How England could line up at World Cup 2018

Raheem Sterling England
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Gareth Southgate still has some key decisions to make even if the Three Lions squad for Russia almost picks itself following March's friendlies

With just over three months to go until the World Cup kicks off, England's preparations for the summer tournament are almost complete.

Encouraging friendly displays against Netherlands and Italy have boosted expectations on the Three Lions, and manager Gareth Southgate must now concentrate on finalising his 23-man squad.

While there are still a handful of decisions to be made in terms of those on the fringes, it seems Southgate now has a core group whom he feels he will be able to rely upon during the summer.

However, the identities of those in the starting XI for England's opening game against Tunisia remain up for debate. So how will Southgate's side line up come 18 June in Volgograd?

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Southgate's prefered system since taking over the reins from Sam Allardyce early in England's qualifying campaign has seen him play with a three-man defence.

John Stones and Harry Maguire now seem assured of their places in the trio while the decision to switch Kyle Walker from wing-back into the centre of defence against both Netherlands and Italy suggests the Manchester City man will continue there in Russia.

That would allow Kieran Trippier to continue on the right-hand side while Ashley Young has emerged as the frontrunner to play on the left following some encouraging performances for Manchester United and Danny Rose's own drop in form.

While those in defensive positions almost pick themselves, it is in midfield where Southgate has the most decisions to make.

England line up GFX

During the March friendlies he opted for a 3-4-3 formation, meaning no place in the starting XI for Tottenham's Dele Alli.

An archetypal No.10, there is no clear role for Alli within this system, with Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard's ability to excel both out wide and in more central roles ensuring they are more natural fits to flank Harry Kane up front.

And whle Alli is not shy of a tackle, it would likely be too much to ask of the former MK Dons trainee to sit in front of the defence, with Liverpool duo Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looking nailed on to start.


England line up GFX

If Southgate is indeed locked into playing three at the back, then the only way of Alli earning a place seems to be if his manager opts for a 3-5-2 system.

This is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility when the Three Lions come up against the world's best sides and will be forced into a more defensive shape.

Having three men at the heart of midfield would allow them more cover, and with Alli the most advanced of that trio he would still be able to support those ahead of him when England do attack.

A start for Alli would likely mean a role from the bench for Lingard, with the Manchester United man's versatility meaning he could be used in a variety of roles should Southgate need to switch things up in the second half.

Further forward it remains likely that Sterling would retain his place as a support for Kane, though playing the extra midfielder could open up an opportunity for Jamie Vardy to finally forge a partnership with Kane.

The Leicester City frontman is certainly a more natural goalscorer than Sterling, though given his form this season it seems highly unlikely the Manchester City winger will not be included from the start by Southgate.


England line up GFX

Lest we forget, we are talking about England ahead of a major tournament, and plenty of Southgate's predecessors have arrived at World Cups and decided to tear up their blueprints for success at the last minute.

Were Southgate to do the same that would likely mean a switch to four at the back, with Walker moving out to his more familiar role on the flank and Ryan Bertrand potentially prefered to Young given his defensive capabilities.

Such a drastic change in formation would likely give Eric Dier a route back into the side alongside Henderson in a more withdrawn midfield role.

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The Tottenham star's versatility could even allow Southgate to switch back to a three-man defence without making any changes in personnel should things start to unravel.

Dier's inclusion would likely mean no place for Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Alli pushed even further forward to renew his Spurs relationship with Kane.

Lingard and Sterling would likely be forced into wider roles, though both have plenty of experience as wingers would still be allowed the freedom to float inside presuming the full-backs overlap.