The 24-year-old might only have one senior cap to his name (a clean sheet against World Champions Germany no less), but he has the character to establish himself as England’s number one at the World Cup and beyond. Pickford impressed at the Under-21 Euros last summer, gaining vital tournament experience, before making a £30 million move to Everton – he has been the Toffees’ standout performer this season.
Despite Stoke City’s relegation this season, Butland has still managed to earn the plaudits, and the Potters would undoubtedly have gone down sooner had the 25-year-old not been between the sticks. At the time of writing, no goalkeeper has made more saves in the Premier League in 2017/18 than Butland (133), and you’d imagine a host of clubs will be eager for his signature this summer.
Since providing cover for Tom Heaton’s injury at Burnley, Nick Pope has kept more Premier League clean sheets than any other English goalkeeper (11) and conceded just 37 goals in 33 games to make the Clarets’ number one shirt his own ahead of their European adventure next season. The 26-year-old remains uncapped though, and I fear that Gareth Southgate may take the experience of Joe Hart ahead of him.
Kieran TrippierEmbed from Getty Images
Tottenham may have signed Serge Aurier to replace Kyle Walker last summer, but Kieran Trippier has proved that he was a ready made successor to the Manchester City-bound full-back. Solid defensively, Trippier is also strong going forward with an excellent range of passing, registering five assists this season. He limped off with seven minutes to go of Spurs’ clash with Newcastle on Wednesday, which hopefully doesn’t put his World Cup hopes in doubt.
In the space of 18 months, Trent Alexander-Arnold has gone from making his Liverpool senior debut in a League Cup tie to preparing to start against Real Madrid in the Champions League final. It’s a dramatic rise that is far from undeserved, with the 19-year-old hugely impressive at full-back for the Reds this season. He is comfortable in possession, strong in the tackle and has a superb willingness to get the ball into the box from out wide.
It’s been a difficult season for Danny Rose, who has been limited to just nine Premier League appearances for Tottenham through injury and competition from Ben Davies’. He does though remain England’s best option at left-back and played a part in both of the March friendlies. If reports are to be believed, Manchester United are keen to sign the 27-year-old this summer.
Rose is on United’s shopping list because Jose Mourinho feels his side lack a competent left-back (sorry Luke Shaw) and as such has played Ashley Young there for the majority of the season. That isn’t to say the 32-year-old hasn’t impressed though, quite the opposite. Young has been rejuvenated in his new role and looks to have all the attributes to be a natural full-back, earning an England recall last November after a four year absence.
Kyle Walker may have stated his desire to become the world’s best right-back, but he could well feature as part of a centre-back trio at the World Cup. It was a position he excelled in in the friendlies in March, with Southgate’s decision to deploy him there because of his pace, ability to defend in wide areas and start attacks from the back a potential masterstroke. I for one would be all for Walker being the RCB in Russia this summer.
Only two years ago, Harry Maguire was helping Hull earn promotion from the Championship, but now there’s a strong case to be made that he’s England’s best centre-back. Never afraid to make an important tackle and confident in bringing the ball out of the defence, all four of the 25-year-old’s appearances for the Three Lions so far have been clean sheets. Last week Maguire was named Leicester’s Player of the Season after an impressive debut campaign at the King Power Stadium.
An England regular for three years, Chris Smalling’s World Cup place now looks in serious doubt after his exclusion from Gareth Southgate’s last two squads. Personally I would take the 28-year-old to add some experience to the defence and the squad in general. Smalling might not be the ball-playing centre-back that Southgate wants, but he’s still a reliable figure at the back, and is a threat at the other end too – no defender has scored more Premier League goals than him this season (4).
Phil Jones has had the last few months of his campaign disrupted through injury, but he does remain one of the most reliable options for England and has largely impressed in Manchester United’s backline when he’s played this season. In contrast to his Red Devils team-mate Smalling, Gareth Southgate is a big fan of Jones’ confidence on the ball and excellent passing ability.
James TarkowskiEmbed from Getty Images
A breakthrough star at Burnley this season following Michael Keane’s departure last summer, it is somewhat ironic that James Tarkowski now has an excellent chance of going to the World Cup, whilst Keane couldn’t be further away from the squad. Another defender favoured for being comfortable in possession, the 25-year-old is also an excellent tackler of the ball – he is a key reason why Burnley have the Premier League’s fifth best defence this season.
John Stones may have picked up a Premier League winners’ medal this season, but it hasn’t been the easiest of campaigns for the 23-year-old who may look to depart Manchester City due to a lack of game time. He is still England’s first choice centre-back though, starting both of March’s friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy, meaning the World Cup will provide him with an opportunity to impress potential suitors.
Eric Dier’s versatility is a both a strength and a weakness for England. His ability to play as both a centre-back and a deep-lying midfielder means he is an excellent option to have in the squad, but where does he fit in amongst the more natural players in both of those roles? As a potential candidate for captain too, Southgate needs to find a way of working Dier into the team that doesn’t restrict opportunities in the backline but equally doesn’t limit the side’s impetus going forward.
Jordan Henderson is a player who often splits opinion, but something we can all agree on is that he is most certainly not a playmaker. But England’s lack of creativity and Southgate’s desire to fit him and Eric Dier in the same midfield has meant that the Liverpool man has played further forward for the Three Lions but with little effect. Defensively solid and comfortable on the ball, if Henderson is deployed in his more natural position of holding midfielder, he could be a key player in Russia.
Jack WilshereEmbed from Getty Images
Mention the name ‘Jack Wilshere’, and the first thing that will be brought up is his injuries. It is yet another spell on the sidelines that appears to be the only thing in the midfielder’s way of going to Russia this summer, as he impressed greatly when given a run in the Arsenal team earlier this season before injuring his knee. Possibly the best passer of the ball England have, so it would be a shame to see him miss out.
It’s indicative of Dele Alli’s quality that he has nine goals and ten assists to his name in the Premier League this season, yet many are suggesting he has under-performed. Indeed, Gareth Southgate has hinted that the 22-year-old may not make his starting XI. But Alli will undoubtedly still have a part to play, potentially key, as when on form, it’s very difficult to stop his attacking quality.
Whilst it may have taken Jesse Lingard longer than expected to make the grade at Manchester United (yes he is as old as 25), now that he has, he looks set to be a key Red Devils player for years to come. A man for the big occasion, Lingard has scored in the FA Cup final and EFL Cup final in recent years, whilst his first England goal was the winner against the Netherlands in March. More of the same in Russia, please Jesse.
England lack attacking initiative in midfield, an issue that was worsened by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being ruled out the World Cup through injury. My only solution to this is to select his Liverpool teammate Adam Lallana, who has been limited to just 11 Premier League appearances this season due to his own injury problems. He is however usually a player to depend upon in a Three Lions shirt, so to see him fit for Russia would be a big boost.
Harry KaneEmbed from Getty Images
The man with the nation’s hopes on his shoulders. In 2017/18, Kane has netted more than 25 league goals for the third consecutive season, confirming himself as one of the world’s best strikers. After a hugely disappointing Euro 2016 performance, the World Cup provides the 24-year-old with an opportunity to showcase his talent on the biggest stage of all. Only Lionel Messi, Neymar, Antoine Griezmann and Cristiano Ronaldo are ahead of Kane in the golden boot odds.
It’s a good job that Harry Kane is, well, Harry Kane, because Jamie Vardy is England’s only other realistic number nine option for Russia. But he’s an excellent backup to have – the Leicester City man has 18 Premier League goals this season. Vardy is the perfect option to bring off the bench in the closing stages of games, with his pace likely to prove deadly against tiring defences.
It’s hard to believe that Raheem Sterling is only 23 years old considering how long he has lit up the Premier League for, and 2017/18 has undoubtedly been his best season yet. The winger’s tally of 18 league goals is more than he netted in his previous two Manchester City campaigns combined, whilst he also has 11 assists to his name. After showing his potential at the 2014 World Cup, Sterling underwhelmed massively at the Euros two years ago – this could now be the tournament where he really shines.
Marcus Rashford may have expressed his desire to be a number nine, but with Kane and Vardy ahead of him in that position and England likely to deploy just a lone striker this summer, the Manchester United man may have to settle for a role out a wide. Not that he isn’t comfortable there – the majority of Rashford’s 12 goals and 6 assists this season have come on the wing as he continues to show bags of potential at 20 years old.
My Starting XI