Despite another qualifying campaign that posed few challenges of note, England fans will be approaching the upcoming 2018 World Cup in Russia with relatively limited expectations.
The unceremonious way the Three Lions were eliminated from Euro 2016 by Iceland two years ago has seemingly instilled a dose of reality.
That said, with a relatively amenable group and a handful of excellent young players, England could be a tricky opponent if they hit their straps.
England’s 2018 World Cup Group Matches
Tunisia v England, 18 June 2018
England v Panama, 24 June 2018
Belgium v England, 28 June 2018
All games to kickoff at 19:00 UK time.
England 2018 World Cup Squad
Manager Gareth Southgate has picked players that will fit into his way of playing and the tactics he will look to deploy, with inclusions from the Premier League’s top teams.
On paper, the starting XI appears impressive but the British side are dependent on a handful of their main players to inspire those around them.
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, Jack Butland
Defenders: Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Gary Cahill, Danny Rose, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Phil Jones, Ashley Young
Midfielders: Eric Dier, Fabian Delph, Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard
Forwards: Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford, Danny Welbeck
Southgate has clearly looked to pick players on form and has not selected a number of high-profile men that have featured for England extensively in the past.
Joe Hart’s exclusion after a tumultuous season at West Ham appears sensible, while the likes of Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana, Ryan Bertrand and Chris Smalling also miss out.
However, given the lack of ball-playing central midfielders at England’s disposal, Jack Wilshere’s omission has raised a few eyebrows.
Liverpool duo Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez have both been ruled out by injury, with the midfielder’s unavailability a blow.
England’s World Cup Manager: Gareth Southgate
Southgate’s appointment has been viewed as a step in a new direction, with the relatively unproven manager following in the footsteps of more established names.
After good work with the under-21 outfit, the new England boss will hope for a relatively positive tournament in Russia and to be given the chance in the longer term to improve a young group.
As such, although the fans will hope for the Three Lions to be involved in the tournament come the business end, the bigger picture suggests that experience should be one to build upon for competitions in 2020 and 2022.
Expected Formation & Tactics
England have deployed a three-man defence in friendlies under Southgate and there has been an emphasis on ball retention and pressing high up the pitch.
This 3-4-2-1 formation could be difficult for some opponents to handle and suits a counter-attacking system against better sides.
However, the lack of quality centre-halves and creativity in the middle of the park could well be England’s undoing.
England’s Key Player – Harry Kane
Much of England’s fortunes rest on their captain’s shoulders, with the Tottenham Hotspur centre forward arguably the only world-class member of the Three Lions squad.
The Spurs striker has proven over recent seasons that he can perform at the pinnacle of club football and his scoring record for the London side is second to none.
However, with fitness concerns at the end of the Premier League campaign and Kane’s poor showing in France two years ago, it remains to be seen if he can replicate his Tottenham showings in the international arena.
England’s Wild Card – Jesse Lingard
One of the few Manchester United players to improve this season under Jose Mourinho, the attacking midfielder has a great chance of starting for England this summer.
While Dele Alli’s club partnership with Kane and Raheem Sterling’s pace will be attributes Southgate considers in his starting line-up, Lingard would add guile, penetration and a goalscoring threat for the team.
In the 3-4-2-1 formation England will deploy, the United playmaker has licence to roam and he impressed in recent friendly fixtures – scoring the winner against Netherlands.
England – World Cup Prediction:
Given the other three sides in England’s group, failure to make the knockout rounds seems unthinkable.
However, if and when Southgate’s men come up against one of the competition frontrunners, a lack of strength in depth, quality and experience will surely be their downfall.
England could well have a positive tournament if their young players play to their potential but a place in the quarter-finals should be as far as the Three Lions reach.