Roundtable: Who should start for England at the World Cup?
Now England are safely qualified for the World Cup finals in Russia, we asked each of our reporters to name the team they would pick for the opening match.
England's qualifying campaign was as serene as ever, bar the controversy which saw Sam Allardyce sacked after one match in charge, as Gareth Southgate ultimately steered them through unbeaten to make the finals in Russia.
But England almost always qualify with ease, having not lost a qualifier for a World Cup or European Championship since 2009. How can they have any chance of finally making an impact on a major tournament?
It will be a huge task for Southgate, who has tinkered regularly with the shape of his midfield and attack during qualifying - as well as testing out a back three in friendly defeats to France and Germany.
But what is the magic formula? Our reporters have their say below, and we compile all the votes to decide on the official England World Cup XI - as decided by Eurosport.
4-3-3: Butland – Walker, Cahill, Jones, Bertrand – Dier, Henderson, Alli – Sterling, Kane, Rashford
This XI maybe lacks the pizzazz of some others here, but instead offers the balance and stability that England so readily lose on the big stage – in theory setting a solid platform for an excellent ‘front four’ to express themselves. Jack Wilshere is an interesting option for midfield, but I’d like to see more of a man who last played a Premier League game for Arsenal 17 months ago.
England’s back five has few standout performers and as such should be picked on form – Phil Jones is currently our best centre-back, but a partnership with John Stones seems wantonly self-destructive so Gary Cahill keeps his place.
Eric Dier (right, with Jordan Henderson) failed to impress for EnglandReuters
4-3-3: Pickford - Walker, Cahill, Stones, Rose - Dier, Alli, Lallana - Sterling, Kane, Rashford
England's defensive options look pretty ropey so the intention here is to front-load the team and hope that these genuinely exciting attacking talents can carry them through. Admittedly, it's a high-risk strategy at the World Cup, but a midfield three of Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Adam Lallana should be able to retain possession at moments where England need to pace themselves.
Lallana is the reigning England Player of the Year but was the hardest to accommodate: the emergence of Marcus Rashford means he had to be moved from a wide position into the centre. The biggest gamble here is probably using John Stones over Phil Jones, but Manchester City look set to have a superb season and with some confidence behind him, Stones is the kind of cultured centre-back England will require on the grandest of stages.
4-2-3-1: Butland - Walker, Jones, Smalling, Rose - Dier, Wilshere - Sterling, Alli, Rashford - Kane
The key here is the XI we would ‘like to see’. So here is the team I believe is most likely to win England the World Cup (though ‘most likely’ still does not mean it is likely in any way). No-one knows who will be fit and in form by the end of the season. So, in a perfect world, this is the most talented – hence the inclusion of Wilshere – and attacking side available to Gareth Southgate. Because England should never rely on parking the bus.
It builds on recent, and probably future, club success with the young Tottenham team, so impressive over the past two seasons in the Premier League, supplying half of the outfield players (I’m giving them credit for the recently departed Kyle Walker too). It also allows key combinations – an increasingly important factor in international football, given lack of preparation time – to remain in place. That is, Alli and Kane at No 10 and No 9, plus Jones and Smalling, who are developing the dark arts of defending under Mourinho, at centre-back. The formation – and positions they play (no Vardy on the left wing you’ll notice) – will also be largely familiar for the whole team.
3-4-3: Butland – Smalling, Stones, Jones – Walker, Dier, Lallana, Rose – Alli, Kane, Rashford
You probably hate me already. Smalling-Stones-Jones might sound like a horror movie spoof, but England are far more-suited to a back three (without Gary Cahill, who is on the decline) as it allows Kyle Walker and Danny Rose to rampage forward without worry. In possession, John Stones – who, admittedly, needs a superb season before his calamitous tag is forgotten – can step in alongside Eric Dier, freeing up Adam Lallana to break from a rigid system and find space.
And with Dele Alli closer to Harry Kane, the pair have the best chance of carrying their club form onto the international scene – it’s simply a waste having the former in midfield. Of course, a 3-4-3 formation is a sizable gamble, but it’s better to crash out trying something new than reverting to a safe system that doesn’t play to England’s strengths.
4-3-3: Pickford – Walker, Stones, Jones, Rose – Dier, Winks, Alli – Sterling, Kane, Rashford
It's when you start trying to pick your own England team you realise the sort of job that faces Gareth Southgate this summer.
Just where are the midfield options? Jordan Henderson is not a top quality central midfielder, no matter how much he attempts to show otherwise, but it's hard not to pick him given the paucity of options. However, to get the best out of England's attacking players it's going to be imperative that the central midfield can pick a pass and understand how each other play. As such, Eric Dier is a nailed on starter, while his Tottenham Hotspur cohort Harry Winks looks set to be a late bolter. Winks might not have the natural ability of a Jack Wilshere, or the enhanced reputation of a Henderson, but he can pick a pass, covers ground well and understands how to manage a game of football - something England are crying out for.
If Southgate's men are to have any chance at the World Cup then it will be down to their exciting group of attacking players. So getting Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford all on the pitch is a must.
Harry Winks could be a World Cup 'bolter'Getty Images
3-4-3: Butland - Jones, Stones, Cahill - Walker, Dier, Lallana, Rose - Alli, Kane, Rashford
It's no secret that England are shaky at the back when they come up against any decent opposition. I think a 3-4-3 formation will offer more protection to the defence, while playing to the strengths of the attacking wing-backs. The back three is debatable, but this season so far has seen Jones as England's best centre-back and Stones looking much more assured, while Cahill's vital experience helps him creep into this XI.
Dier is the only feasible option in the defensive midfield role, meaning he will feature in most of these XIs - and I would partner him with Lallana. The Liverpool midfielder is capable of creating attacks from deep and (unlike Jordan Henderson) he isn't afraid of travelling forward with the ball, which allows the midfield to be more threatening in attack. It's the role where (a fully-fit) Jack Wilshere would be perfect, but we need to be patient during his return to first team football.
Two of the front three were easy to pick with Kane and Alli looking like England's key players ahead of the Russia World Cup. The remaining position went to Rashford due to him being a potential match-winner. However, if Raheem Sterling keeps up his recent form, we will definitely see him closely compete with the Manchester United forward for a place in the side.
4-2-3-1: Butland - Walker, Stones, Jones, Rose - Dier, Wilshere - Sterling, Alli, Rashford - Kane
Let’s face it. England won’t win the World Cup. So why not go to Russia and actually have a go. This XI is young and full of beans. Everything I would like to see in an England team.
Ball retention has been an major issue for England against the big nations for a long time. The likes of Stones and Wilshere have the quality to look after the ball, start attacks from deep and get England playing on the front foot, instead of holding on for dear life for the inevitable penalty shoot-out defeat in the knockout stages.
If Gareth Southgate can get this team set-up correctly to play on the counter attack, the likes of Rashford and Sterling, with Walker and Rose on the overlap, could be devastating and can provide the chances for Kane to fire England into the latter stages of the tournament.
Jack Wilshere of Arsenal reacts during the Premier League 2 match between Arsenal v Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on August 21, 2017 in London, England.Getty Images
4-3-3: Butland - Walker, Stones, Jones, Rose - Dier, Lallana, Alli - Sterling, Kane, Rashford
I think a lot has been made already above about the attack and really we're all more or less in agreement. The Spurs trio of Dier, Alli and Kane all need to be involved as do Sterling and Rashford. Who goes with them is up for debate, personally I think Lallana gives something different in terms of carrying the ball.
However I'd like to make the case for Jack Butland over Jordan Pickford, something which others haven't really touched upon. Pickford is superb with his feet, seriously he's one of the best keepers in the league when kicking. However in pretty much every other department Butland is better. He's a better shot-stopper, better aerially and he's better when coming out for one-on-ones. Eventually these two will have an epic battle for the No.1 spot but for now Butland is ahead.
Also picking Cahill seems naive based on his Chelsea form and looking to the future. Stones is a no-brainer despite what some may say whilst Jones looks like he's finally fulfilling his potential, which was always higher than club team-mate Chris Smalling.
England's World Cup XI - as picked by Eurosport
With the exception of some left-field picks (Harry Winks and Jack Wilshere) the first XI is pretty clear in the eyes of the Eurosport team.
The biggest debate will be how the attacking quartet of Kane, Alli, Rashford and Sterling should be accomodated by the formation, but a front three with Alli floating in behind seems to be the most popular view.
Will it be good enough to win the World Cup though? We can't see why not. In fact, there's almost no point any other country turning up...