Come June, Gareth Southgate would have loaded 23 of the best talents England has to offer on the plane headed for Russia, in pursuit of that elusive progression in a World Cup.
It seems that many are touting Southgate and his team to do “great things”. Great things probably refer to doing well during the group stages, progressing into the Round of 16, getting into the quarter-finals, scraping their way into the semi-finals, somehow making it to the final and then viola, England’s second World Cup trophy.
That’s the dream for every English fan (or any football fan, for that matter). However, in all honesty, my cautious optimism lies with England making it to the semi-finals rather than with them actually winning the World Cup.
A third or fourth placing in the global tournament should be considered a massive achievement for the English boys, considering most things such as a less-than-convincing backline and the gaffer’s misplaced faith in both Joe Hart and Jake Livermore.
Sol Campbell, former England defender and Arsenal star, is convinced that England’s lack of quality centre-backs and goalkeepers is a big worry. No one needs Big Ol’ Sol to tell them that. It is pretty plain for the world to see.
John Stones, James Tarkowski, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, Joe Gomez, Ryan Bertrand, Danny Rose, Harry Maguire and Alfie Mawson were all selected for the final preparations before June. Only Rose, Bertrand and Walker have any experience kicking a ball at a WC or Euros.
Gary Cahill, one of the most experienced English heads with 58 caps, was not selected after he was dropped from the starting eleven at Chelsea. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are still on Mourinho’s bus; have yet to alight.
Tarkowski and Mawson are both uncapped. Rose and Stones are not playing consistently at club level. Walker plays best at RB and not CB, for crying out loud.
Is this the backline we expect to do “great things?” Southgate has experimented with 16 different defenders since taking over the reins, indicating that he still hasn’t found a partnership that works. If the defence heading for Russia takes a similar shape to the current selection, it truly is worrying.
Then, we have the issue of goalkeepers. Hart looks like a shadow of his past self. Face it, he’s included because Southgate loves him and believes that his experience is valuable.
Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford, whilst undeniably talented, are struggling to prove their worth at club-level. Nick Pope has zero experience on the international stage.
Fraser Forster wasn’t picked, thanks to him going down the pecking order at Southampton and Tom Heaton is out with an injury. Ben Foster? Not too sure where he’s disappeared to. Probably lost in the West Midlands.
Personally, I’d take Butland, Pickford and Heaton to Russia. Best of the current crop that will get the job done. But, don’t go expecting clean sheets.
Southgate’s dilemma in midfield is a good one. The English midfield is bursting (okay, I exaggerate) with talent and venom. They can hurt their prey real badly.
I have faith in Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Jack Wilshere, Jesse Lingard, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Except Livermore. Hope he was included just to fill the numbers.
The midfield is a pretty versatile, balanced mix that, on a good day, will strike hard. And, on a bad day, could misfire in every possible direction. This is as talented a midfield as England has got.
Although, I would love to see Marc Albrighton picked for the 23-man squad. His versatility is an asset and the lad can operate in both defence and midfield. Ah, now we take a look at the forwards. No predictions needed anyway.
Raheem Sterling, Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane are pretty much guaranteed (and justified) inclusions. All of them are performing, as expected, at their respective clubs – banging in goals left, right and centre and setting them up. Wait a second. I forgot to include Danny Welbeck’s name. Did I actually forget, though?
Mr. Welbeck has been poor all season for Arsenal. Watching him play makes me want to tear my hair and gouge my eyeballs out. To be fair, he is rather consistent for the country when he plays so he should be included but, like Livermore, just to fill out the name list. The English forward line is a force to be reckoned with. They can turn any defence inside out. You heard it here first.
To conclude my ramblings, while England’s offence is potent enough to win games, their defence and goalkeeping look pretty impotent to me. Unless Southgate can find a defensive partnership that works (not much time left) and use a settled keeper, one can only hope that the Englishmen are not knocked out too early. In my opinion, with the current state of affairs, it’s best they adopt an “attack is the best form of defence” mantra.
As I said earlier, my cautious optimism lies with a semi-finals appearance. Not the actual trophy, you dimwits. England is as unpredictable as they can get so I’m crossing my fingers cautiously, with a hint of optimism.