With England’s 23-man squad for the 2018 World Cup announced on Wednesday, all of the talk is now about who will start for Gareth Southgate‘s men this summer in Russia.
So, who will start against Tunisia on June 18 in Volgograd?
A few quick notes before we get into the nitty-gritty of selecting a starting lineup.
Only five players from the 23 who represented the Three Lions at the 2014 World Cup last time out have survived (Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Jordan Henderson, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling) and only Sterling looks like a guaranteed starter at this point.
This is truly a new generation for the Three Lions squad with plenty of youngsters included in the squad and several players set to feature in their first World Cup.
Below is a look at the starting XI I would select if I was Southgate, with a brief explanation for the picks.
JPW’s England starting XI
—– Butland —–
—- Walker —- Stones —- Maguire —-
— Alexander-Arnold — Dier — Alli — Young —
—- Sterling —- Kane —- Rashford —-
Explanation: In goal, I’m going with Jack Butland as I think he takes less risks, is a solid shot-stopper and has been more consistent over the past few seasons, despite injury, for Stoke. Jordan Pickford is better with his feet, which could impact Southgate’s decision, but I’d go with Butland.
In defense, the three-man central defensive system has been working really well for England as they shutout Germany, Brazil and the Netherlands in recent friendlies and only conceded a penalty kick late on against Italy. Kyle Walker looks fabulous as a right-sided center back in a three, while John Stones and Harry Maguire both love to maraud forward with the ball. Maybe Gary Cahill or Phil Jones could come in for Stones to try and bring some balance, but Southgate wants his defenders to possess the ball.
In a 3-4-3 formation both the wide positions are really up for grabs. With Walker slotting inside, Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold will battle it out for the starting spot at right-wing back. Joe Gomez would’ve likely been included ahead of TAA if he wasn’t injured, so too Nathaniel Clyne had he been fully-fit, but the teenager has jumped ahead of his two teammates and should get the nod. At left-wing back it’s between Danny Rose, Ashley Young and Fabian Delph and I’d go with Young, who has been superb for Manchester United all season long and reinvented in that role under Jose Mourinho.
In the two central midfield spots it’s all about how adventurous Southgate will be. I’d seriously consider having Jordan Henderson in central midfield due to his passing ability but I think Eric Dier is the safer bet as he can play as a center back and slot in for Stones, Walker and Maguire when they surge forward. Alongside Dier in a free role would be Dele Alli, with the Tottenham attacker given plenty of freedom to support Harry Kane in attack.
Speaking of the forward line, Kane is likely to be the skipper and he should be flanked by the searing pace of Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. That trio, on their day, can rip apart any team, while having Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck to jump off the bench late on and make an impact is very useful.