Gareth Southgate will have learned a lot about his players after the friendly matches against the Netherlands and Italy as he tries to decide who is best suited to the 3-5-2 formation he seems determined to implement.
The England manager is close to finalising his 23 man squad that will feature in Russia.
It might be easy to guess the squad that Southgate will name prior to the deadline on the 4th of June, but selecting a starting XI may prove to be a bigger headache.
It is admirable that Southgate is attempting to try a new system and different playing style with an emphasis on playing the ball out from the back. The big question is, do England have the players to play this way?
The Dutch stood off England but Italy pressed high and John Stones almost got caught out twice. If Ciro Immobile was more mobile, they could have been punished.
Quality teams will press high up the pitch e.g Belgium in the group stages and a potential last sixteen clash with a quality Columbia side. That will test how comfortable England are on the ball and how they respond under pressure in the heat of a World Cup.
History suggests they will crumble but let’s take a look at a potential starting XI that Southgate could pick for the opening group game against Tunisia in the Russian city of Volgograd, previously more famously known as Stalingrad.
Goalkeeper – Jordan Pickford
The number one jersey is very much up for grabs and it appears to be a straight shootout between Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford. Neither keeper was tested in the two friendly matches so it remains a contentious decision.
24-year-old Everton shot-stopper Pickford may have the edge with his superior distribution which could be fundamental to how Southgate wants England to play.
Defence – Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Eric Dier, Ashley Young
A risky back line given that John Stones is the only natural centre back but Walker adapted well in the right-hand side of the back three while Southgate is intent on playing Eric Dier. In truth, England are not blessed with good central defenders.
Trippier and Young have the potential to be very effective at the demanding wing back role with their ability to get up and down the pitch. Crucially both players are expert crossers of the ball which is becoming a rare commodity in the modern game.
Midfield – Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Jesse Lingard
Midfield – England’s kryptonite. An area where they are very short on quality. The days of Gerrard, Lampard and Scholes are over. Even then, England struggled at major tournaments.
The workmanlike Henderson should get the nod in the holding role with his range of passing but whether he can prove to be a big influence in the big games is very doubtful.
Lallana has struggled with injuries but it is not long ago when he was England’s best player. Not a natural central midfielder but the Liverpool midfielder is the only player with the quality to link play and open up defences if he can find his best form.
Lingard is winning the race against Dele Alli to be in the starting line up. Who would have thought that? The Manchester United player is having a fine season. He may not have Alli’s ability but he is a much more intelligent and quick thinking player. The way he set up Vardy against Italy demonstrated this. Lingard also has a knack of scoring big goals.
Attack – Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane
Sterling and Kane are certain to lead the attack. Sterling impressed in both friendly games and is enjoying his best ever season at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola.
Harry Kane is England’s star player. The Tottenham hitman is one of the best strikers in Europe and they need him fit and firing by June.
Verdict: England should beat cannon fodder in Tunisia and Panama. That will be enough to advance before playing Belgium. They have a realistic chance of making a quarter-final with the way the draw has worked out but a potential last sixteen clash with Columbia may still prove to be a bridge too far.