to miss out - had Lallana’s fitness not come through late on he would be on the plane. Delph makes the trip due to the versatility he has shown at the Etihad this year.
JONES: England’s forward line represents the easiest picks in the squad. Obviously, Kane goes and Kane starts. Sterling goes and Sterling starts. Whilst ostensibly beginning each game in the same area of the pitch as Alli, I have included Sterling amongst the forwards here rather than the midfield to reflect the kind of movement he’ll be making from that starting position. His job is to basically play as a supporting striker to Kane whilst Vardy is on the bench. At least, that’s how I’d employ Alli and Sterling – Gareth, are you listening?
Rashford and Welbeck round out the forward line options. The prospect of Lingard, Rashford and Vardy on the bench, whilst Alli, Sterling and Kane take to the field is an exciting one for us and Southgate. Welbeck goes because of his ability to unsettle deep-lying defences with his endless, reckless rampaging, and for the defensive shifts and pressing play he is able to put in. You can legitimately criticise his end product at club level, but in an England shirt that’s not been an issue for Welbeck who has an impressive 15 goals in 37 caps to date.
ALMOND: Yep, as has already been pointed out, most of these pick themselves. I’d pick Welbeck for the same reasons as Will. As interesting, though, are the players that it pained me to leave out. Ademola Lookman suddenly looks like a real talent away from Merseyside and the clutches of Allardyce. To a lesser extent Jadon Sancho has impressed at Dortmund, but England are probably deepest at his position (remember the days of the England left-wing desert anyone?). I also wanted to find a spot for Jordan Ibe or Callum Wilson on this England plane, but ultimately their games are just not as ‘know what you’ll get’ as Welbeck’s.
Against Italy, Sterling played in a central role and it was glorious. But I’m not sure if that’s the right route with Kane up-top. I think Kane should play as part of a full-throated front three with two wingers – Rashford and Sterling. An ideal midfield of Henderson and Milner. If Milner isn’t available, as you’d expect, I’d replace him with Alli for the first two group games, but maybe Dier against Belgium. This would still leave Lingard, Lallana, Vardy and, possibly, Alli to come on and change things.
Jones’ Final 23
Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, John Stones, Eric Dier, Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, Ashley Young, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier, Fabian Delph, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Danny Welbeck, Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane.
Almond’s Final 23
Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, Fabian Delph, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, Ashley Young, Harry Maguire, Alfie Mawson, John Stones, Jamaal Lascelles, James Tarkowski, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, James Milner (Adam Lallana), Marcus Rashford, Jamie Vardy, Danny Welbeck, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling.