Analysis of England National Team Ahead of FIFA World Cup in Russia
After a limp exit in the group stage at the Brazil World Cup followed by a humiliating defeat by Iceland, a country with a smaller population than Coventry, Southgate has not been set too high a bar for success at this World Cup. A young squad, without many of the star names that have come to characterise England sides of the past. It will be interesting to see whether former England youth manager Gareth Southgate can get this unfancied England side to finally achieve.
● Squad Analysis:
Jack Butland, Nick Pope, Jordan Pickford
Defenders: Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Gary Cahill, Danny Rose, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Phil Jones, Ashley Young
Eric Dier, Fabian Delph, Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard
Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford, Danny Welbeck
Many point to this squad lacking the star names of the England squads of yesteryear as a detriment to success in Russia, however Southgate could turn that into an advantage this year. Without star names (and the egos that accompany them) demanding to be in the starting squad Southgate will have the sort of tactical flexibility unknown to most previous England managers.
○ Probable Formations:
Southgate, so far in qualifiers and friendlies, has shown a preference for the 4-3-3 and the 3-4-2-1 that Chelsea popularized last season. He will be expected to continue in this manner for the tournament proper. The most discussed position within the squad will be who plays in goal. Hart was the unchallenged number 1 for many years but has had a couple of seasons to forget recently. This has coincided with markedly improved form for both Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland, which led to questions not of whether Hart will retain the starting spot, but whether he will even be on the plane. Ultimately, and somewhat unsurprisingly, Hart was not selected in the 23 by Southgate, the question will still be hotly discussed though as both Pickford and Butland have shown remarkable promise through their national youth games, whilst Pope has had a remarkable season with Burnley.
A 3-4-2-1 will be likely given that a lot of the players will be used to this formation, given its popularity amongst teams in the English Premier League. It’s also a good formation for a tournament as the two attacking midfielders are hard positions to pick up against when managers have such limited time available to them on the training pitch. Players like Sterling, Alli, Rashford, and Lingard are extremely adept at playing this role, of which Southgate will be acutely aware and looking to exploit.
4-3-3: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Rose; Dier, Henderson, Alli; Sterling, Rashford, Kane
3-4-2-1: Pickford; Stones, Maguire, Cahill; Walker, Henderson, Dier, Rose; Alli, Sterling; Kane
● Team Rating :
● Past Record in World Cup :
England have a single tournament triumph to their name, that honour coming as a result of the victory over a West Germany side in 1966.
Outside of the sole victory though England have made the semi-finals once and quarter-finals on six other separate occasions.
The England team have a perception within England to have chronically underperformed in big tournaments. This perception is not consistent with reality though and have, up until their recent two dismal efforts, usually performed on par with what can be expected (maths to support this can be found within Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s excellent book “Soccernomics”)
Recently though they seemed to have sought to lower the bar as far as possible. Scraping out of the group stages in 2010, before a 4-1 humbling at the hands of the Germans in the first knockout round.
In the following World Cup in 2014 expectations were low, performances lower with the squad limping to a bottom placed finishing with a draw and two losses.
The next tournament came and England’s hopes had risen again as a nation expunged the previous two World Cups from their collective memories.
Performances however, failed to match the increased expectation. After just qualifying thanks to a controversial 92nd minute goal against Wales, England then conspired to lose in the First Knockout Round to Iceland, a country with a smaller population than Coventry. This has meant however, that hopes are not too high for the 2018 tournament. Could Gareth Southgate’s men be the ones to revive national spirit?
● Manager’s Quotes :
Southgate was asked about the appointment of star striker Harry Kane as national team captain in a recent press conference.
“Harry has some outstanding personal qualities,” said Southgate. “He is a meticulous professional and one of the most important things for a captain is that they set the standard every day.
“He has belief and high standards and it is a great message for the team to have a captain who has shown that it is possible to be one of the best in the world over a consistent period of time and that has been his drive.
“My feeling is that over the last 18 months in the camps that he’s been with us he has shown that he has got the desire to take that into a team environment and he recognises the importance of bringing others with him.
“Of course, Harry will need the support of the other good leaders that we have got around him. You don’t become a top team by just having a good captain with good values because that has got to spread right throughout the group but I think he is the one who is ready to take that challenge on.”
● Recent Form:
England qualified for this tournament undefeated, winning eight of 10 matches with only two draws. This has been largely true to form with the team having only lost two matches since they were knocked out of Euro 2016, both of which have been friendlies. Southgate will be extremely keen to carry this form into the tournament.
● Hurdles in Group:
England have been blessed with an extremely straightforward group at this World Cup with Tunisia and Panama. They are though, still grouped with an extremely talented Belgium side who have a vast array of talented players who will cause England trouble. Getting on top of the Red Devils will be the key for England to finishing on top of their group and giving themselves the best chance at qualifying past the first knockout round.
● Writer’s Take:
In this tournament, the lack of ego’s and star power will give Southgate an easier time deciding on the team sheet each match. He will have the freedom to make big decisions and do what is right for the team, to make a coherent unit instead of a team of stars. Southgate will be able to tailor tactics to suit the style of football he wants to play and the style of football that will be most likely to win them the match as opposed to having to shoehorn names into a pre-determined tactical profile. This will give Southgate more freedom than has perhaps been available to any previous England manager. This, along with Southgate’s familiarity with a lot of the players, having coached England youth teams previously, should give this England side the ability to fly under the radar initially and the best platform to success.
If England bring the game they are capable of, then a semi-finals appearance is definitely within the realms of possibility; a quarter-finals exit however is much more probable