England World Cup Players: England has headed to Russia with minimal expectations on their shoulders and an unfamiliar gust of goodwill at their backs. Manager Gareth Southgate has fostered a sense of confidence and freedom of expression among his young squad, a welcome break from the lethargy of recent years.
Even though England has just made it to the Round of 16, this is unlikely to breed surprise success at the World Cup – not this time around, at least – it does bode well for the future.
England’s current crop are untried and inexperienced – they boast the fewest number of caps than any squad of the 32 nations competing – but they remain full of self-belief and determined to make an impression.
We all know about the likes of captain Harry Kane, Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling and Tottenham’s Dele Alli but there are a number of other gems in Southgate’s 23.
So who might just surprise us next week? Here are three England World Cup Players to keep an eye on…
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England World Cup Players: KIERAN TRIPPIER
The Tottenham defender proving his metal as arguably one of the best crossers of the ball the English squad have had since David Beckham. He’s had a dream run in the 2018 World Cup campaign with some spectacular moments including setting up John Stone’s opener of England’s 6-1 caning of Panama in the group stages last week.
Having established himself as the first choice in the Spurs line-up during 2017-18 – when he made 24 Premier League appearances – he is not Southgate’s go-to on the right, offering pace, directness and superb work rate. Furthermore, he offers England a terrific outlet from the set-piece (and Three Lions fans will be delighted not to see captain Kane taking corners, as was the problem during the ill-fated Euro 2016 campaign) and real fizz and accuracy crossing from wide.
In the 2017-18 Premier League season, Trippier managed five assists, the same number as the Manchester United trio of Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial and more than Eden Hazard of Chelsea.
For a man with only a handful of caps to his name – Trippier made his international debut a year ago and has only made seven appearances since – the former Burnley man seems to have an old head on young shoulders.
Now is his time to introduce himself on the world stage.
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England World Cup Players: MARCUS RASHFORD
Manchester United’s young striking sensational might have had a tough time trying to prove himself to Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford but when it comes to England duty he has every opportunity to receive a new lease of life.
While at United, where he made more substitute appearances than starts in the Premier League last season, Rashford’s natural instincts to run at players can on occasion be stifled by Mourinho’s more rigid tactical desires.
Despite being afforded relatively few minutes at United in 17/18 – 1,810 in the Premier League in total – he scored seven goals and created five. A stunning goal in warm-up victory over Costa Rica at Elland Road showed audacity and tremendous vision, not to mention a rare ability to create something out of nothing.
Of a likeable squad, Rashford’s attitude is perhaps the most endearing. His Twitter tribute to his mum immediately after being named in the 23 for Russia spoke volumes about a young man in love with the game and indebted to those who have made his success possible.
There is little arrogance or grandeur about him and, if he lets his talent do the talking this summer, it will be one heck of a lot harder for Mourinho to use him quite as sparingly when he returned for the new campaign.
Southgate seemed happy to let the youngster off the leash, naming him in the front line for the Panama and Belgium games.
Though now, Rashford has been widely criticised for his many near misses on goal and even purposely missing an easy shot against Belgium last night. Speculation has it that his miss meant England would go through the next round without having to meet Brazil.
Let’s see how he goes in the Round of 16 against Colombia next Tuesday.
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England World Cup Players: JORDAN PICKFORD
English football’s most expensive goalkeeper of all time – having cost Everton a whopping £35million to sign from Sunderland – appears to be Southgate’s number one for this summer’s tournament.
While from a shot-stopping perspective it might be hard to separate Pickford from Jack Butland, who will push him hard for the gloves in Russia, it is perhaps Southgate’s determination to get his team moving the ball at pace from the back which will give the 24-year-old the edge in the selection race.
Pickford’s ability to pick out midfielders and forwards with long, raking Exocet punts from inside his 18-yard box has been a feature of his progression up the English footballing ladder.
But make no mistake, the northeast lad is competent under a high ball and rates highly when it comes to clean sheet comparison (with 10 in the 2017/18 Premier League season, he was sixth in the standings) and keeping the ball out of his net.
In Opta’s expected goals saved model, only David de Gea, Nick Pope, Lukas Fabianski and Thibaut Courtois finished above Pickford last season.
Furthermore, he’s certainly not scared of England’s perennial knockout nemesis – the penalty shootout, going so far as to suggest that he would even be happy to take one should circumstances dictate later in the tournament.
Three Lions fans will be hoping it doesn’t come to that but, if it does, they have a young goalkeeper ready to step up to the plate.
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