We have already seen what this current England squad can do against Holland – a classic, dull 0-1 win which left everyone involved and watching feeling rather uninspired. With Italy up next we’re taking a look at the squad and who has the best chance of making it to Russia in the summer. Part one will focus on Gareth Southgate’s goalkeepers and defenders.
Joe Hart: The former England number one has had a rollercoaster ride over the past few seasons, leaving Manchester City to spend time on loan at Torino and West Ham. Hart can’t even make it into the relegation-threatened Hammers team, so he isn’t a hugely inspiring option for the World Cup. He is also without a clean sheet since September of last year.
Jordan Pickford: The Everton man started the game against Holland and is looking primed to take the starting spot in Russia if he keeps performing. With the third most saves in the Premier League this season and seven clean sheets, Pickford has emerged as a good option, but whether he can establish himself as a generation-long starting goalkeeper remains to be seen. We don’t have an abundance of goalkeeping talent so if Pickford could continue improving he could become an important member of the team.
Jack Butland: It’s interesting that, despite Stoke’s utterly abysmal defensive showing this season, Jack Butland is still regarded as a talented goalkeeper. Granted he has made the most saves in the Premier League this season, but you would expect that, mainly because the defenders in front of him are so calamitous. Butland is alright, but he isn’t a special player, and we should be aiming higher than the shot stopper from the English top flight’s worst defensive side.
Nick Pope: Perhaps the most intriguing inclusion in the squad, Pope took over from the injured Tom Heaton at Burnley early this season and has impressed enough to earn a spot in Southgate’s squad this time around. He has helped the Clarets to 11 clean sheets and the fourth best defensive record in the Premier League, so it may well be worth giving the 25-year old a chance.
Kyle Walker: Arguably one of the best players in the England squad, the Manchester City fullback has progressed brilliantly under Pep Guardiola and has the pace, physicality and height to compete with almost any winger in world football. Walker is an exciting player and has contributed six assists in the league this season, meaning he can make things happen when others aren’t stepping up.
Kieran Tripper: Once Walker’s backup at Tottenham, Trippier did look to have stepped up to fill the gap, only for Mauricio Pochettino to sign Serge Aurier. Now the fullback’s game time is sporadic at best, but he is a very talented player who has also registered six assists this season in fewer games than Walker. The duo both started against Holland in an experimental system, which could well be the way forward.
Ryan Bertrand: A Champions League and Europa League winner, Bertrand is a decent left back. Southampton aren’t having a great season, but the defender has four assists during this campaign and has been one of the brighter sparks in the Saints team. Bertrand didn’t start against Holland and will likely face a tough battle with Danny Rose for the left back spot.
Danny Rose: Another Tottenham fullback, Rose has played second fiddle to Welsh international Ben Davies for much of the season, though that has often been due to injury. The defender has only made six appearances this season, which means that Southgate is taking a slight risk with his inclusion, but Rose is a very talented player.
John Stones: Alongside Kyle Walker, Stones has developed nicely under Pep Guardiola, but the Manchester City defender remains quite a polarising player in the opinion of most England fans. His tendency towards playing out from the back and playing with his head firmly up means he breaks the mould of the traditional English centre half, but that’s the way the game is going at present and I believe he is one of the most naturally talented players in the squad.
James Tarkowski: The second Burnley name on the squad list, Tarkowski has emerged as another decent English defender from a side that has exceeded all expectations this season. The problem is that the Clarets style of play centres heavily around their defence absorbing pressure before playing on the break – something that England rarely do, against most opponents at least. I think he will be a good backup, but I’d be surprised if he gets much game time in the summer.
Alfie Mawson: While I have nothing against Southgate experimenting with alternative options, I think the inclusion of Mawson may be a step too far. I can’t see the Swansea man making it to Russia in the summer and I don’t see how he can warrant inclusion ahead of Chris Smalling, regardless of what people think of the Manchester United defender. Mawson isn’t going to spark fear in the hearts of opposing attackers – in fact he’s likely to do the opposite, even if he is a decent player. We should be aiming higher.
Joe Gomez: While the Liverpool defender is still young, he has been given a lot of chances under Jurgen Klopp and has emerged as an exciting prospect this season. Interestingly he can play both as a centre back and a fullback, and started in a back three against Holland. Gomez is still prone to mistakes, but I for one think giving him a chance in these friendlies can’t hurt, and is more valuable than starting the likes of Tarkowski and Mawson.
Harry Maguire: A fairly middle of the road choice, Maguire has been decent this season and has played every minute for a Leicester side that is currently sitting eight in the Premier League. He actually presents a surprisingly effective attacking threat, having contributed two goals and four assists during this campaign, but at this point he probably isn’t at the level to start consistently for England.
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