Paul Parker’s England squad analysis: One baffling decision and team’s surprising big strength
Paul Parker casts his eye over Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad for the upcoming World Cup in Russia, and while he sees the odd anomaly, he also has hope for a breakout tournament.
England's 23-man World Cup squad
Defenders: John Stones (Manchester City), Harry Maguire (Leicester City), Phil Jones (Manchester Utd), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Ashley Young (Manchester Utd), Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
There will hardly ever be consensus on an England World Cup squad but Gareth Southgate has largely stuck to his guns and picked players who fit his philosophy. Here are some thoughts on the big decisions.
Rose decision baffling
I do wonder how Danny Rose got into the squad. The England manager has previously said the requisite for squad selection was form and fitness, so how does Rose, who has hardly featured for Spurs, merit a place? Even when he has played, he hasn’t done anything exceptional to warrant going to the World Cup. Furthermore, when was the last big game he played for Spurs?
Ryan Bertrand can count himself as hugely unfortunate, as he has been very good in a very poor Southampton team. If anything, poor decision making at a boardroom level has cost him; the Saints have appointed conservative managers, whose philosophies are hardly in line with the expansive approach that Gareth Southgate clearly favours.
The left-sided back-ups are utility players: Ashley Young and Fabian Delph. It makes the decision all the more baffling.
Alexander-Arnold not a wing-back
On the other side, Trent Alexander-Arnold has done okay for Liverpool. However, he has been playing as a full-back in a back four. He has not played wingback and there are substantial differences in the requirements for what are very different positions. It looks like Kyle Walker is going as a centre-half, with Kieran Trippier going as first choice right back.
Alexander-Arnold appears to have been the beneficiary of the injury to his Liverpool team-mate Joe Gomez, who probably would have went ahead of him. Trippier makes sense as the starter: he has played that position for Spurs for much of the season. And with this team lacking international experience, it is important to select players how have experience playing the system that Southgate wants to use.
A big risk
Harry Maguire seems to be a confident lad; he wants to play out from the back and that stands him in good stead with Southgate. We’ll find how good he is in Russia, though. He may not be the highest profile but, to be fair, his selection makes sense; there is no point in Southgate selecting players who are unwilling or unable to play the way he wants the team to.
Southgate wants to take risks – Maguire and John Stones are willing to take the ball under pressure. The one concern is how the aforementioned players will react to the magnitude of the games they are about to take part in. Can they translate that willingness to take risk to the World Cup? One mistake could cost your nation its chance at glory.
Harry MaguirePA Sport
Furthermore, ball-playing centre-halves are en vogue but their effectiveness is somewhat undermined if the midfield ahead of them are less-than-comfortable on the ball. Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier have many merits but they're hardly the most expressive when in possession. Dier and Henderson are not great tempo-setters; they’re just not forward-thinking midfield players so, all of a sudden, there could be a lot of responsibility thrust unto the shoulders of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who loves to run with the ball. Personally I would not play Dier and Henderson together; that would indicate that England do not expect to dominate the ball.
Lallana worth a punt
It is rather perplexing that Adam Lallana has not made the squad. There is an utter dearth of creativity, so surely Lallana is worth a punt. If he is fit enough for standby then he is worth a spot in the squad. Personally, Danny Welbeck would make way; England have enough forwards already – you’re not just going to use that number of forwards.
Surprising big strength
However, England have one big strength, and that is up top. If we get chances, then you’d expect the front line to do the business. Across the squad England do not have enough top quality players who play in their chosen positions regularly enough; however, the exception, of course, being up front, where Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling play for some of the best sides in the league. Any side who have designs on going deep into a tournament must play to their strengths, and England’s is up front.
A breakout star
Most importantly, we need to back the team. Over many, many years we have seen teams and players taking tournaments by the scruff of the neck and we need to hope that happens with England. Ruben Loftus-Cheek could be that player; he has looked good since he returned to the Palace team after injury. He marries physical presence with exceptional technical ability and he has proven himself across England youth levels. Perhaps he can be that man.
My starting XI:
Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, John Stones;
Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose;
Jordan Henderson, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jesse Lingard
Dele Alli, Harry Kane
Butland gets the nod due to his presence and decision-making.
Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope and Jack Butland, left to right, form an inexperienced goalkeeping trio (Mike Egerton/PA)PA Sport
In front of him, Walker, Maguire and Stones as a three, they can all defend but they start because of their ability with the football – they are all willing to take it under pressure. Trippier and Rose because they have experience in that role. Trippier has excelled in that position so he is straight in, but Rose is more by default.
Loftus-Cheek, Jesse Lingard and, the third one is a tough one but, Henderson. The on-loan Chelsea man Loftus-Cheek would bear the responsibility of providing the link between defence and attack. He is willing to accept the ball and can carry the ball at pace while Lingard is willing and able to make telling runs without the ball. Henderson represents the safe option; he literally always plays safe.
Up top, it would have to be Harry Kane obviously. Alongside him, England lack a genuine link man – a Peter Beardsley or Teddy Sheringham – so it would have to be Dele Alli, a modern day David Platt, scurrying around alongside Kane looking for opportunities.
There is potential there if it clicks.