World Cup: Southgate’s versatile squad offers him options
England boss now must make the most of limited options available to him
Now that an unusually indifferent nation knows the identity of England’s World Cup 2018 squad, the debate now moves on to how head coach Gareth Southgate will get the best out of his disparate bunch.
A roster top heavy with centrebacks and full-backs points to a continued use of a five-man defence. The conversation now focuses on how the different pieces come together with the varied challenges presented in Group G against Tunisia, Panama and Belgium – plus an expected run into the knockouts.
Only two members of Southgate’s 23-man roster have scored more than 10 goals for their country, but this doesn’t mean there are a lack of attacking options.
When minnows such as Tunisia and Panama must be put to the sword, a positive line-up emerges.
John Stones is a progressive passer and fellow centre-back Harry Maguire is willing to repeatedly dribble past midfield.
Attacking midfielder Jesse Lingard has been utilised before by Manchester United as wing-back, providing astute dovetailing with club-mate Ashley Young.
Tottenham anchor man Eric Dier would be deemed superfluous, allowing close pal Dele Alli to probe from the centre alongside Manchester City’s electric forward Raheem Sterling.
Up top, Jamie Vardy’s pace would provide a willing foil for Harry Kane. The former has seven goals in his last nine games for club and country.
With premium centre-backs such as Rio Ferdinand and John Terry an increasingly distant memory, England will need to entrust the entire line-up to keeping out the World Cup’s finest.
A measured XI should need to be selected by Southgate for Group G’s denouement against star-studded Belgium on June 28.
With this in mind, the defensive midfield pivot of skipper Jordan Henderson and Dier is essential.
At the back, the adventure of Leicester’s Maguire must make way for 58-cap Gary Cahill – the squad’s most-experienced member.
If Alli is given the nod over City utility man Fabian Delph in centre midfield, it would mean Kane and Vardy can still play together.
But the former would carry out the deeper role utilised at Euro 2016 to middling effect, while Vardy would scurry after any long balls.
Southgate’s half decade spent within the England coaching system means his knowledge of the current crop is without peer.
With the limited resources available to him, nearly 70 per cent of Premier League players are foreign born, he is best placed to find a solution.
Everton’s Jordan Pickford is the obvious choice in goal.
Expect Southgate’s March friendly experiment of playing worldclass City right-back Kyle Walker at centre-back to be repeated. If fit, United’s Phil Jones will add ballast.
The Henderson/Dier axis was bemoaned when used for half of the Three Lions’ 10 qualifiers. But the duo provide essential security.
To accommodate Kane and Sterling, who was involved in 36 City goals last term, Alli may need to drop into centre midfield. It is key that he prospers there, unlike Euro 2016.
Lion tamer: England head coach Gareth Southgate faces a defining test this summer.