My England Starting XI and approach for the opening game against Croatia

June 13th, 2021 | Football

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As is usually the case heading into a major tournament, England fans are optimistic and excited. Hoping to end this 55 year wait for a trophy, since the 1966 World Cup Final victory over Germany.

There are reasons for this optimism heading into the tournament, with this talented and exciting group of players. As per usual before any big game of football, fans are discussing their preferred system and personnel.

In this article I’m going to share my Starting XI and system I’d play against Croatia, along with reasons behind those decisions.

My Starting XI: Pickford (GK), Shaw, Mings, Stones, Walker, Trippier, Rice, Philips, Mount, Rashford, Kane.

System: 3-4-2-1

I really fell in love with football watching England at the 2018 World-Cup when my Mum sat my sister and I down to watch it together. Playing that solid and ball-playing back-three of Harry Maguire, John Stones and Kyle Walker with really offensive wing-backs in Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier. An offensive midfield duo in Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli knowing they can express themselves with the defensively solid Jordan Henderson behind them. And a front two of the pacey and skilful Raheem Sterling partnered with the England’s world-class golden-boot winning captain, Harry Kane.

I personally believe that the back-three allows our creative players a stronger platform to express themselves. The use of offensive and good on the ball wing-backs means the two forwards behind Harry Kane can play as inside-forwards positions so they can operate in the pockets, almost as two No.10s. I know Harry Kane can drop deep and link-up in pockets and play that decisive pass, but I’d try to encourage him to stay in and around the box, as I don’t think England have a finisher anywhere near his level. I’d leave the link-up play to the wing-backs, inside-forwards and central midfielders.

Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker enjoy getting involved in the attack in wide positions and can do so with confidence knowing one of the central midfielders will move into a position to cover them.

Croatia often play a 4-3-3 system. Their attack is decent, midfield outstanding but have a questionable backline.

The back-three of England could deal with the ageing Perisic, impressive and skilful Rebic and goal-machine Kramaric, who has 20 goals in 28 Bundesliga games this season. Centre-backs could step out when the wide players operate in pockets if one of the central midfielders is occupied elsewhere.

I think Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount and Harry Kane could get a lot of joy against a centre-back partnership of, most likely, Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida. Rashford’s pace and directness, Mason Mount’s vision and passing ability along with Kane’s intelligent movement will be an attacking trident I can’t see that backline containing.

Midfield is where it’s interesting. A midfield three of Brozovic, Kovacic and Modric can dictate any game of football. I think England are stronger in attack and defence than Croatia, so I think the midfield is the only area Croatia can really exploit. We don’t have that central midfield player who can dictate a game. Maybe Declan Rice can to an extent but, Croatia have an entire midfield who are capable of doing so. I think Modric is the best, so I’d be trying to get Mason Mount to stay with and almost man-mark him out of the game. I then think the other two are talented, but Philips and Rice are solid enough and I think would cope. Rashford can also get involved by pressing them from deep.

Pickford (GK): A goalkeeper I trust. Pickford has had an up and down season, with some good games and bad games. Sometimes he can look erratic and indecisive for Everton, but I’ve never seen that when he’s featured for the three lions. He always looks more comfortable and settled on the international stage. Maybe this is down to Everton’s constant chopping and changing of formation and personnel at the back, but you could argue England do that as well.

He’s a good shot-stopper and a confident lad. He’s one of the best goalkeepers in the world with the ball at his feet which will be a huge asset for England when playing out from the back or hitting teams on the counterattack with quick players.

Pickford has tournament experience with England, something Dean Henderson and Sam Johnstone don’t have. He has proven penalty-saving credentials, shown in the 2018 World Cup shootout against Colombia, saving Bacca’s penalty and England eventually winning the penalty.

I back Pickford and think he’s the best goalkeeper England have.

Luke Shaw (LWB): In my opinion, the best left-back in the world over the last season. He’s always been defensively solid but has shown his attacking qualities this season with good link-up play and brilliant crossing and set-piece delivery ability from either side. His work rate, pace and incredible stamina levels mean he can bomb up and down the left-wing without much fatigue, the perfect attributes for a left-wing-back. I rate Ben Chilwell, but I think Luke Shaw is better defensively and is a better footballer. Another bonus If Marcus Rashford plays is the two have a brilliant relationship and understanding down the left-hand side with Manchester United, something they could emulate with England.

Tyrone Mings (LCB): I rate Tyrone Mings. I’d only trust him in a back-four for England next to Harry Maguire. If Maguire was fit, he’d be my pick on the left of the three. Mings has the perfect attributes for that position in his absence. He’s quick, tall and enjoys defending. I think he’d relax more knowing he has the cover of the other two centre-backs and could go out into the wide areas and cover the left-wing-back, in this team Luke Shaw, if the opposition have counter-attacked. Not the tidiest or best defender England have, but I think he could slot into the team on the left of that back-three and do a job.

John Stones (CB): I have a lot of respect for John Stones. He’s bounced back from a couple of difficult seasons with Manchester City and is now back being involved in the England setup on a regular basis. He’s a modern ball-playing centre-back who has shown more grit and decisiveness this season. Ruben Dias has helped him settle down which is something Harry Maguire can do when he’s fit. I believe Stones has the experience and ability to step up and be the one who organises that backline and be a leader in the team. A player who’s place in the team isn’t in much doubt.

Kyle Walker (RCB): Kyle Walker is one of the first names on the team sheet for me, regardless of the formation. If it’s a back four with this squad, he’d be my first choice at right-back. If it’s a back three, he’d be my first choice at right-centre-half. He has a brilliant recovery pace, he’s calm on the ball and possess the physicality for the role. The recovery pace is important in this game when you consider Perisic and Rebic are likely to feature, two players who operate in wide areas and are certainly not slow. Walker can be caught out defensively but in this team with John Stones, Tyrone Mings and Kieran Trippier at right-wing-back, he’ll be able to concentrate on his area of responsibility. He complements the other two in the back three and he has the experience of playing that role at the 2018 World Cup. For me, a certain starter in this England team, regardless of the formation.

Kieran Trippier (RWB): As I mentioned in the Kyle Walker part, Kieran Trippier would start as my right-wing-back in this game. He is calm and composed on the ball. His set-piece ability is, in my opinion, the best in the England squad with the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Ward-Prowse. He can obviously score, as he did against Croatia in the 2018 World Cup Semi-Final, and can deliver the ball brilliantly from either side. He’ll be able to show off his crossing ability from the wing-back role with the knowledge he’s got the cover of Kyle Walker or one of the central midfielders behind him. I know it’s difficult for us here in England to judge how he’s played over the last year or two. I’m mostly going off the fact that whenever he’s played for England he’s impressed me. He’s won LaLiga with Atletico Madrid and got in the LaLiga Team of the Season. Even if Trent Alexander-Arnold had been fit, I would’ve chosen Trippier as he’s performed at both club level and on the international stage, something I don’t think Alexander-Arnold has done consistently. I really do think Trippier will have a good EUROs if deployed in this role.

Declan Rice (LCM): One of my favourite England players. Over the last 18 months or so, Declan Rice has turned himself into a reliable defensive-midfielder. He’s a leader, good on the ball and is always looking to drive the team forwards from deep. He can cover for one of the centre-backs if they decide to join in the attack, and is a brilliant reader of the game. He intercepts and wins the ball with relative ease and possesses excellent composure. His passing range is impressive. He knows when to go short and when to try and spread it. He can read the way a game is panning out and take the sting out of it or quicken the tempo, whatever will help the team at that moment. He’s a vital part of the England team, a key part in their spine. At 22 he’s only going to get better and really could become a fan favourite, England legend and potential future captain, utilising his mentioned leadership qualities.

Kalvin Philips (RCM): An unbelievably underrated player. His energy, tackling ability, reading of the game and desire to win the ball back are qualities always welcomed in any team. He’s got a brilliant passing range and often spreads the play out wide with a nice clipped ball. He’s comfortable receiving the ball in deep positions and progressing the ball at a good tempo and into the forward areas. Despite being older than Declan Rice, Rice will be the one organising him. Rice is more patient in winning the ball back, whereas Philips will want to get in there, scrap and win it back quicker. I like the balance of this midfield. They’re both positive, progressive and forward-thinking players. An underrated player and one who could surprise many at this tournament.

Marcus Rashford (LF): Such a direct player. Marcus Rashford just wants to run at opponents, give them problems and create or score goals. Yes, he’s had injury problems throughout the season which I believe has impacted upon his inconsistent form of late. But he’s got enough credit in the bank and possesses attributes I think can really hurt this Croatia team. He’ll run in behind, be a goal threat from any point on the pitch. He could rotate with Mason Mount on the left or right, depending on how the game is going or where Luka Modric is, as I’d have Mason Mount man-mark him. I’d play him in this game, try and win it and then rest him for the next game which is against Scotland, where I’d play a more creative and articulate player in that role. Rashford has had a tough time of late, but I think he’s a top player and one who can have a solid EUROs campaign.

Mason Mount (RF): Another underrated player. Mason Mount is a very talented player who plays beyond his years. His decision making is consistently good. He can play a decisive pass or cross that can win a game of football, like he did in the Champions League Final. The aforementioned talent without work rate is pretty much useless for the team, and Mason Mount works hard. He presses opponents and pushes himself physically to his limit. Mount is a young lad who’s played a lot of football for a big club this season but continues to press to such an efficient level. Because of this work rate, I’d play him to man-mark Luka Modric. I believe he’s Croatia’s biggest threat and the man who makes them tick and if there’s one player in that England 26-man squad to do a man-marking job on him, it’s Mason Mount. I’m not saying other England forwards can’t work to the level Mount does, but he has a good understanding of the game defensively, having played in central midfield at a high level, something the others don’t have as much experience of. Then if he begins to tire, I’d sub on Jude Bellingham. Bellingham has experience of playing central midfield and has a brilliant work ethic along with a desire to tackle and win the ball back. He won’t just be a workhorse as he’ll offer lots with the ball, feeding Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane and his fellow teammates in attacking areas. A player who will be an essential player for England this summer and in future tournaments.

Harry Kane (ST/CF): The captain. The first name on the team sheet. A leader, world-class footballer and brilliant finisher. He can pass or shoot from any angle and is a real team player, an attribute not every striker possess. He’ll probably drop into the pockets and get involved in the build-up, which I don’t mind as long he busts a gut to get back into the box for the final pass or cross. Kane is, in my opinion, the best striker in the world. He can score every type of goal. He can score from outside the box, with his head or neatly finish with either foot. A real contender for player of the tournament and the golden boot. Harry Kane is a player who deserves to be winning and competing at the highest level, and I hope he can start by leading England to their first trophy in 55 years.



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