Traditionally England’s great strength, recent years have seen England start Matthew Upson, Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka & Chris Smalling in key Finals matches, oh dear.
Some cause for optimism has been provided by a good defensive record in World Cup qualifying and both the current title favourites sporting first choice English centre backs. But a settled partnership has remained elusive and question marks remain over many of the candidates, so who’s in the reckoning?
1. Gary Cahill
Chelsea’s new club captain had an excellent 2016/17 campaign adding a second league title to his truckload of medals. Has grown as a leader but still hasn’t completely convinced with England. A nailed on starter but for how much longer?
2. John Stones
A brilliant ball player but error prone defender, Stones endured a tough first season at Manchester City. Many have made excuses for his short comings perhaps Roberto Martinez endulged him too much? Was it his fault in that defence? There’s some justification here; playing in front of a ‘keeper who doesn’t do saves and partnered in central defence by Alex Kolarov, even Maldini would look nervous! This season there can be no excuse, it’s time to deliver.
3. Michael Keane
An excellent season for Burnley won Keane his England debut and a transfer to Everton. Solid defensively and comfortable on the ball Keane looks like challenging Stones for the start as Cahill’s more cultured partner.
4. Chris Smalling
Clearly not Jose Mourinho’s man at United, Smalling looks to be 4th choice for his club but a move doesn’t look likely. Smalling needs to win his club manager’s confidence to retain his England place- he did pick him for the Europa League & Super Cup finals will he be picked against West Ham on Sunday? Hmm.
5. Phil Jones
6 years ago he was drawing comparisons to Duncan Edwards & Franco Baresi (no seriously he was!) Since then he’s failed to find a regular place with any of the 4 United and 3 England managers he’s served.
On paper Jones should be a Jose player (quick, strong, physical) but when the manager spends £60 million on 2 players in your position it’s pretty apparent you’re not his man. Surely it’s time his junior place in the squad went to a younger less gaffe prone player who can actually play consistently in central defence, still if he is at the end of the line we’ll miss his brilliant facial expressions.
6. Alfie Mawson
Has developed quickly under the tutelage of Paul Clement at Swansea. More a clear it all stopper and dominant aerial defender than a ball player, Mawson rose to prominence helping Swansea avoid relegation. He then turned in a great Euro Under 21s for England emerging as a leader and hardened defender. I would be amazed if Southgate overlooks him this September.
7. Rob Holding
Enjoyed a breakout season with Arsenal and ended the campaign an FA Cup winner. Holding is learning and developing alongside Per Mertersacker & Laurent Koscielny in Arsenal’s back 3. If he makes as much progress this season as last he should be in for a first cap. However his progress was checked at the Euros where he sat on the bench behind Mawson & club mate Chambers.
8. Callum Chambers
Another cultured central defender, Chambers was excellent in tandem with Mawson this summer, providing a ball playing option out of defence. He also had a credible league campaign on loan to Middlesborough. However he’s now back at Arsenal where he looks surplus to requirements. Crystal Palace want him but no move has materialised yet. If he does get a move a good run of form could get him a fourth cap 3 years on from the first three.
9. Harry Maguire
More a Mawson than a Stones, Maguire emerged from Hull’s disastrous season with huge credit and a £17 million move to Leicester where he’ll replace the immobile Robert Huth. A good season could move him very swiftly up this ladder.
10. Ben Gibson
As I mentioned in an earlier post if he wants to go to the World Cup he’ll need to get a Premier League club. If the rumoured move to West Brom comes off he’s got a place in the England squad to retain. But he might be better off in the long term staying put and trying to get promotion at a club where he’s the main man.