With the deadline for naming the provisional England World Cup squad fast approaching, Gareth Southgate will surely be scribbling down and crossing off names in search of the perfect combination for the plane to Russia.
To assist him in his deliberations, we’ve turned to the data and come up with a simple scoring system inspired by fantasy football.
English players are awarded points for goals, assists, clean sheets and saves in the Premier League this season, which are then scaled by the number of minutes they’ve played.
We’ve also doubled points earned against the ‘big six’ clubs, as England will need to out-play superior opposition if they’re to progress deep in the tournament.
With England opting to skip the formalities of a provisional 35-man squad and name their final 23 ahead of schedule, we’ve calculated what the best-performing roster would look like, both across the whole campaign and for 2018 matches only, with the latter enabling us to identify players who could carry good form into the summer.
It’s no wonder the debate over who should start in goal continues to rage: Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford and Nick Pope are almost inseparable. The Stoke custodian just edges it with a score of 2.34 per 90 minutes, with fellow relegation sufferer Ben Foster trailing in their wake as a back-up option. Joe Hart’s miserable season shows up in the data with a paltry 1.63, suggesting that he shouldn’t even be anywhere near the training camp.
Looking at 2018 matches reaffirms that Butland should be given the nod by Southgate after some strong performances during the Potters’ run-in, with Foster also finishing the season strongly as the Baggies almost escaped the drop. With Pope’s scores having cooled off, suggesting that his incredible save rate that kept Burnley in so many games this season wasn’t sustainable, there’s an argument for taking the Baggies’ keeper instead.
Manchester United duo Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are two of the three top performers this season, along with John Stones of rivals City. There are some eyebrow-raising names below them in the list, however, with James Tomkins of Crystal Palace and the out-of-favour Gary Cahill showing up more strongly in the data than emerging stars like Harry Maguire and Alfie Mawson.
When we focus on 2018 matches only, Cahill plummets at the expense of Mawson and Jamaal Lascelles, who ended the campaign in far better shape. One name that we expected to see higher up the list was Burnley’s James Tarkowski, but the Clarets’ lack of clean sheets against the ‘big six’ has cost him dear.
England look well-stocked at right-back even after the injury to Liverpool youngster Joe Gomez, with Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier our best-scoring defenders. Trippier in particular has finished the season in red-hot form, so could even start on the right if Walker is asked to play in the central three again. Another young Reds player – Trent Alexander-Arnold – is a solid option should Southgate opt to take an additional full-back.
On the left, the data suggests that Aaron Cresswell has done enough to merit a call-up alongside the experienced Ashley Young, potentially at the expense of the disappointing Ryan Bertrand. As there will probably only be space for five full-backs on the place, we’ve added in Fabian Delph ahead of the slightly higher-scoring Alexander-Arnold given that a few of the others can play on the opposite flank. If recent performances are being considered more heavily, Leighton Baines and Ben Chilwell have both made a strong case for inclusion since the turn of the year.
Jordan Henderson is the standout central midfielder overall, but since the turn of the year Eric Dier has eclipsed him and Jake Livermore has run him close, suggesting that there’s plenty of competition in the middle of the pitch. Another outside name worthy of consideration is Swansea’s Sam Clucas, who edges out Jack Wilshere overall, while James Milner and Jonjo Shelvey have been further off the pace and should not be assured of consideration.
In the more attacking areas, Jesse Lingard has outperformed Dele Alli in our estimation despite a sluggish end to his season and both should be guaranteed choices by Southgate in light of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury and the dearth of alternatives. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is the best of the rest should a reserve option be required, but he has fallen some way short of the others.
England are blessed with strong starters on the flanks, where Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford have shone for their clubs, but choosing their deputies will be tricky. The data suggests that Bournemouth’s Junior Stanislas was the stand-out understudy and had actually been looking more impressive than Rashford in 2018, but his injury opens the door to far less stellar performers like Marc Albrighton.
The Cherries could yet secure representation via Jordon Ibe, who has also been making a strong case for selection since the turn of the year, along with James Ward-Prowse of Southampton and Newcastle’s Jacob Murphy.
It will come as no surprise to see Harry Kane topping the rankings here, with Jamie Vardy his nearest challenger whether you look across the whole season or just 2018, but again there are interesting choices lower down the pecking order.
The veteran Glenn Murray has led the line superbly for Brighton and is a far more convincing pick than either Peter Crouch or Jermain Defoe should the England boss opt to select a more experienced head in his front line. However, Callum Wilson and Andre Gray have impressed slightly more overall and their age makes them a better long-term investment as a back-up option at the tournament.
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