We’re Off to RASHia

United wonderkid Marcus makes up for blunder to all but bag our place at the World Cup.

Aaaaand breathe. The international break is done, we can return to tinkering over our fantasy football team, placing ridiculous 48 team accumulators and discussing the latest dodgy refereeing decisions in the Premier League.

But, before we dig out our lucky socks and head out for a good old-fashioned 3pm kick off on Saturday we must look back on a successful, slightly boring yes, but still a successful week for England.

Friday night against Malta… The less said the better. It’s hard to take any positives from games like that because we expect England to slam four, five, six, seven past the minnows and roll on through like a pre-season fundraiser for a church roof but it’s never really the case.

Let’s be fair, at half time we were all tugging out strands off hair, except Wayne Rooney, not only has he not got too many strands to be pulling at but he’s got bigger drinks to down at the moment.

No disrespect to Malta but this should have been a Mayweather McGregor evening… actually, scrap that because I backed McGregor and I think the Notorious had more chance of a finishing blow than the Maltese Maradona, Michael Mifsud (Google him, Danny Rose already has).

Eventually we nicked a few late goals but overall the evening was the footballing equivalent of a Gareth Southgate anecdote.

I’m always a bit harsh on Southgate, probably unfairly, but I struggle to feel motivated or inspired by a man who always looks like he’s won a raffle prize to be in the dugout.

His squad selections and new approach to International duty must be credited though. A larger squad with no withdrawals’ may seem like a given, but it’s not, and it means we are slowly but surely wandering towards the correct location.

Slovakia at Wembley was always going to be a sterner test and in parts I felt we produced some solid passages of play. Jordan Henderson may not be many fans first pick to take the armband and not quite in the Terry/Adams/Butcher mould of leader but he’s certainly a man who demands a lot of himself physically on the pitch. He did get overrun early on but second half drastically improved.

Seconds into the game and Marcus Rashford’s overplaying in a dangerous area lost possession before a neat one-two gave Stanislav Lobotka a Wembley moment he’ll never forget.

Eric Dier’s shin levelled things up before halftime and then England’s brightest prospect Rashford swung a right footed shot into the far corner on 59 minutes to secure the points and leave Southgates men just two-points from qualification.

A good result, some patches of promise and a few of the Spurs lads got to feel a Wembley win, which was nice for them.

Now, I don’t post frequently anymore so I’ll take this opportunity to “predict” the XI who will start for the first game in Russia… should we make it.

Obviously I can’t predict injuries or Ozil-esque missing symptoms but this is how I think it’ll go…

Jack Butland will be the number 1. It’ll happen. I’m a Joe Hart fan and he’s an essential part of the squad with his leadership qualities but the lads chocolate wrists are beginning to break up like a brittle 99p Easter Egg found down the back of the sofa in November. Butland would have been in sticks already were it not for an ankle injury but now he’s back and playing regularly it’s only a matter of time before he returns to the fold.

(This is predicted on a 4-2-3-1 shape)

Kyle Walker / Ryan Bertrand as full backs. With both Nathaniel Clyne and Danny Rose still yet to recover from injury these lads are in pole position to get the nod. Trent Alexander-Arnold will get more and more gametime under Klopp at Liverpool this year and could be a little outsider for a squad place at the World Cup too if you fancy a flutter.

Michael Keane / Gary Cahill at the heart of the defence. This I think was the toughest area to predict, purely because there are so many serious options. Cahill as Chelsea captain will give the experience needed and Keane’s move to Everton will show he is a top-level performer. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and John Stones are all in with a shout of starting but with the competition for places at their club sides so rife it’ll be touch and go to see if any can hammer down a consistent place for months on end, if they can, it’s anyone’s jersey.

Eric Dier / Jordan Henderson will be the pair to dictate our possession centrally. Both took a fair bit of stick in the Slovakia game for their lack of mobility but with the attacking options we have going forward Southgate may sacrifice their offensive duties for a more sturdy, disciplined role.

Raheem Sterling / Dele Alli / Marcus Rashford as the three in behind. I’ve gone for Sterling ahead of Ox again, purely based on predicted club form. Ox at Liverpool will probably find himself operating from a deeper role so that may give Sterling the edge in a wider position. Alli is the first name on the team sheet and barring some hideous change of career or a nine-month ban for flicking the bird to a referee he’ll be there as our number 10. Three words that England fans have been shouting for months on end now so Gareth, listen up. Rashford. Must. Play. This kid is the real deal, frightening pace, direct, tricky and fearless to pull the trigger, he has to play.

Up top, of course, Harry Kane. One of Europe’s most feared marksmen. Lethal from anywhere inside 30-yards, holds the ball up brilliantly, runs in behind, links up with Alli the lad has the lot and we need to play to his strengths. I swear to god if he even trots towards the corner flag for a set-piece I will slide-tackle the TV off the wall.

A few names I wouldn’t be shocked to see on the plane next summer could be Nathaniel Chalobah and Andre Gray from Watford, Ruben Loftus-Cheek on loan at Crystal Palace, Danny Drinkwater at Chelsea and Tammy Abraham on loan at Swansea.

Ignoring my Chelsea bias in there all of the lads named above could give a different option to the management if their Premier League performances match up.

I don’t want to brag too much but I did back Rashford (at 80/1 at the time) to go to the Euros after he scored on his debut for United so my track record for this kind of stuff is pretty bang on.

Anyway, enough of this, Glenn Hoddle, you may return to your cottage by the Sea and watch videos of your England managerial career to pick up tips until the next break.

Thanks for reading,

Take it easy,

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