England World Cup squad: Five questions for Gareth Southgate before naming squad

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
World Cup 2018: Who will Gareth Southgate choose to go to Russia?

England manager Gareth Southgate names his 23-man squad for the World Cup in Russia on Wednesday.

What are the five big issues he will have taken into consideration before deciding on the players who will have England's hopes resting on their shoulders when the action gets under way against Tunisia in Volgograd on 18 June?

Get the goalkeepers right

Joe Hart and Jordan Pickford
Will Joe Hart's previous big tournament experience be enough to book his place in the World Cup squad?

Jordan Pickford looks to have moved ahead of Stoke City's Jack Butland after the two friendlies with the Netherlands and Italy in March. The Everton keeper has not conceded in two England appearances and Southgate made a point of how his ability with his feet played a part in the winner in Amsterdam.

There is still a choice of significance to be made, however, when Southgate decides on his third keeper to take to Russia.

Does he go with the vast experience of 31-year-old Joe Hart - with 75 caps and so much major tournament experience - ignoring his obvious decline and his failure to win a regular place on loan at West Ham United?

Or does he go with Burnley's 26-year-old Nick Pope - a non-playing squad member for those two March friendlies - after an outstanding season at Turf Moor?

England's third keeper is unlikely to play barring a catastrophe so Southgate must decide whether Hart's experience will be valuable around the squad or to give his younger option the nod.

It may not be huge in terms of team selection but it is still very important in those vital checks and balances within a squad in camp at a World Cup.

Will England's old guard make the cut?

Jack Wilshere during Euro 2016
Jack Wilshere was criticised during England's Euro 2016 campaign for a lack of match fitness

Gary Cahill has been a mainstay of England's defence in their last two major tournaments; where they went out at the group stage in the Brazil World Cup four years ago, and during the last-16 exit to Iceland at Euro 2016.

Cahill, however, has not been a regular for Chelsea this season and the 32-year-old with 58 caps was dropped for the March friendlies.

Southgate will go with a three-man defensive system, with Eric Dier potentially dropping in and vying with the likes of John Stones, Phil Jones and Harry Maguire, so Cahill will have serious anxieties about whether he is about to have time called on his England career.

The other talking point will be whether Southgate has seen enough of Jack Wilshere, or has enough faith in his fitness, to risk the Arsenal midfield man.

Wilshere dropped out of the March friendlies at the last minute with an injury sustained in England training, which will surely have focused Southgate's mind after Roy Hodgson's flawed decision to take him to Euro 2016 with only 141 minutes behind him in the previous season. A serious error.

England's lack of midfield creativity may yet spare Wilshere from exclusion.

Will Southgate blood England's young guns?

Trent Alexander-Arnold's 'unbelievable journey'

Southgate has shown he is willing to give youth its chance when the occasion arises - so will he give some of England's younger brigade a place in Russia?

Liverpool teenager Trent Alexander-Arnold has matured rapidly at Anfield and manager Jurgen Klopp has already stated he would be "a good choice" by Southgate. Is it too soon, though?

Tottenham's Kieran Trippier was the natural understudy to Kyle Walker on the right side of defence but he has had injury problems and this might just leave the door ajar for Alexander-Arnold.

Southgate is still searching for creativity in midfield and this brings 22-year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek - highly impressive on loan at Crystal Palace from Chelsea - into the equation.

England's key World Cup dates
16 MaySquad announced
2 Junev Nigeria (friendly)
7 Junev Costa Rica (friendly)
12 JuneSquad leaves for Russia
18 Junev Tunisia (opening group game)
24 Junev Panama (second group game)
28 Junev Belgium (final group game)

Loftus-Cheek, powerful and elegant, can create and showed great temperament with a man-of-the-match performance in the friendly against Germany at Wembley in November.

England's cupboard is hardly bulging at left-back, with Manchester United's Ashley Young now rivalling Southampton defender Ryan Bertrand - which has even had plenty of sound judges pressing the claims of Fulham's brilliant goalscoring 17-year-old defender Ryan Sessegnon.

It may just come too soon and be too much of a gamble - but Southgate is willing to trust youth if they are good enough.

Can Southgate uncover creative edge?

Jesse Lingard celebrates scoring for England against the Netherlands
Jesse Lingard scored his first international goal against the Netherlands in March

England have often used the midfield duo of Liverpool's Jordan Henderson and Tottenham's Eric Dier - two fine Premier League players but not creators at international level.

The unfortunate injury to Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain closes down one option but Southgate will still want that added edge.

Dele Alli's position has been complicated by the emergence of Manchester United's Jesse Lingard, a match-winner in the Netherlands, although the Spurs man will surely start.

This lack of midfield creation, and the recent over-reliance on Tottenham's Harry Kane for goals, will have given Southgate plenty of food for thought before naming his World Cup squad.

So will this mean Southgate will be tempted by Wilshere, or even Loftus-Cheek? Has Liverpool's Adam Lallana, so good for England before injury, done enough in very limited time this season?

Newcastle United's Jonjo Shelvey has his supporters because of his obvious talent and range of short and long passing - there are doubts over his temperament but he might just have that maverick edge to be a potential wild card.

Who will be England's captain?

Why can't England win the World Cup? - FA's technical director

Southgate delivers the traditional mantra about wanting 11 captains - but the choice now boils down to two men.

Tottenham's Harry Kane and Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson have both shared the duties and the decision must surely rest between them.

Kane, as England's main striker, talisman and a leader by example, looked to be the firm favourite to lead the side out in Russia until a few short weeks ago. There were even question marks about Henderson's place in England's starting line-up.

In the interim period, however, Henderson was impressive on and off the field as captain in the last international break and has grown in stature at Liverpool where, as captain, he has helped them to the Champions League final and won huge praise for his personality and performances from Klopp.

Southgate could go for his main striker and the man who will be relied upon to lead England from the front or opt for a midfield man who will be in his side's engine room when the action starts in Russia - often the position where a manager prefers his captain.

It is time for Southgate to make that decision.

In the meantime, why not pick the XI you think should start for England at the World Cup and share it with your friends...

My England starting XI

Choose who you would pick in the England starting XI in Russia - and then share it with your friends using our team selector.


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