Every footballer dreams of representing their country at the World Cup. It doesn’t matter if it is their first time on the world stage or not, every player will be hungry to put on that Three Lions shirt and sing the national anthem.
Some players are pretty much a certain for the starting XI; Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Kyle Walker, Raheem Sterling are a few names that spring to mind. But there will definitely be some battles to land that place in the lineup.
With Gareth Southgate’s preferred formation uncertain, it is hard to predict exactly where the competition lies, but below are some of the stars who could face off ahead of that first game in Russia…
1. The Left Wing Battle – Marcus Rashford vs Dele Alli
Marcus Rashford is primarily a striker, but the 20-year-old mostly starred on the left wing for Manchester United in the 2017/18 campaign. And with Harry Kane certain to start up front, and Jamie Vardy as competition too, Rashford is most likely get his chances playing on the left.
Dele Alli generally plays a more central role, but the Spurs star does like to go down the left flank. If Southgate chooses to play with two strikers, then Alli could be deployed on the left of the midfield.
Rashford netted 13 goals and contributed nine assists for Manchester United last term, whilst Alli bagged himself 14 goals and 17 assists for Spurs. Both players were a part of the Euro 2016 squad, but the competition in Russia will be the first chance to shine on the world stage for both of the young stars.
2. The Battle of the Left Backs – Danny Rose vs Ashley Young
The past year has been a tough one for Danny Rose, with a knee injury ruling him out from February until November last year, and then re-occurring throughout the recently concluded campaign.
Injury struggles limited the 27-year-old to just 17 appearances in all competitions for Spurs in 2017/18, but Southgate is clearly a big fan of the left back, opting to select him for the competition in Russia as a result of his impressive pre-injury form.
Ashley Young found himself a new role last season, as he became a constant starter in the left back position for the Red Devils in the second half of the campaign. Primarily a midfielder for his whole career up until this recent change, the 32-year-old seemingly found where he belonged in the United team.
And as the only other player in the England squad to fulfil that role, Southgate has selected Young with the intention of him being an option on the left of defence.
3. The Fatal 4-Way at the Back – Phil Jones vs Harry Maguire vs Gary Cahill vs John Stones
Whether Southgate will opt for three players in the centre of defence or just two is unknown, but either way it is likely that only two players out of Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Gary Cahill and John Stones will be on the pitch at once – with Kyle Walker likely being used to form a back three. Therefore, there are four centre backs fighting for two spots in the starting lineup.
Phil Jones made 25 appearances for Manchester United last term, with injury struggles limiting his chances throughout the season. The 26-year-old is one of only five players to have previously been to a World Cup, with the competition in Russia marking his second chance to play on the World stage.
John Stones also spent a lot of time on the sidelines in the 2017/18 campaign, managing a total of 29 appearances for Manchester City, with just 16 starts in the league. However, the 23-year-old netted three goals last term, a respectable figure for a centre back especially given his limited game time.
Harry Maguire and Gary Cahill featured a lot more for their clubs than their fellow centre backs over the past year. Maguire played 44 games in total, including starting every league match for Leicester last term. The 25-year-old was a vital figure at the back for the Foxes but also proved a threat in the opposition box as he racked up a tally of two goals and three assists in the 2017/18 campaign.
Cahill made 43 appearances at the back for Chelsea last season, and the Blues captain is by far the most experienced international with 58 caps for England – more than Jones, Stones and Maguire added together.
4. The Battle Between the Sticks – Jack Butland vs Jordan Pickford vs Nick Pope
One of the biggest question marks looming over Southgate’s starting XI is over who will be selected to start in goal. Although only five of the 23-man squad have previously been to a World Cup. The goalkeeping position holds the least international experience, with just nine caps between them, and none have featured in a major competition.
Seven of those caps have been earned by Jack Butland. The 25-year-old is the most experienced of the keepers, and although he faced relegation with Stoke City last term, Butland made the most saves of three stoppers, whilst also proving to be the best at sending accurate long balls forward.
Jordan Pickford has made three appearances for the Three Lions, and kept clean sheets twice. The Everton keeper was a part of the Under-21 squad that reached the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2017. England’s young stars lost out to Germany in a penalty shoot out in that semi final match, but Pickford made his first senior appearance later that year against the same opponents.
Nick Pope is the third goalkeeper heading to Russia with England. The 26 year-old is yet to play for his country, but a brilliant breakthrough season with Burnley earned him a place on the plane for this summer’s World Cup. Fellow England international Tom Heaton suffered an injury early on in the season for Burnley, handing Pope his opportunity and he took it. The keeper went on to start 34 Premier League games in 2017/18, and he helped guide the Clarets into the Europa League.