The changing landscape of the Premier League has seen the ruggedness of an old-fashioned centre-half almost disappear from the game, with defenders now expected to play out from the back with confidence.
In homage to the Pep Guardiola way of football that has been apparent over the last few years, Manchester City defender John Stones has been slowly improving as a ball carrier under the guidance of the Spaniard and though he is still to nail down a starting spot under England manager Gareth Southgate, the growing confidence of the former Everton defender is likely to see him earn the starting role alongside Gary Cahill next summer in Russia.
One wildcard pick that will be under consideration as Southgate looks to prepare his side for the tournament is that of Leicester’s young centre-half Harry Maguire, who has attracted attention for his display as a ball-playing defender for a Foxes side that have yet to find their feet.
Too much, too soon?
Despite being called into the squad for the recent World Cup qualifying wins over Malta and Slovakia, the Foxes star wasn’t part of the final matchday squad and his retention for these final two qualifiers is a sign that England are keen to take a good long look at the former Hull defender.
Whilst Maguire has largely been solid at the back for struggling Leicester, he has been unable to inspire the Foxes to a good start to their season and was notably caught too far up the pitch against Liverpool in the recent 3-2 defeat, allowing England colleague Jordan Henderson to score.
Southgate will know the style of football coming into the game means that ball-playing defenders are the future of the game but with Stones yet to cement his starting place, the England manager will likely be unsure as to his worth of a place in a fully fit 23-man squad and though left-field picks have happened in the past like Theo Walcott’s place in Sven Goran Eriksson’s squad for the 2006 World Cup, will Southgate want to take a spot away that could be crucial in the tournament and particularly one of a defender.
What could persuade Southgate to include the Foxes defender in his final World Cup squad, is the stark realisation that Cahill is hitting the final hurdle in his career and at 32 years of age by the time the tournament comes round and unlikely to figure at the next World Cup, there will also be doubts that his form will continue for him to earn a place for the Euro’s in 2020.
If England are to match the elite teams in International football once again, they need to inspect what other teams are doing and the creative side of defenders is taking over the tactics of managers at both domestic and international level.
Maguire fits that bill and many are tipping him to have a bright future as an International player. There is plenty still to learn and going to a World Cup will be good experience and will enable him to learn the art of his trade and watch how the consistent yet unspectacular Cahill does his job.
This next World Cup is likely to come too soon for an England set-up that is going through change and with the recent success of the England Under 20 squad, there are players beginning to knock on the door.
Southgate’s concern will be the lack of game time that these rising stars are getting at their clubs and in Maguire, they have a youngster that is getting the game time needed to continue his education and taking him to the World Cup could work in the England manager’s favour in the long-run.
New breed pushing for places
Along with Nathaniel Chalobah, Jack Butland and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, there is a new breed of players on the cusp of breaking into the England team and with eyes on the likes of Dominic Solanke and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the future is brighter for the Three Lions than in recent memory, and whilst results are still crucial, thrusting promising youngsters into the set-up is one to consider for Southgate.
Eyes will be on the 2020 European Championships as a place for a new-look England side to make a statement but without the experience at a young age, it would be easy for them to fall into the trap of many former England managers and the disappointments they presided in at major tournaments.
For the like of Maguire and Chalobah who look the most likely to get to that stage, an education at a World Cup would not do the future prospects of an England side any harm and they should be considered as serious prospects for Russia 2018.
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