The England Starting XI That Gareth Southgate Needs To Play At The World Cup
As English football fans around the world prepare for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup, many debates have unfolded across social media regarding who deserves to wear the prominent Three Lions shirt this summer.
Joe Hart or Jordan Pickford? Phil Jones or John Stones? Jordan Henderson or Eric Dier? These are just some of the dilemmas which Gareth Southgate faces as he decided his twenty-three-man squad to complete the 1500-mile trip to Russia.
Three Months months before the first official game, we take a punt on the best possible line-up for England this summer.
Goalkeeper: Jordan Pickford
England are not short of talented goalkeepers; with the likes of Hart, Pickford, Butland and Heaton all competing for the jersey next year. England's current number-one Joe Hart has suffered major criticism on social media for his apparent decline in form, whilst Jordan Pickford is the only goalkeeper to have European football to prove his worth at the top level this season.
It is likely that a starting spot is there for the taking if Pickford can replicate his form last season for Everton in both domestic competitions and the Europa League.
Left-back: Danny Rose
Despite being sidelined with a knee injury since January 31, it is still likely that Danny Rose will retain his international place ahead of Southampton fullback Ryan Bertrand, 2015 Hammer of the Year Aaron Cresswell and Everton defender Leighton Baines.
Ryan Bertrand has not impressed on international duty, whilst Aaron Cresswell has been out of form since West Ham moved to the London Stadium. Leighton Baines is a solid back-up, however his prime years are definitely behind him.
Although Mauricio Pochettino has stated that he is unsure when his first-choice left-back will return to training, the talented 27 year-old should be fit and raring to impress in Russia.
Centre-back: Gary Cahill
Reigning Premier League champions Chelsea have consistently relied on Gary Cahill for many years now, and the Englishman is still a key asset to a potent defence which is looking to hold onto the league title for a second season running.
In terms of international history, Cahill has 56 caps for his country. The last three England managers have used the former Aston Villa player regularly in the team, whilst the other centre-backs have been constantly switched around.
With a lack of consistent centre-backs in the squad, Gary Cahill appears to have a World Cup starting spot nailed on.
Centre-back: John Stones
Last year John Stones completed an extremely controversial £50 million transfer from Everton to Manchester City, a world-record fee for a defender at the time. It was never going to be an easy task settling into a Champions League defence, however pundits slated the youngster before he was even given a chance.
Despite his confidence being blemished, the England international is beginning to find his feet under Pep Guardiola, and the only obstacle in his path to a starting spot in Russia is the impressive form of Phil Jones. Despite the Manchester United defender currently keeping new signing Victor Lindelof on the bench, the likelihood is that Jones will not continue his form for the rest of the season.
Whilst many will disagree, the talent of John Stones offers a fresh, young approach to an uncreative England defence, whereas the threat of Phil Jones is unlikely to perturb Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski or Sergio Aguero.
Right-back: Kyle Walker
Another defender to make a Premier League switch to Manchester City for a momentous fee, Kyle Walker joins John Stones in our best possible England back four. The England right-back spot has usually been occupied by Walker in recent years, and we see no reason why the former Tottenham full-back cannot retain this pattern in Russia.
Kieran Trippier and Nathaniel Clyne offer two quality backups to keep Walker on his feet - but they are probably still lacking the attacking threat which our number-one choice offers his international side.
Central Midfielder: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Whilst the 'Ox' has spent most of his career as a winger, the new Liverpool signing has made it clear that he wishes to transition to a central midfielder at his new club.
The Southampton academy player has received his fair share of criticism over the years, however a refreshing alteration to his position may be the kickstart he needs to fulfil his potential. Oxlade-Chamberlain cost Liverpool £35 million, therefore high expectations have been placed on the shoulders of the 24-year old.
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Rivals for this position include Jordan Henderson (who is scraping his way into his team solely based on his captain status) and a certain Tottenham Hotspur man...
Central Midfielder: Eric Dier
Partnering Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield is the reliable Eric Dier, which would offer England a strategic balance of both attack and defence in the centre of the park, as Dier could act as a sweeper for the back four, granting Oxlade-Chamberlain the freedom to roam forward when necessary.
Instead of gifting Henderson or Milner a spot, Gareth Southgate should choose a creative and exciting Ox-Dier partnership. The majority of England fans would agree that their country do not play the most attractive football; especially in comparison to World Cup rivals Germany; Spain and France.
Our country certainly needs some additional flair if we wish to compete with the countries previously listed.
Left Winger: Raheem Sterling
If you cast your mind back to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, you may remember Andrea Pirlo heaping praise on the Manchester City winger, claiming that "Raheem Sterling was the only English player to cause me problems, he is very talented".
Considering how all England internationals tend to switch off when under pressure, Gareth Southgate should listen to the Italy legend when he notices an England player actually playing at the top of his game for his country.
Raheem Sterling has arguably faced the most abuse out of the entire England squad ever since his controversial move from Liverpool to Manchester City in 2015, however the Jamaican-born 22-year-old has demonstrated his great professionalism by continuing to improve steadily and not lose confidence.
Attacking Midfielder: Dele Alli
Valued at £160million by the CIES Football Observatory, Dele Alli is a vital component to England's midfield, as his technical ability and flair lifts the confidence of the players around him.
The true worth of a player is proven by the difference in their team's performance with and without him, and the England international team certainly looks twice as frightening with the exciting prospect in the side. The Tottenham star is guaranteed a starting spot in Russia and will play a fundamental part in England having any success this summer.
Nobody can disagree with Dele Alli starting at the 2018 World Cup.
Right Winger: Marcus Rashford
England's latest matchwinner Marcus Rashford returns from the international break having scored the winning goal against Slovakia in the 59th minute, placing England just two points away from qualification.
Rashford has demonstrated a consistent goal scoring record in recent weeks, having netted in all of his last three games - Leicester, Stoke and Basel. The nineteen-year old forward is one of the most attacking and direct players England have, and the teenager has proven at club level that he is ready to take the leap onto the big stage at the World Cup.
Striker: Harry Kane
With two Premier League Golden Boots to his name; achieved by scoring 54 goals in two seasons; at the healthy age of twenty-four; there is no question about Harry Kane leading the front line at the 2018 World Cup.
Perhaps the only world-class player in the squad and one of the best strikers in the world, Gareth Southgate should be so lucky to have the Tottenham fan-favourite in his team. There is no need to justify this decision further - if you have any doubt, take a look at the players strike against Everton last weekend.
Joe Hart (WHU)
Phil Jones (MNU)
Nathaniel Clyne (LIV)
Jordan Henderson (LIV)
Adam Lallana (LIV)
Michail Antonio (WHU)
Daniel Sturridge (LIV)
WORDS BY MATTHEW JONES - @
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