soccer

2022 World Cup: Scouting England

The United States Men’s National Team kicked off the 2022 World Cup run with a 1-1 draw against Wales. The road gets more difficult with a match versus England, a battle between the modern birthplace of the sport and a continually burgeoning upstart. Group B’s Round of 16 scenarios have already begun to take shape, but there is still a little wiggle room. The fixture is scheduled for Al Bayt Stadium in the coastal city of Al Khor.

This is the 12th all-time meeting between the two nations, with England holding an 8-2-1 advantage. Ranked fifth internationally by FIFA, the Three Lions rolled through World Cup qualification with an 8-0-2 record in UEFA’s Group I, including surrendering a mere three goals. A winless performance in the UEFA Nations League A could be a mild cause for concern, as twice failing to defeat Hungary, Germany, and Italy was the wrong note on which to head to Qatar. However, the tournament opened with a well-balanced 6-2 victory over Iran.

Following a brief interim stint in the wake of Sam Allardyce’s disastrously short tenure, England appointed Gareth Southgate to the manager role in 2016. His limited prior experience includes leading Middlesbrough and the U-21 national team, but claiming third at the 2019 UEFA Nations League Finals and runners-up at Euro 2020 was enough to earn a contract extension through the end of 2024. As with anyone in his position, opinion is split and dynamic as he attempts to grapple with the outsized expectations of the world’s oldest footballing nation. As expressed by Barney Ronay of The Guardianthe 52-year-old is fighting a nonstop battle with delusion and a personal animus behind the urge to take down [his] solid achievements due to his politics, his manner, [and] his tactical caution.”

For his part, the manager came away a bit unsatisfied with the 6-2 result against Iran. “I didn’t like the end of the game,” said Southgate. To concede two goals the way we did isn’t the level we need. We are going to have to be better than we were today in certain aspects of our game against the USA because they are going to be coming for us full-throttle and we are going to have to reset.”

Southgate named a 26-player roster for the World Cup. The English Premier League – mainly Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Chelsea, and Arsenal – provides 25 call-ups, with a lone talent competing in Germany for Borussia Dortmund. Notable omissions include Callum Hudson-Odoi, Fikayo Tomori, and Tammy Abraham, as well as Ben Chilwell and Reece James who are dealing with injuries. Despite having never made a single international appearance, in-form Brentford striker Ivan Toney was a popular choice but also left out of the squad.

***

GOALKEEPERS (3): Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Newcastle United), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Declan Rice (West Ham United), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea)

FORWARDS (8): Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Callum Wilson (Newcastle United), James Maddison ( Leicester City)

***

Southgate typically deploys a 3-4-3 or a 4-3-3 formation, the latter of which can also be shifted into a 4-2-3-1 with a double-pivot midfield. After building out of the back, fullbacks are expected to push forward and work together with the wingers. Forwards will drop into the center of the field to help shift the numerical balance. However, there is more than enough speed to break out and push the tempo. Opponents have enjoyed the most success on counter-attacks, catching the back-line out of sorts and unable to organize when on the backheel.

Projected England Starting XI (via BuildLineup.com)

The clear number one at goalkeeper is Jordan Pickford, the 28-year-old with lightning-quick reflexes who competes for Everton. He made his senior international debut in November of 2017 and quickly assumed the starting role, leading runs at the 2018 World Cup, 2019 UEFA Nations League Finals, and Euro 2020. His earned reputation is for acrobatic wonder-saves, bolstered by his incredible athleticism and rapidity in getting to the ground. Long-range distribution is also an asset, capable of finding teammates all over the field and springing a counter-attack with a 70-yard kick, drilled punt, or opponent-splitting throw.

England is noticeably shaky on the back line, with several members of the center back platoon struggling at their respective clubs. As has often been the case, expect Southgate to turn to Harry Maguire, the beleaguered Manchester United center back who is coming off a hamstring injury. He is successful in aerial duels and can often serve as a connection to the midfield during possession. As Kyle Walker deals with a nagging groin issue, Manchester City’s John Stones could be taking on a massive role during the tournament. Another distributor by nature, his tackling must be timed properly to shut down attacks coming from the wing. Eric Dier has been a popular lineup choice of late, adding some flexibility and width to a three-player unit. His passing helps maintain a level of stability if the Three Lions attempt to build out of the back.

Left back is a bit of a toss-up depending on the formation, but Luke Shaw of Manchester United is a safe bet to start. He holds his own in possession and hits a little over four crosses per match, which could make him dangerous on the overlap. If Walker’s injury persists, Southgate has a few options on the other side of the formation. Newcastle United’s Kieran Trippier provides defensive cover and some menace on set pieces. The 32-year-old hits a lot of long passes, also displaying “quality and precision” when eliminator space.

Providing cover in front of the back line is Declan Rice, who joined the program from Ireland in 2019. The West Ham midfielder is an aggressive defender and serviceable in possession, completing a high rate of passes. Coaches’ Voice praises his “anticipation, agility, and ball-winning ability,” which can often shift the balance of proceedings. His partner should be Jude Bellingham of Borussia Dortmund, the 19-year-old who covers tons of ground and forces himself into both sides of the game. He has the speed to regularly enter the final third with late runs that could trouble the USMNT. For rotational options, Jordan Henderson (a veteran providing stability and line-breaking passes), Kalvin Phillips (a box-to-box who combines well with teammates), and Conor Gallagher (a reliable two-way talent) could slide into the lineup .

There are several intriguing attacking players who can support the striker, with England having the depth to rotate the squad a little. Jack Grealish of Manchester City has the versatility to work both on the wing and in the center of the field, hitting countless passes and creating chances. He is highly skilled with the ball and can avoid most pressure, possessing just enough speed to get past opponents. Chelsea’s Mason Mount should pick up another start and provide additional support in the final third. The 23-year-old moves vertically and puts in work on the defensive side, serving as a necessary workhouse in the formation. The ever-unpredictable Bukayo Saka, an Arsenal right midfielder and sometimes fullback, was a key figure during qualifying with three goals and two assists in five matches. His speed and talent in the one-versus-one situations, particularly on the counter-attack, will put the USMNT on the backheel and cause all sorts of problems.

One of the few true “danger men” at the World Cup, Harry Kane will be leading England’s formation, and all success or failure falls directly upon his shoulders. He has a natural feel for scoring and has raced to 12 goals in 15 appearances for Tottenham this season, continuing to display his prolific finishing. In addition to the hold-up play, headers, and constant movement, the 29-year-old can drop back into the midfield and take on a distribution role while also putting in effort on defense. If there is any weakness at all, his free kicks leave something to be desired, although one of his teammates can pick up the slack.

By all accounts, England is expected and favored to win over the USMNT based on the presumed golf in talent and roster depth between the two nations. However, there are areas to exploit in the Three Lions squad, particularly if the defense continues to be unable to mesh. The second fixture can also be a bit of a mixed bag, as managers are forced to decide between rotating the lineups or risking fitness for the group stage’s conclusion.

The match is scheduled for Friday, November 25th at 2:00 pm Eastern, 11:00 am Pacific. Viewing options include FOX, Telemundo, the FOX Sports App, and FUBO TV (free trial).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *