Later today Fabio Capello will choose 30 players for his initial squad for South Africa. Those lucky 30 will then be put through a rigorous schedule of training and fitness tests before the final 23 man squad is announced on the 1st of June. Which means that today is the last day we have to speculate wildly about who will be included in the squad. Will Ledley King stagger onto the plane? Or will Carragher, fresh from an awful season, return to the international fold? On both counts, lets hope not.
For what its worth then, I’ve picked a 23 man squad (with the help of the Telegraph website) which I think is England’s best bet for a successful campaign in South Africa, and without any further ado, here it is:
Now some of these choices, you’ll agree, are pretty obvious. The back four, for example, picks itself (but only because we don’t have any good right backs who can defend does Johnson get in) while Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney are obvious inclusions. Furthermore, I wrote last week about why Joe Hart simply must be England’s number one goalkeeper. Despite all this though, I’m well aware that my choices will not be universally acknowledged – but give me a chance to explain myself.
The system for a start, is poorly represented by the Telegraph’s otherwise nice little feature. Here it looks like a 4-4-1-1, but that isn’t how I envisage this lineup working. Gerrard’s role in this team would actually involve him playing almost as a second striker, as he has done for Liverpool in the past. he has the dynamism to get forward and find space in the hole between the oppositions defence and midfield, in which he could wreak havoc. So it is not a conservative strategy, playing just one striker.
Furthermore, Walcott and Johnson would be out and out wingers and so in some circumstances, when England are really pressing, they would be playing more as forwards than midfielders, switching it to a 4-3-3 strategy in attack. But they both have the pace and work rate to drop back in when England lose possession, along with Gerrard, meaning that it would quickly revert to a 4-5-1 strategy in terms of defence, which is ideal given that our full backs are both attacking and could be exposed.
The inclusion of Milner comes for three reasons. One, Gareth Barry is injured and may not be fit enough to feature in the World Cup. Two, Milner is a fantastic player who has outperformed Barry this season. Three, it gives the lineup some flexibility. For example, if this lineup failed to make a breakthrough and we needed to go all out on the offensive, Walcott/Johnson could be withdrawn, a second striker (Crouch/Heskey) introduced and Milner pushed wide in a more conventional 4-4-2 formation with Gerrard dropping into a deeper CM role alongside Lampard.
So that’s my starting XI justified, and I think it would be very effective. It gives us great pace on both flanks which would allow us to hit teams quickly on the break when we turn over possession, but also plenty of craft and guile to pick open teams who are more likely to sit back and invite us on. With Milner and Lampard pulling the strings in the middle while Gerrard and Rooney roam up top, flanked by G.Johnson and Walcott on one side and A.Cole and A.Johnson on the other, goals would surely come.
As for the rest of the squad then. Backup ‘keepers Green and James are there because we have no one better, there’s no disguising that. In defence, Baines provides expert cover for Ashley Cole while Jagielka and Dawson are fit and in-form centre backs ready to step in should Terry/Ferdinand get a knock. What’s more both, but especially Jagielka, can fill in at right back, a position also covered by Milner if we got really desperate.
In midfield Gareth Barry will hopefully be fit enough to play a part and provides solid cover for any of the central players and, like Milner, has a certain versatility which makes him a safe bet for Capello. Hargreaves would have been included if he had played at all, but unfortunately for him and England, his recovery hasn’t been speedy enough. Joe Cole is an obvious inclusion and if I was playing a particular system would probably start – he’s a game changer, and something different to any other player we have.
Lennon provides an alternative for either Walcott or A.Johnson. I believe pace is a crucial weapon in international football and our team isn’t blessed with it in midfield. If Walcott or Johnson aren’t firing, Lennon is a more than able replacement on either flank and could even free up Walcott to play a more central striker role where his pace could terrify central defenders, an option only likely to be necessary should the unthinkable happen and Rooney get injured.
Rodwell makes the cut because I’m simply not convinced by any of England’s other midfield options. Scott Parker perhaps came closest but in terms of dynamic centre midfielders Gerrard, Lampard, Milner and Barry all outrank him and so he would be superfluous. I don’t honestly think that Rodwell is ready for World Cup football but given that the full squad is unlikely to be used and that he can (and, this season, has) play almost anywhere in defence or midfield, he provides a lot of options.
The strikers are pretty easy really. Rooney is obviously the main man, while Heskey is a good target man who gets players involved. Crouch can perform a similar function and has the happy knack of getting goals for England while Defoe provides a replacement should, dare we say it, Rooney get injured. Bent is a little different, predominantly a poacher he has the physicality to trouble opponents too and on his goalscoring record this season alone deserves to go.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with the balance of this squad. It provides a lot of variable options and could suit a variety of formations. Ultimately though, I can’t help but feel that to be successful at the World Cup then it will rely heavily on the fitness of the key players, the core of the team. This will be a problem that plagues any England squad – we lack real world-class strength in-depth in certain areas – and that is why, irrespective of who Capello names in his squad later today, England will hope that plenty of luck will be joining them in South Africa.
What do you think of my proposed England squad? Please leave a comment below and tell me if and why you disagree, and maybe even let me know which 23 players you would pick…