Well, that’s the end of that then.
England exceeded everyone’s expectations in reaching the World Cup semi-finals, and should be commended for doing so. They lost to a better, more experienced team in the end, and there’s no shame in that. England have a young squad, and – based on what we’ve seen in this World Cup – I’d certainly have them pegged as 4th favourites for Euro 2020.
As a whole, I thought the squad was well-formed. They were certainly crying out for a playmaker, particularly against Croatia’s ridiculous midfield. The unreliable Wilshere aside, however, there was no obvious candidate out there that Gareth Southgate failed to pick.
To a man, the England players gave good accounts of themselves. Everyone understood their roles – something you couldn’t have said in previous tournaments – and showed good tactical discipline.
That said, there were certain players in the England World Cup squad who stood out above the rest. Unfortunately, there were also those who disappointed.
Here’s my England World Cup 2018 Review of the most and least impressive players of the tournament.
England World Cup 2018 Review – Most Impressive Players
1) Kieran Trippier
At 27, Kieran Trippier is no spring chicken in footballing terms. Having started for Tottenham last season, he’s not exactly an unknown either. It does feel, however, as if Trippier has been the biggest revelation in the England World Cup squad.
His delivery has been simply sensational, in its precision and consistency. In fact, it’s quite staggering that he’s only registered one assist. More tellingly, he is tied for second in chances created (17 so far) with Kevin de Bruyne; only Neymar has created more.
Because of this, Trippier has gained a rare degree of influence for a wing-back. He’s given England their only true width (a general lack of which cost them in open play), and – along with Ashley Young – has been part of the deadliest set piece duo in the competition.
No England player’s stock has risen more in this World Cup than Trippier’s. As an Arsenal fan, I sincerely hope it comes crashing down to earth in a couple of months. He can pick up again when the Euro 2020 qualifiers start next year, though. That’s fine.
2) Jordan Pickford
Even after managing to heroically escape from the Titanic Sunderland, Pickford endured a torrid first Premier League season with Everton. He conceded a whopping 58 goals in 38 games, managing only 10 clean sheets all season. This wasn’t all his fault, of course, but he hardly justified his hefty £25 million price tag.
Well, when he slipped on that horrible England goalkeeper’s shirt (either the green or the yellow; they’re equally nasty), all was forgotten. Pickford’s shot-stopping has been brilliant, and he’s come off his line bravely. He’s also kept his composure when England’s centre-backs have played the ball back to him, often under severe pressure.
I still think he lacks the all-round game to be considered an elite keeper, with his long-range distribution being a particular weak point. Pickford takes none of the blame for England’s failure to reach the final, though.
3) The Centre-Backs
This unit has been the bright spot of England’s entire tournament for me. I thought they were absolutely outstanding as a three, and it would be unfair to single one out above the rest.
Maguire was an enormous threat from set pieces. After a nervous start to the tournament with the ball, he settled down and became his usual comfortable self in possession.
Walker covered Trippier brilliantly on the right, his pace allowing him to keep tabs on the oppositions’ wingers, and he really stepped up in the biggest game of all against Croatia.
Stones has been the least eye-catching of the three (Panama aside), but has been excellent in the air, and – crucially – didn’t make the mistakes which often plague his game.
The three of them are 25, 28 and 24 respectively. If Southgate decides to stick with the 3-5-2 going forward (which I’m not entirely sure he should), they’re an excellent trio to build around.
4) Raheem Sterling
All professional footballers have incredible mental strength – it’s kind-of a prerequisite for the job – but Sterling’s really is a cut above. Despite being on the receiving end of a bizarre attack from his own country’s media, and getting considerable flak from England fans for his profligacy in front of goal, he went all-out to the very end.
Sterling’s finishing is a problem. There’s no getting around that. The buffet of other delights he brings to the table, however, more than make up for this.
His pace, and the timing of his runs, meant he was a constant menace for opposition defenders. If England had any kind of playmaker whatsoever in their midfield, he likely would’ve become an unstoppable weapon. Even without much service, he was still endlessly willing to take the ball and run straight at defenders, giving England a directness which was absent elsewhere.
Sterling is still only 23. He’s already made excellent progress in two years under Guardiola, and – if he can sharpen up in front of goal over the next two years – he could easily become England’s key man heading into Euro 2020.
England World Cup 2018 Review – Biggest Disappointments
1) Harry Kane
We all know Kane loves winning a Golden Boot, even at the expense of his dignity. Well, congratulations on this one, Harry. Two open headers, three penalties and an accidental backheel flick. Yep, stick this one right on the mantle!
I can’t slate Kane’s desire. He gave a level of commitment and effort that vindicated Southgate’s decision to captain him in the first place.
What I can fault, however, is that in the semi-final of the World Cup he went missing. Kane had chances against Croatia that you’d have bet, if not your house, then at least your garden on him scoring. He didn’t offer much against Sweden either.
In part, Kane’s lack of impact in the latter stages was down to England’s system.
The lack of playmaking in midfield meant he had to drop deep to get the ball. Accordingly, when the ball was put into dangerous areas, he often wasn’t lingering in the six yard box to drive it home, as we’ve become so accustomed to seeing him do for Spurs. He was gifted a golden opportunity against Croatia, however, and the miss was startling.
If he’s genuinely supposed to be one of the best forwards in the world, he should have been more assertive, even in an imperfect system. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t Romelu Lukaku by any stretch, but I thought Kane played far below his Spurs level for most of the World Cup.
2) Dele Alli
This is the problem with taking form players to a World Cup. If they’re on song, their impact can be invaluable. If they’re not, you’ve basically wasted a spot in your team.
Dele Alli has been up and down all season in the Premier League, and has generally struggled to reach the heights he hit a couple of years ago. On his day, he can be a goal threat, a playmaker, or a dribbler. In the end, for England in the World Cup, he wasn’t really anything.
He grabbed a trademark, far post headed goal against Sweden, sure. But, going up against the best midfield in the competition – Croatia’s – he was largely anonymous.
I don’t want to hear about his age. He’s been a Premier League starter for three years, he’s played in the Champions League, and he’s got 29 caps for England. Mbappe is three years younger than Alli, and has clearly had a greater impact.
Was he injured? Perhaps. He certainly didn’t look fit, and perhaps Southgate should’ve been more ruthless and swapped him out. The fact remains, however, that England really, really could’ve done with a player just like an in-form Alli, and they got nothing near to it.
3) Ashley Young
I think Ashley Young is a solid, all-round player. He wouldn’t be my starter for Manchester United or England, if I was managing either team, but he’s fine. He’s just really, really not a left wing back.
Young has been incredibly reluctant to cross with his left foot this tournament. Given that England rely on their wing backs for most of their width, that’s a bit of a problem. Attacks down the right moved quickly and flowed nicely. Attacks down the left reached Young, stuck, then moved backwards again.
I thought Young did okay defensively. He’s certainly not as bad on that end as some critics make out. Given that he didn’t just fail to help England’s attack, however, but actively hurt it (couldn’t he have at least tried to take the right back on more?!), I’ve got to stick him on my England World Cup 2018 Review naughty list.
4) Marcus Rashford
I’m not going to lay into Rashford, because – unlike with Alli – his inexperience does grant him the benefit of the doubt. He’s only 20, and endured a stuttering club season under Mourinho, who gave him just 17 starts in the Premier League.
In fact, it’s grating to see a player who burst onto the scene by constantly scoring big-stage goals reduced to this. His single start in the World Cup, against Belgium, will be remembered solely for the stunning miss. He seemed a perfect late game weapon against Croatia, with his pace and directness, but made a disappointingly feeble impact.
He simply looks bereft of confidence. He starts to run at defenders now… then simply stops, puts his foot on the ball, and passes it – and the responsibility – to a teammate.
Rashford was a big disappointment this World Cup, but I don’t blame him for it. I blame a bitter little Portuguese man who saps the joy from any player unfortunate enough to cross his path, and over the course of many years has proved himself one of the worst judges of young talent in world football.
England World Cup 2018 Review – Final Thoughts
So, there you have it.
Everyone has their thoughts on the England World Cup team, of course, but mine just happen to be right.
Okay, jokes aside, let me know if you agree with my choices, disagree with them, or think I’m a complete idiot. All opinions are valid.
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