World Cup: Picking The Starting XI For England in 2018

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Wayne Rooney

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, the English national team has disappointed its fans by performing poorly at the sport’s biggest stage. Their lack of pressure on the opposition and disorganization of the back line are a couple of the many reasons for their struggles.

Against Italy they came out firing; it looked promising. Then England started to relax a bit, and Italy scored. Once Italy grabbed that early goal, England started to revive itself and answered with a score of their own. Once the second half came around, however, they lost it.

Their fitness was an issue and they couldn’t keep up with the Italians. After Mario Balotelli’s goal, the English were out of it. Their only spark came from young starlet Raheem Sterling of Liverpool FC.

Against Uruguay, the English had many chances to get an early lead, but so did Uruguay. It was a fairly even contest, like the game against Italy, until Luis Suarez scored two goals on two attempts. The Three Lions defense wasn’t capable of dealing with the striking pair of Edinson Cavani and Suarez. There should’ve been more names on the score sheet for both sides but Uruguay escaped with a 2-1 victory.

Currently the English squad is very young and naive. A lot of their players had no World Cup experience prior to Brazil, and the pressure has affected them for the most part.

In four years, if England qualifies, they will need to make a couple of changes to their lineup and in their defense especially.

Goalkeeper:

In goal, Joe Hart has been the man for the past six years. While he might play in the 2016 European Championships, he will have a lot of competition in 2018 for the starting World Cup spot. He has been questionable between the sticks in Brazil but he is still far better than Ben Foster. In 2018 there will be more goalkeepers contending however.

Another option is Jack Butland. Butland, at 6-foot-5, has a large presence in net. He will be 25 years old by the time the 2018 World Cup rolls around. As the third choice to Asmir Begovic at Stoke City, he was sent out on loan a few times to Championship teams in Barnsley, Birmingham City, and Leeds United. He has tremendous potential, and if he can win that starting spot at Stoke City before the 2018 World Cup, then Roy Hodgson (or whoever will manage England in four years) will have a viable option in net.

Defense:

A lot of changes need to be made on the back four in four years. There are many great young defenders at the moment that, if nurtured right, will be close to their potential when the 2018 World Cup comes arounds.

Right-back:

Carl Jenkinson, former backup to Bacary Sagna at Arsenal, is one reliable option for England. He will be 26 years old at the time and will be far younger than Glen Johnson who will be 33.

Jenkinson’s main competition will probably be Tottenham right-back Kyle Walker, who will be 28 in 2018. In my opinion, Jenkinson is a better player than Walker. He doesn’t have as much pace as Walker but he is certainly the better crosser.

Center-back:

At center back there are many young starlets who could prove their worth in the next four years. Steven Caulker, captain of Cardiff City, has perhaps already proven his worth. He has played exceptionally well for Cardiff and is only 22 years old. He’s a reliable tackle and blocks the ball well but needs to work on his passing ability, which can be taught.

Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are two young center-backs playing for Manchester United. They have a lot of potential and are versatile in where they can play on defense. Both Jones and Smalling have played right back and in the center. Jones has always been featured as a defensive midfielder for Manchester United.

Smalling and Jones are becoming more and more of a talented pair and hopefully Man United will start to pick up their performances because their results are holding them back. 

Left-back:

Kieran Gibbs is a brilliant left-back and would be a top player for England but he just cannot get in ahead of Leighton Baines at the moment. However by 2018, Baines will be 33 so he could retire from international football by then. By 2018, Gibbs will definitely have a chance and could be the first choice given he is an Arsenal player.

His biggest competition for the left-back spot after 2014 will be Southampton left-back Luke Shaw, who will be 22 going on 23 at the World Cup in Russia.

Not only does Shaw create more goal scoring opportunities, he has better crossing accuracy, tackle success rate, and wins more aerial duels.

While Gibbs makes more interceptions, and has a more accurate pass success rate, Shaw actually makes more accurate passes per game, and narrowly more in the final third – touching the ball more too, such is his willingness to get involved and impose himself on a game.

Midfield:

Center:

In the center of the pitch there will be no better than Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley. They will form a partnership over the years which can have more promise than Gerrard and Lampard. Okay, maybe not, but close.

When Jack Wilshere had his breakthrough season in 2010-11, everyone knew he was going to be special. That season he won the PFA Young Player of the Year award and was also named in the PFA Team of the Year and was Arsenal’s Player of the Year too. However, a recurring ankle injury stunted his growth as he was kept out of football for the whole of the 2011-12 season. But then he came back with a bang getting another nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.

The only competition Wilshere has at the moment and should have in the future is Jordan Henderson and Tom Cleverley, but to be honest Wilshere is ten times better than both Henderson and Cleverley put together.

Ross Barkley broke into the Everton first-team this season and scored his first goal for the club in Everton’s first game of the season against Norwich. Ever since then, he has been Everton’s charismatic youngster making the game so easy for their front man, Romelu Lukaku. 

Barkley brings the physicality and bite that England has strangely lacked.

Left:

The left wing of the midfield is a tricky situation. There have been some instances where Hodgson played Welbeck, Rooney, or Lallana on the outside left and that wasn’t pretty. Rooney belongs in his central attacking role, and Welbeck belongs on the bench. Lallana doesn’t even belong on the roster. On the left should be either Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Andros Townsend.

Townsend received his first call-up to the senior England squad in September 2013, for the World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine. He made his senior debut in the starting eleven against Montenegro in October. He scored England’s third goal against Montenegro and was awarded with the man of the match award. 

He has recently won the starting position over Erik Lamela at Tottenham FC but at the right wing position. He enjoys cutting to the inside and striking with his left but he would be more dangerous on the left side crossing the ball into the box.

The Ox is a proper footballer and a dangerous winger. His pace outmatches Townsend’s but his crossing needs a bit more work.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a better passer, and a smarter player than Andros. He also has quite a bit more potential. While Townsend might win the starting job over the Ox in 2018, the Ox will be the better player going forward. He just needs some time to mature since Townsend is maturing a lot quicker.

Attacking Center:

Wayne Rooney. He will be 32 in 2018 but will still be one hell of a footballer. In this World Cup, he and Sterling were the only ones providing life to the English side. Rooney fought until the last moment and finally got his goal that he worked so hard for.

Rooney can hold on to the ball well, provide key passes to whomever is playing striker, and strike from distance. He is a perfect central attacking midfielder.

In 2018 Rooney might very well play his last game of international football and this team might actually be able to make it far. It’s a very promising squad at the moment.

Right:

A definite nail down right here in Raheem Sterling. His play was phenomenal in Brazil. He gave England hope when they were down with seconds to go. Whenever he got the ball, I got excited. His ability to dribble past and through opponents was outstanding. Some of the times what he was accomplishing on the pitch didn’t even seem possible.

His crossing was a bit sketchy, but that can be taught. Sterling is a great footballer who has potential to be one of England’s best of all time.

I tip my hat to Raheem to have a fine four years and start for the Three Lions once again.

Forward:

Daniel Sturridge at the moment has this position but his club play is what will decide his fate in 2018. For now he has been performing wonderfully with Luis Suarez for Liverpool FC, but not so much for England. Sturridge was simply on the other end of a beautiful cross from Rooney against Italy and was bound to score. Other than that he was invisible, not dangerous at all.

As of now there are plenty of strikers who can come out of their shells soon and break through to the starting rotation.

One of which is Connor Wickham. This young man has a bright future ahead of him. He is so dangerous when it comes to free kicks and long shots, his finishing is fun to watch. In 11 games for Sheffield Wednesday on loan this past season, Wickham managed to bag eight goals. Then he came back to Sunderland at the end of the season and scored five goals to help secure his club in the Premier League.

Projected Lineup:

Goalkeeper: Joe Hart

Defense: Kyle Walker (right); Steven Caulker; Phil Jones; Luke Shaw (left)

Midfield: Jack Wilshere; Ross Barkley

Attacking Midfield: Raheem Sterling (right); Wayne Rooney; Andros Townsend (left)

Striker: Daniel Sturridge

Alec Kleyer is a second year student at Macaulay Honors College. He's played, watched, analyzed soccer/futbol most of his life. Visit his blog at knlsoccer.com for soccer news outside of the World Cup!