Something unusual is occurring in the Premier League this season. No, not Leicester’s inevitable lack of form, nor is it Pep Guardiola’s ongoing mid-life crisis. No, for once, English players appear to be at the top of their domestic game.
The likes of Dele Alli, Adam Lallana, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, Jermain Defoe, Harry Kane etc, have been doing well to outshine their foreign superstar team mates. Of course, we anticipate that these players will all toil and fail when it comes to the international stage, but surely if we are to get the best out of the England national side, then now is that time.
Gareth Southgate may be as inspiring as a book of carpet samples, but the talent under his jurisdiction are a far more exciting prospect. With so many players hitting form just ahead of the next set of qualifiers, what is England’s strongest starting line-up? We asked five of our writers to give their thoughts.
The Boot Room’s most popular choices:
Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Kyle Walker, Adam Lallana, Dele Alli, Harry Kane – 5 votes Danny Rose, Jordan Henderson, Michail Antonio – 4 votes Tom Heaton – 3 votes
“A 3-4-3 formation seems to be the 2016/2017 trend in the Premier League thus far this season, and if anything could convince England players to insert a glimmer of pride into their performance, then it will hopefully be an attacking, free-flowing formation. Fraser Forster is my current number one following some terrific performances for Southampton over the past few seasons and seems a far more consistent contender than Joe Hart – who I haven’t seen much of this campaign at Torino. Tom Heaton is a close number two and should be pushing Forster for a starting birth. The wing backs pick themselves, whilst Phil Jones’ decent run of form in the Manchester United side makes him the preferable choice to partner defensive duo Gary Cahill and John Stones. Although Stones may appear unreliable, on his day he is one of the strongest centre backs in the league. Dele Alli is by far England’s most exciting prospect in the last year and will hopefully get the game time he deserves to flourish. He will be allowed the attacking freedom to play behind Harry Kane whilst the fairly experienced (in comparison to the rest of the side) Jordan Henderson holds the fort. The choice of wingers provided the biggest selection headache: options such as Theo Walcott, Raheem Sterling, Jamie Vardy and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all have their individual strengths, but on this season alone, Michail Antonio and Adam Lallana stand out from the crowd. Antonio has been West Ham’s best player by some distance and is versatile and easily adaptable in most positions. His ability with his head and his impressive goal scoring record is an added bonus. Similarly, Lallana has been exceptional for Liverpool with his best seasonal performance to date. Now that he’s added a regular goal scoring element to his game, he’s near impossible to overlook. There was only one candidate for the main striker: Vardy’s been hit-and-miss, whilst Wayne Rooney is evidently passed it. Daniel Sturridge, whose been in good national team form, is unfortunately made out of glass and can’t be trusted to lead the line. Harry Kane is the only viable option.”
“The 4-3-3 formation with interchanging, mobile forwards gives an exciting attacking dimension to the team – something that has been lacking in recent England sides. In goal, Tom Heaton in picked over Joe Hart because of his impressive performances despite playing for a mid-table placed Burnley. He has been much more consistent and narrowly edges out young Jordan Pickford. One of the fullback positions is the undisputed right back Kyle Walker who has eased seamlessly into the wingback position for Spurs. James Milner, having retired from international duty, ahead of Danny Rose might be a controversial choice for left back but his performances in the new role have been exceptional. He is also required as the mature head in a talented but young squad. At the center are Gary Cahill, with the table-toppers Chelsea and Phil Jones, who has established himself in a resurgent Manchester United team. A midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Dele Alli gives a perfect balance of defensive strength and creativity in attack. Lallana and Alli are given the freedom to attack and Henderson provides steel to the midfield. Alli’s recent run of 6 goals in 3 games has been phenomenal, and Lallana’s tireless, pressing style of play has been integral to Liverpool’s form this season. Harry Kane leads the front line, flanked by Theo Walcott and Michail Antonio. Antonio has been a shining light in a sorry West Ham team, while Walcott has been handed a new lease of life at Arsenal in a more central attacking role. After a slow start to the season, Kane has returned to his usual best, and is only overshadowed in the Spurs side by an outstanding Alli.”
“The 4-3-3 allows England’s creative players the most freedom to make their own space and use their technical ability to influence the game. At the back I chose Joe Hart over Tom Heaton because of his ability to play on the biggest stage. Heaton has no experience playing in games larger than playoff finals, while Hart has played in World Cups and Champions League semi-finals. The fullbacks effectively pick themselves, but there is some debate at centre-back. I preferred Phil Jones to John Stones and Chris Smalling because of Jones’ current form a consistency since being put back into the Manchester United first team. In midfield, I have Eric Dier playing an anchoring role right in front of the central defenders, Jordan Henderson playing a box to box role, and Dele Alli playing just behind Harry Kane. This setup will hopefully maximize Alli’s attacking abilities and is the best system to show Dier’s abilities. For the front three, I went with the three most in form attackers the three lions have at their disposal. Adam Lallana has been Liverpool’s best player for over a month now, Marcus Rashford has been Manchester United’s creative spark off the bench and Harry Kane is already in double digit goals for Tottenham this year.”
Josh Brown’s England XI (3-4-3): Heaton, Cahill, Dier, Jones, Walker, Lallana, Alli, Rose, Antonio, Kane, Sterling.
“With some of the best teams in the league enjoying successes with variations of a 3-4-3 formation, to me this is the formation that would allow for an England side somewhat bereft of world-class defensive talent and in abundance of attacking quality to set up. The likes of Phil Jones and Gary Cahill are not close to being the best centre-backs in the league, so it also makes sense to provide them with as much cover as possible, with the 3-4-3 encouraging the wide players to drop in as wing-backs. In goal, it’s a straightforward choice as Tom Heaton’s performances for Burnley earn him a call-up. Joe Hart, alienated in Italy, is seemingly not at the required level, so Heaton gets the nod for me. The defensive trio consists of Gary Cahill, Eric Dier and Phil Jones; with all three integral parts of some of the tightest defences in the league. This does mean, however, that Dier misses out on his favoured position of holding midfield – although his passing ability could still be exploited from deep. Cahill and Jones aren’t star players in themselves, but John Stones can be a total liability and there’s little competition for the other places! The fullbacks then pick themselves; Walker and Rose as a pairing are the best in the Premier League without question, and Rose himself is – in my opinion – the best left back in the division. The power, pace and tenacity of the duo would forge openings at national level the same way as it has domestically. The rest of the midfield consists of Adam Lallana, who has enjoyed a resurgence at Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp, and Dele Alli, whose talent knows no bounds, and who has scored as many league goals in his last four games as Jack Wilshere has all his career. There’s simply no way to leave Alli out. The attacking trio then consists of Raheem Sterling, the enigmatic Manchester City winger who still has immense potential and who is as good as anyone on his day, and West Ham’s Michail Antonio, whose physicality, pace and trickery are difficult to cope with at the best of times. Antonio also offers an aerial threat, with most of his goals scored with his head. The only choice up front is Harry Kane; perhaps the only world class player in the side, Kane is – by some distance – England’s best striker.”
Dan Templeton’s XI (4-3-3) Heaton, Walker, Jones, Cahill, Rose, Lallana, Henderson, Alli, Walcott, Kane, Antonio.
“Liverpool’s 4-3-3 has been exciting this season, largely made possible by my pick for captain Jordan Henderson. His mobility in midfield allows those around him to have freedom which is exactly what this side will need. While Joe Hart has been the long-term number one for England, it is hard to look past the performances of Burnley shot stopper Tom Heaton. He’s been in tantalising form for the newly promoted this side year and has easily leapfrogged Fraser Forster in the pecking order. Whether he deserves to be number one ahead of Hart is up for debate but I am willing to give him a chance. Tottenham’s full-backs Kyle Walker and Danny Rose are the strongest in their positions but Ryan Bertrand, James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne are suitable replacements. At centre back I have gone for the experience of Gary Cahill and the brutality of Phil Jones, both who are in fine form for their respective clubs, John Stones misses out because of the lack of faith shown in him by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola – it makes him seem like a liability when Kolarov is favoured to the £50m youngster at centre back. The midfield lacks depth but Adam Lallana and Dele Alli are in incredible form and will have creative freedom alongside the reliable Jordan Henderson while Theo Walcott and Michail Antonio offer explosive pace out wide to feed the ever present Harry Kane who seems to be the only real option as lone striker. Attacking options from the bench should include Jermain Defoe who might be the best natural English goal scorer. Daniel Sturridge, Andy Carroll and Jamie Vardy all provide various options. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has had a very good season but is rotated too often to be trusted with a starting spot. Antonio has been excellent for the past two seasons and deserves an opportunity to prove his worth.”