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Five issues England need to resolve ahead of their World Cup opener

Nick Murphy | 22 May 2018

Gareth Southgate still has plenty to ponder

There’s less than a month to go until the World Cup gets underway in Russia.

England manager Gareth Southgate may have picked his 23-man squad for the summer tournament, but there are still questions to be answered ahead of the Three Lions’ opener against Tunisia.

The Coral News Team have delved into the big issues and come up with five things Southgate needs to ponder before England’s curtain raiser on 18th June…

Who’s the number one?

The Joe Hart question may be dealt with, but Southgate still has to decide who his number one will be in Russia.  Jordan Pickford (1/2) and Jack Butland (13/8) are the most likely candidates, with Nick Pope a long-odds outsider at 10/1.

Pickford appeared to be the number one choice after starting England’s friendly victory over the Netherlands in March. But a shaky performance against West Ham United in Everton’s final league match has raised doubts over the ex-Sunderland man.

His impressive distribution is a big reason for Southgate’s favouritism of the 24-year-old. Will it be enough to get him the nod between the sticks? Or will Butland’s experience and consistency win out?

Sterling, Kane and one more…

Barring injury, Harry Kane will be starting up-front for England in their opening group match. He’s likely to be joined by Raheem Sterling, who has been in tremendous form for Manchester City this season.

That leaves one spot in the three-pronged attack up for grabs. Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will all by vying to stake a claim in the upcoming friendlies.

Alli is the 1/10 favourite to start against Tunisia. But the Tottenham Hotspur ace has been dropped by Southgate before. Any slip-ups and he could find his far from tight hold on that position beginning to weaken.

Does Walker play at centre-half?

The situation at centre-half leaves a lot to be desired. Harry Maguire is untested at elite level, John Stones is out of form and Phil Jones does not inspire confidence (see Saturday’s FA Cup Final). Gary Cahill, meanwhile, hasn’t featured for the Three Lions since last October.

Two of those three are likely to line-up in a central back-three in Russia. But does Southgate opt to stick Kyle Walker alongside them? The Man City full-back was tested in the position against Netherlands in March.

He coped admirably that night. And his pace provides a sweeper-like ability to clear-up any mess that unfolds alongside him. His versatility is a real asset for England. But will the Three Lions miss his influence down the right if the 27-year-old gets the nod at centre-half?

Have a Plan-B

When it goes wrong for England, it goes wrong in style. Three Lions’ teams of the past have been dogged by their inability to switch it up when Plan-A isn’t…well…going to plan.

So Southgate will need to have a Plan-B in his back pocket if Kane and co hit a brick wall. The pace of Jamie Vardy provides the obvious option from the bench, as does Rashford, who shone when introduced at Euro 2016 two years ago.

The pair of them, but Vardy in particular, offer England a genuinely viable alternative if things aren’t quite going to according to plan.

The captaincy

It’s may be only a trifling issue to some, but for others, the England captaincy is a big deal.

Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Frank Lampard have all donned the armband at the World Cup since the turn of the millennium.

Those three were all leaders for the Three Lions. And Southgate will look towards another strong character to chaperone a young and inexperienced side in Russia.

Kane has enjoyed captaincy duties before and is 4/11 to lead the squad against Tunisia. Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson is next at 7/2, with Eric Dier (7/1) and Gary Cahill (14/1) also potential choices.

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All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing