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May 31, 2010
It's that time of year again, and everyone has their own opinion on England's best XI and the 23 that should go to South Africa. So I'm going to act like I know what I'm talking about, here's my 23:
Goalkeepers: Hart, Green, James
Defenders: Glen Johnson, Carragher*, Ashley Cole, Baines, Ferdinand, Terry, King
Midfielders: Adam Johnson, Gerrard, Barry, Huddlestone, Milner, Lampard, Lennon, Walcott, Joe Cole
Forwards: Rooney, Crouch, Heskey, Defoe
* I'm only taking Carragher because I don't want to take Milner as the only cover for right back.
Nothing really controversial there, other than a couple of points:
- Taking four strikers: Since the preferred formation should be 4-3-3 with two wide forwards/wingers or 4-1-1-1 with Gerrard or Joe Cole behind a "lone" striker, it seems madness to have 4 strikers warming the bench.
- Utility players: It's important in a squad of 23 to have genuine backup for every position as well as the option to change formation and still have backup. Carragher, as much maligned as he (rightly) is, provides excellent backup at both right back and centre back. Milner fills the "Hargreaves gap" of cover at right back as well as being able to play anywhere across the middle
- No place for Carrick: Carrick has been in absolutely rotten form and his Hollywood pass in the first half against Mexico condemns him to a summer at home
So, with that in mind, my first XI would be (4-1-2-3/4-1-4-1 with wingers acting as wide forwards):
Defenders: G. Johnson, Ferdinand, King, A. Cole
Midfielders: Lampard, Barry (DM), Gerrard
Forwards: Lennon (WF), Rooney, Milner (WF)
Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott can be devastating impact substitutes here in place of Lennon and Milner. My "Plan B" formation would probably just be a straight 4-4-2, with Lampard sacrificed to bring on Heskey (or, in a pinch, Crouch). Players like Baines, Terry, Huddlestone, Defoe and Joe Cole are taken as backup and in order to rest the first XI against Slovenia and Algeria.
Without injuries, there wouldn't be that many changes, though Hargreaves would be a definite, and I'd be tempted to take both Owen and Beckham as impact substitutes. Hargreaves is the only player the England team is actually missingthough, particularly with an unfit Barry.