Staff Writer Siraaj Khan gave his thoughts on England’s line up for the 2022 World Cup and their chances at the tournament prior to the tournament, how good were his predictions?
The whole nation watched intensely as England faced Italy in the European Champi0nships final. The date was 11th July 2021. It was the 2nd final England had ever played in, and their first at the Euros. Luke Shaw’s early goal gave hope to the whole country. A dream start for England, but the Azzurri were not disheartened. Italy began to dominate the game in the 2nd half and equalised through Bonucci on the 67th minute. No goals could separate the two teams after regular and extra time. The game was decided on penalties where Italy came out as victors.
It’s been over a year since those events. England’s squad has strengthened since. The 2018 World Cup saw England reach the semi-finals. The 2020 Euros saw them reach the final. Could 2022 really be the year many have dreamed of for years? It’s been 56 years since England’s only World Cup win in 1966. Do England have the players to challenge reigning champions France, or other strong nations such as Portugal, Brazil and Argentina?
Will Pickford retain his spot in the starting line-up?
Starting with goalkeepers, England has some depth in this field. Pickford, Ramsdale, and Pope have been in the England squad for recent nation’s league games. It is likely Jordan Pickford will keep his position as the first choice for England, but Aaron Ramsdale is a worthy challenger for the starting position. After signing for Arsenal for £30 million last season, he has been a key player in their team. Arsenal currently sits at the top of the premier league, and they have conceded only 11 goals this season. This is the joint lowest in the league with Newcastle, who have also only let in 11 goals.
Speaking of Newcastle, Nick Pope is the man between the sticks. The former Burnley shot-stopper signed for the magpies for £10 million in the summer. Since first coming into the England squad in 2018, Pope has made 10 appearances for the three lions. In March 2021, Pope became the first England goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in each of his first six England appearances. His acrobatic style of goalkeeping makes him a reliable shot-stopper, but injuries have left Pope on the sidelines for lengthy periods of time. In July 2018, Pope received a shoulder Injury which forced him to miss 28 games for Burnley. He also missed the 2020 Euros due to undergoing knee surgery. Southgate is likely to pick a goalkeeper who he can rely upon. That’s where Pickford comes in.
Pickford’s time at Everton has not been the best. While he’s made some sensational saves, he’s also made many mistakes. Everton just survived relegation last season. Despite this, Pickford has always been a solid foundation for England during the last 2 major tournaments. He kept 5 clean sheets in Euro 2020. The most for any keeper in the tournament. Donnarumma was second with 3 clean sheets. If Pickford can perform as he did in Euro 2020 and if Southgate plays 5 defenders at the back, opponents will have a tough time breaking England down. However, these are big ifs. Defending is a key part of Gareth Southgate’s tactics but recent injuries may have Southgate altering these plans.
What are England’s defensive options?
Reece James and Ben Chilwell have been ruled out of the World Cup. Kyle Walker has been included in the squad even though he has been injured for over a month. While Chilwell finds himself behind Shaw in Southgate’s choices for left-backs, James and Walker have become key players in Southgate’s team. Reece James has been highly effective for Chelsea in the right wing-back position. His pace and attacking ability make him a formidable threat against opposition defenders. James has played this position for England in recent games.
With James ruled out of the World Cup, Southgate still has options. Kyle Walker has often been used as a right centre-back. His blistering pace allows him to recover well against a counter-attack. Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold are both fit and have played regular football this season. Trippier has been having a brilliant season with Newcastle, who sit third in the Premier League. He’s also well-liked by Southgate, who started him at the last Euros. His versatility allows him to play on the right side and left side of defence. His ability as a free-kick specialist makes him an asset in the England team.
Alexander-Arnold is another choice. Like Trippier, he is also a free-kick specialist. Alexander-Arnold has been a core part of Liverpool’s team for the past 4 years. He has won the Champions League, FA Cup, and Premier League during his time at Liverpool, but he was left out of Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad for the 2020 Euros. While his attacking capabilities have been praised, the defensive side of his game has come under much scrutiny this season. Trent was at fault against Fulham, where Aleksandar Mitrovic won a header over him at the back post. Against Brighton, Trossard put him in the spin-cycle before thumping a shot past Alisson to open the scoring. Despite this, injuries may force Southgate to include the Liverpool right back in his plans.
Southgate has a wide range of centre-backs to choose from. Fikayo Tomori has been playing well for AC Milan. Chris Smalling has also been starting for Roma for the past 2 seasons, yet that isn’t enough for Southgate. He seems swayed by Harry Maguire, the Manchester United captain, who has spent much of the season warming the bench. Maguire has had a tough time since moving to Manchester United in the summer of 2019. Despite his bad performances, he never seemed to get dropped. This season, the arrival of Lisandro Martinez has left Maguire out of favour. John Stones, Conor Coady and Eric Dier are also included in Southgate’s squad.
Ben White is a man who could be beneficial to the team. His versatility allows him to play as a right back as well as a right centre-back. By occupying the right centre-back role in a back 5, White could be a worthy replacement for Kyle Walker. White has won 54 duels this season and he also has 2 assists. He can provide creativity for England, which may be vital in tight games.
A good midfield partnership is key to keeping possession of the ball.
When talking about England midfielders many fans will have one name on their mind: Jude Bellingham. The Dortmund midfielder donned the captain’s armband against Cologne in early October. At only 19, Bellingham has already made 17 appearances for England. With Kalvin Phillips only recently returning from injury, Bellingham finds himself in a position to start for the Three Lions.
Declan Rice is also another name that is certain to be featured in the starting line-up. Rice finds himself as one of few central defensive midfielders in the England squad. Jordan Henderson is another reliable option for Southgate. He has featured in 5 international tournaments for England, which makes him the most experienced player in the England squad.
Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount is almost guaranteed to start in an attacking midfield position. His passing and shooting ability has led him to become one of Southgate’s favourite players and a definite starter in the team.
Alongside these names is a fresh one: Conor Gallagher. The Chelsea midfielder rose to prominence last season during a successful loan spell at Crystal Palace. Gallagher registered 8 goals and 3 assists in 34 games during the 2021/22 Premier League season. While it is unlikely he will start, Gallagher’s inclusion helps add depth to the midfield. He may be required to play, as Kalvin Phillips is not match-fit going into the competition.
Southgate has many attackers to choose from.
There’s strength in numbers in England’s attack. Harry Kane is looking to break the all-time England top scorer record. The striker has 51 goals in 75 games, 2 goals behind Rooney’s record of 53 goals. 6 goals at the 2018 World Cup led Kane to win the golden boot. Southgate will hope the striker can replicate this form in Qatar, but help will be needed to achieve this.
Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford are all wingers selected in the 26-man squad. While Sterling has struggled at Chelsea this season, his performance for England in the 2020 Euros helped the three lions get through the group stage. His 2 goals were the only goals England scored in the group stage. While Sterling could start on the left wing, Bukayo Saka could fill the space on the right wing if England decide to play a 4-3-3 formation. The Arsenal winger has 6 assists and 4 goals in 14 games in the Premier League this season. He’s bounced back after being on the receiving end of racial abuse after missing a penalty in the Euro 2020 final last year.
While a regular starter for Man City, Phil Foden may find himself on the bench alongside teammate Jack Grealish. Southgate prefers to play defensive football and hit teams on the counterattack. Saka and Sterling offer blistering pace compared to Foden and Grealish’s playmaking abilities. Another player with blistering pace is Marcus Rashford. He is Man Utd’s top scorer this season with 8 goals in all competitions. Callum Wilson is the backup striker for England. He’s been in brilliant form for Newcastle this season, bagging in 6 goals in 11 games.
Personally, I think England will reach the quarter final stage. If England finishes 2nd in their group, it would be possible they come across France in the quarter final which would be a tough game to win. France are the reigning champions and the strike force of Mbappe may be too much for the three lions to handle.
In short, Qatar should be a good tournament for England. Many players such as Saka, Foden and Bellingham have matured and improved since the Euros last year. Jordan Pickford is likely to start between the posts, continuing his solid career in the number 1 shirt. If by any chance Pickford is injured, England have strong backup choices in Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale and Newcastle’s Nick Pope. Injuries have ruled Reece James and Ben Chillwell out of the world cup, and while Kalvin Phillips and Kyle Walker are both not match-fit yet, they’re included in the squad. Southgate does have options to replace these key players, with Ben White able to function as a right back or right centre back, filling the void left by James. Harry Kane is England’s star player and main attacking threat. If provided with good chances by the midfield and wingers, Kane will not waste his opportunities. While some players like Mason Mount, Harry Maguire and Raheem Sterling have struggled this season, the depth in the 26-man squad will create competition between players, and in turn, elevate the overall performances.