This is my 23-man England squad for the upcoming World Cup this summer in Brazil. This is my personal opinion, selecting players that bring experience as well as younger or less regular additions based on form.
A few players were also chosen based on their prospective England futures being ahead of them, and that experience in Brazil will benefit them for future World Cups and European Championships.
The squad is designed to have three goalkeepers and then two players covering each position in what is essentially a 4-2-3-1 formation (Hodgson’s usual set up with two holding midfielders and four attacking players) but some players can satisfy multiple positions.
Joe Hart - His experience is the main factor in his favour, with many questioning his ability to be England goalkeeper after several mistakes for Manchester City.
However he is starting to find his footing once again and is the only goalkeeper with real tournament experience, as well as being a fierce competitor for a team challenging both domestically and in Europe. He has been our number one since Rob Green’s failure at the 2010 World Cup, and I don’t expect that to change in Brazil.
Fraser Forster - Handed his first cap against Chile in one of the recent friendlies, Forster was almost the only blameless member of a side struggling to cope with the South American side’s pace and manipulation of the ball.
He was hardly at fault for the two goals scored by Sanchez, whose Barcelona side have gone head to head with Forster’s Celtic in the Champions League, the stage where he has impressed.
Many question the quality of the SPL, but Forster has been a big presence between the sticks against European giants like the aforementioned Barcelona as well as AC Milan and Ajax this season which lead many to believe he warranted an opportunity. Likely to be the second choice keeper for the Three Lions, but at the least a competent replacement.
Jack Butland - The first of a number of young, hungry players who will benefit from the experience of going to a World Cup, even if they don’t actually get a chance to play.
The young shot stopper has enjoyed loan spells back at his former club Birmingham City as well as Barnsley, and is now in a third loan spell at Leeds. With Hart being selected for almost every game since the last World Cup, England have been unable to blood any of their other, young keepers; the upcoming tournament in Rio gives Butland an opportunity to see what the environment is like.
Leighton Baines - Losing out at the final hurdle to Stephen Warnock for a seat on the plane to South Africa four years ago, Baines is now a dead certainty to be on his way to Rio.
The four years between the disastrous tournament in South Africa and the upcoming one in Brazil have been prosperous for the Everton defender, who has developed into arguably the Premier League’s best left-back.
His attacking threat and ability from free-kicks provide a an alternative attacking threat for The Three Lions, and the recent battle between Ashley Cole and Luke Shaw in the Denmark game suggests that Baines is already on the plane and could be first choice left back in Rio.
Luke Shaw - One 45-minute spell in an England shirt seemingly has a nation feeling Shaw is ready to replace Ashley Cole as England’s left back, and why not?
The latest product of Southampton’s academy has proven his pedigree in the Premier League and was impressive in the friendly with Denmark; perhaps him replacing Cole in that game will foreshadow Shaw replacing him in Hodgson’s squad for Brazil.
It would be naive to dismiss Ashley Cole’s tournament experience and reputation but, if England intend to use the World Cup as a springboard for a younger, hungrier squad replacing the ‘Golden Generation’, Shaw will benefit from the experience more.
Glen Johnson - England’s more reliable right-back in recent tournaments, Glen Johnson has seen little to challenge his spot in the starting XI despite the pressure from Kyle Walker.
Johnson was suffering from injury through the early part of the season and that expectedly had a detrimental effect on his performances, but he looked as good as ever in the recent friendly against Denmark; he perfectly suited his role as marauding full back, but has shown himself to be strong defensively too and both will be crucial in Brazil when up against world class opposition.
When fit he’s the best we’ve got, but he’s a good, experienced international to have in a defence that will be lacking tournament pedigree.
Kyle Walker - The Tottenham defender is the only real contender for the second right-back spot having been the only player other than Glen Johnson to contend the position, particularly under Roy Hodgson.
Unconvincing in England’s qualifier against Ukraine and a generally poor friendly with Germany, Walker is still young and has the potential to replace Johnson as the Liverpool defender enters the latter stages of his career.
He has raw pace and is a good overlapping option should wingers cut inside, as we have seen from the likes of Lallana and Sterling, while regular playing time for European chasing Tottenham is aiding his development. Likely to be first team right back in a few seasons, and so will benefit from the tournament experience.
Gary Cahill- The Chelsea centre-half has emerged as the best of a relatively average bunch, with the days of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand well and truly behind us. Cahill is playing at the highest level and hasn't shied away under the inevitable pressure that comes with being a Chelsea player, proving himself good enough for both club and country in recent years.
While Terry has ruled out his return to the international frame, Cahill will certainly be learning from him at Stamford Bridge and looks to me to be future captain material when Gerrard hangs up his boots. The partnership he has forged with Jagielka brings solidity to the England spine, and only injury is likely to stop him boarding the plane for Rio.
Phil Jagielka - Consistently producing for Everton has seen ‘Jags’ take the second centre back spot left behind when Terry and Ferdinand left the international scene, and I for one am quietly confident in the new central defensive partnership likely to start for the Three Lions in Brazil.
Jagielka is a tidy footballer, someone who can be relied on to get the ball clear when England are under pressure, and is learning to become more assured on the ball in Martinez’s more expansive style at Goodison Park. Not the quickest but certainly going to give it his all, the former Sheffield United defender has peaked late and is aware that this could be his only chance to make his mark on the international stage.
Steven Caulker - Perhaps a surprise choice, but England are starting to run thin when it comes to quality centre-backs and new blood needs to be given a chance. This is a great opportunity for Caulker, a highly touted youngster at Tottenham now impressing as captain of Premier League new boys Cardiff, to gain invaluable experience in tournaments ahead of what I expect will be a promising England career.
He may be part of a relegation-threatened club but that is hardly a reflection of his capabilities, and he’s also not short of a goal or too; the centre back has scored in big games, including the derby win over Swansea and a double over relegation rivals Fulham, while also scoring in his only England appearance to date.
Phil Jones - The versatile Manchester United player has had a difficult season at the club during the post-Ferguson period which has seen the Red Devils fall out of the top four and their players come under heavy criticism.
However the former Blackburn man still has the attributes necessary to be a strong centre back, while his experiences at right back and in midfield will give him even greater knowledge of how Hodgson’s defensive unit will want to work to shut out the opposition.
Probably not going to start ahead of Cahill and Jagielka, but still provides a good replacement from the bench and edges club team mate Chris Smalling who has struggled of late.
Steven Gerrard - One of few players who can rest easy knowing their place on the plane is assured, Gerrard brings necessary leadership and experience to the spine of the team. The captain and lifelong Liverpool servant acts very much as an anchor in midfield and will have built up a good understanding with Cahill and Jagielka at the heart of defence, while the strong contingent of Liverpool players emerging in the England squad will also provide cohesion with the skipper. Still with a deadly eye for goal and a keen eye for a pass, Gerrard will be looking to go out of potentially his last tournament with a bang.
Jordan Henderson - The former Sunderland man is arguably the most improved English player this season and has proved his worth next to Gerrard at the heart of the Liverpool midfield.
His link up with his club and country captain is like that of a twin engine in a modern day fighter jet; efficient, reliable, and acting as a foundation for a deadly attacking threat.
His disciplined positional play make him an effective shield in front of the back four, while his stamina and tireless running give him both the ability to hound attackers and be an efficient box-to-box midfielder. A potential starter but a good option from the bench too.
Michael Carrick - Like Jones, has arguably had his every mistake noticed in a difficult season for Manchester United. However, Carrick is still one of the most gifted passers of a ball England have and also has previous tournament experience, something that both Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere are lacking.
Despite having a tough time, Carrick is still a consistent fixture in the United team, more so than near rivals Frank Lampard and James Milner with Chelsea and Man City respectively, and perhaps offers just that bit more in midfield than either of them at the moment.
Jack Wilshere - A player full of promise in his early years, the Arsenal midfielder is ready to be unleashed at a major international tournament after his place in the Euro 2012 squad was robbed from him by injury.
Described by Arsene Wenger as having ‘Spanish technique, but an English heart’, such a combination of passion and skill could be the difference between win and loss at the World Cup should England be calling out for a moment of individual brilliance.
Still unconvincing in the tackle and causing concern after his collision with Daniel Agger resulted in a six week spell on the sidelines, Wilshere still has plenty of time to develop and World Cup experience will do him no harm.
Adam Lallana - A new but welcome addition to the England set-up, Lallana has shown enough in recent friendly games to merit a place in the England squad. In fact, it appears to be a given. The only question seems to be whether or not he warrants a starting place but, on form for both club and country, there’s hardly a question at all.
The Saints star is comfortable anywhere across the midfield three as England play a similar formation to Southampton, and is a hard working player who terrorises defences in his free role behind the striker. Gifted with great technical ability, Lallana is a creative influence who, with seven goals and five assists in the Premier League this season, has proved his ability to both score and set up. A very promising talent who I look forward to seeing at the World Cup.
Raheem Sterling - Admittedly he’s only 19 and only has one England cap but if they’re good enough, then play them.
Credit to Brendan Rodgers, whose handling on the teenage winger has been perfect and has allowed him to develop into a quality player; withdrawing him last season through fear of burnout, the Liverpool manager has unleashed a fresh Sterling on the Premier League and, in perfect harmony with Suarez and Sturridge, he has proven himself to be a dangerous attacking outlet who deserves a shot for his country.
Blessed with the pace and trickery of an orthodox winger, the wideman has added goals to his game this season and is an exciting prospect for Liverpool and England fans alike.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - In the absence of Theo Walcott, maybe a place falls to ‘Walcott 2.0’ in his Arsenal team mate Oxlade-Chamberlain. While they may be different types of players now, both Theo and ‘the Ox’ started out as Southampton wingers before being brought by Arsenal and the young midfielder has a chance of breaking into the squad following an impressive return from injury.
While Walcott’s own injury is likely to rule him out of the tournament in Brazil, Chamberlain is returning at just the right time and has instantly found his form; he’s one of those players that can produce the magic for England, as his half-volley at the Maracana proves, and will be out to add to his previous experiences in Poland and Ukraine with the opportunity in Brazil.
Jay Rodriguez - His recent winning goal in Southampton’s win over Crystal Palace typified everything that is good about Jay Rodriguez: pace, power, desire and commitment. It also reinforced the potential he has to make the plane for Brazil this summer.
Rodriguez, like Lallana, has been a stand out star at St Mary’s this season and the former Burnley striker has shown just how far he has come with recent call-ups. Where Andros Townsend has perhaps dipped in form since being picked for England, Rodriguez has continued to impress and is perhaps the wildcard in my squad, but a deserved one. Considered a wide player but also has the versatility to play up front.
Wayne Rooney - An inevitable selection, but one that is maybe not so obvious this time round. Rooney never seems to perform at a major tournament, still yet to score in one, yet may have found his calling in a deeper role rather than as the main forward.
He has arguably carried Manchester United through some tough times with top class performances and was recently rewarded with that new contract that got the media talking, but it serves to highlight how important he is to the club as they look to return to their former glory.
The argument is that it would cost more to replace him, and many England fans will be hoping he can produce the kind of performances that have warranted United paying so much to keep him at the club. Should he and other big names perform, England could realistically go far.
Ross Barkley - Technically not a forward but acting as cover for Rooney’s ‘No.10’ position, Everton youngster Barkley has broken onto the scene with some eye-catching displays this season. Sent out on loan under David Moyes, Roberto Martinez has been keen to utilise his blossoming young midfielder and has reaped the rewards as the home grown starlet has shown much promise.
A genuine two footed attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, Barkley started the season in style with the leveller at Carrow Road to cap a superb display and has gone from strength to strength since then. Still only young but, like a certain other midfielder on Merseyside, he’s good enough and so should be given the chance. He’s likely to feature at major tournaments to come, so blood him early.
Daniel Sturridge - Having been deployed mainly as a winger during spells with Man City and Chelsea, Sturridge has finally satiated his desire to play through the middle and has rewarded Liverpool with goal after goal.
He has emerged as a threat since joining the Reds and has been deployed by England in the No.9 role already by Roy Hodgson. Unfortunately he hasn't quite emulated his club form on the international stage; he doesn't link up decisively with Rooney and can often be left isolated for large spells, but was much more involved in the recent win over Denmark.
Such encouraging signs, along with his raw pace and eye for goal, make him a guaranteed member of the squad, if not starter, for England in Brazil.
Danny Welbeck - Industrious and committed, Welbeck’s hard working nature is refreshing and could prove pivotal should England find themselves chasing the ball or even the game. His best position has come under scrutiny and he has played a variety of roles for club and country in recent times; he doesn't operate as well on the left, but does he score enough to play the main striker role?
Difficult to tell, but a player who gives his all for the team certainly deserves a place in the squad for Rio; when you have nothing else you always have hope, and Welbeck strikes me as a player who will always fight for the cause.
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