He gets all these goals while doing everything a world-class striker is supposed to do. He can shoot accurately from anywhere and with either foot; he always knows exactly where to be and how to position himself; he provides a huge target in the box; he holds the ball up and starts link-up attacks; he runs behind the defense; he bullies defenders in one-on-one situations; he drops deep when needed and even helps his defenders from time to time.


All of that is enough to make Kane the most important player on the team, but so is the fact that England’s pool of strikers isn’t very deep. Marcus Rashford is a talented youngster, but he’s only 20 years old and hasn’t yet put together a full, productive season. Jamie Vardy is a supernatural sprinter and a ruthless finisher, but doesn’t have the frame or strength to play with his back to the defense. And Danny Welbeck is ... well he’s Danny Welbeck. If England are going to do anything in this tournament, it will because Kane plays every game and scores a lot of goals.

Raheem Sterling

Of course, Kane can’t carry the entire offensive burden for his country, and if he’s going to get any help in this tournament, it’s likely to come from Sterling.


Sterling scored 18 goals and made 11 assists in the Premier League this season while helping Manchester City romp through the most dominant campaign in league history. This was the season Sterling finally started to become the player he was always meant to be, and he was one of the driving engines behind City’s unstoppable attack.

Sterling should be the furthest attacker up the pitch next to or just behind Kane, and he is perfectly suited to orbit around the big man and wreak havoc. Sterling is an impossibly talented dribbler who can accelerate straight through defensive lines and is comfortable cutting in on either foot. This makes him dangerous no matter where he’s positioned on the pitch, and so he should have the freedom to play all over the place while supporting Kane.


There is one big problem with Sterling, though: he often exhibits a seemingly pathological inability to put the ball in the net. It’s something of a wonder that he managed to score 18 goals this season while also occasionally doing this:

Given England’s recent disappointing showings in international tournaments and all the psychic weight that bears down on every English World Cup squad, it’s not hard to imagine Sterling uncorking a howler and forever joining the likes of Robert Green as a World Cup goat. This moment from a recent friendly against Nigeria was not exactly encouraging:

Oof. Here’s hoping Sterling bangs a few into the net early on and makes it out of Russia in one piece.


Jordan Pickford

Jordan Pickford is a good young keeper with good distribution skills, but I’m really only mentioning him here so that I can introduce you to Jordan Thiccford:



How They Play

Gareth Southgate’s biggest innovation has been to install a 3-5-2 system that is supposed to lead to plenty of passing and pressing. A three-at-the-back formation is often only as good as its wingbacks, and luckily for Southgate he has a good collection of fullbacks who should be fit to play the role in Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Fabian Delph. Even old-ass Ashley Young, who recently converted from winger to fullback in an effort to resuscitate his career, had a decent season in his new role at Manchester United. It will fall on these players to push high and wide up the pitch and keep the ball cycling into dangerous areas.


One of the key components in Southgate’s formation will be Kyle Walker, probably the most talented fullback on the team, who instead of playing wingback will be asked to play the right-sided center back role. Walker, a Manchester City star, has demonic speed and specializes in marauding up the wing and causing all sorts of trouble for opposing back lines. And so it feels a little misguided for Southgate to stick a player with Walker’s skills in a position where he will have fewer opportunities to get forward.

But you can see the logic of what Southgate is trying to accomplish. Walker is the best defender on the team, and the plan seems to be to entrust him to defend the entire right side of the pitch essentially by himself. It takes a ridiculous amount of speed, strength, and savvy to pull that off, but Walker has loads of all three. If he can successfully lock down an entire flank on his own, then it will allow the wingback in front of him, probably Kieran Trippier, to stay high up the pitch and keep pressure on the opponent rather than having to track back on defense.


Still, it’s a risk, and you can imagine the grumbling that will occur if England drop a game in which Walker spends all 90 minutes banging away with forwards in his own box while Delph or Young are scuffing crosses on the other end of the pitch.

Group G Fixtures

All times Eastern

June 18, 2 p.m.: Tunisia vs. England at Volgograd Arena

June 24, 8 a.m.: England vs. Panama at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium

June 28, 2 p.m.: England vs. Belgium at Kaliningrad Stadium