Gareth Southgate has named his 23 man England squad, but were England’s best players included? To find out, we made a team based purely on data.
Gareth Southgate has announced his final World Cup Squad. In a month’s time, those players will fly out to Russia. 23 brave boys will take on the world’s best for a shot at footballing immortality. It’s truly the stuff of dreams.
But did these players deserve a seat on the plane?
Down the years, England managers have made some questionable calls. See Glenn Hoddle’s desperately cruel axing of Gazza in 1998, and Sven-Göran Eriksson’s shock inclusion of Theo Walcott in 2006 (poor Theo is yet to play a single minute of world cup football). So, we decided to use data to see if Gareth got it right.
Our England starting eleven is foolproof. It’s Garethproof. We chose our players based purely on raw data from the 2017/2018 Premier League campaign. Our selection criteria was simple and runs as follows:
The Goalkeeper selected had the most clean sheets
Defenders selected made the highest number of tackles
Midfielders selected had the highest number of assists
Strikers selected had the highest number of goals
Goalkeeper: Nick Pope
Nick Pope of Burnley fame has impressed immensely this season having pushed, palmed, and punched his way to the most Premier League clean sheets of any English player. Just two years ago, Pope was fighting it out at League 2 side Bury, now he could be England’s first choice keeper on the game’s biggest stage. He’ll be found at the back of the plane listening to the new Arctic Monkeys record.
Right Back: Kyle Naughton
Yes, of course, there’s more to the game of the modern right back than “sticking your foot in” and yes, we could have spent longer on our selection algorithm, but numbers don’t lie, Kyle Naughton has the most tackles of any English right back this season. And that surely counts for something? On the plane, he’ll be sitting near, but won’t quite be part of, ‘the main lads’, laughing at their jokes on the peripheries.
Centre Back: Lewis Dunk
Surprise inclusion number two? Lewis Dunk of newly promoted Brighton & Hove Albion FC made the highest number of tackles this season for an English centre back. Tackling is good. It’s what stops Luis Suárez breaking our hearts again. Dunk will try to sit on his fold down table before take off for ‘jokes’ but Gareth is in the seat in front and throws him a look of disdain. He sits back down coyly.
Centre Back: Harry Maguire
As well as having potentially the squarest head in world football, Harry Maguire also has some real talent. He’s proved himself to be an absolute unit at the back for Leicester City. He’s fearless in defence, having made the second most tackles by an English centre-back this season. But, he’s terrified of flying. He’ll be squeezing Milner’s hand tightly for takeoff and landing.
Left Back: Ryan Bertrand
Ryan Bertrand has tragically missed out on Gareth’s final selection. Earlier in the season, when his team were trying to see out a hard fought point away at bournemouth, Bertrand (purposefully?) did an awful foul throw very high into the air, before turning to the camera and winking. We could really use these time waisting tactics when we’re 1-0 up against Belgium in the final group game. Shame. He’s not on the plane.
Left Midfield: Marc Albrighton
Despite the fact that Marc Albrighton looks like the lad who delivers your post every morning, he is, in fact, a Premier League footballer and a multi-millionaire. He also bagged himself 7 assists this season, finishing second in the overall rankings. Marc will spend the entirety of the flight to Russia transfixed by the pattern on the seat in front of him. His eyes gradually getting wider, his face increasingly bewildered.
Centre Midfield: Alex Oxlade Chamberlain
The reinvention of Chamberlain as a centre midfielder has proved an inspired move. But he’s not a complicated player. Just wind him up, and let him go. He’ll keep running forever. This season in particular though was a breakthrough for ‘The Ox’ who’s really held his own among Liverpool’s stunningly talented squad. He’s definitely one of the ‘main lads’. He’s got a cool nickname and everything. ‘The Ox’ will be central to in-flight entertainment for the rest of the brave boys.
Centre Midfield: Dele Alli
As prominent sports broadcaster James Richardson once said, many teams have, like salami, been sliced open on the counter by the Dele man. With 10 assists this season, more than any other English midfielder, it’s likely that we’ll see Dele on the telly this summer. He’s potentially the main lad. Banter flows naturally through him like a light summer breeze. He even gets a laugh or two out of Gareth, who’s trying extremely hard to put his ‘I’m in charge’ face on.
Right Midfield: Andros Townsend
Andros of Townsend is no stranger to the international game. On his England debut at Wembley in 2013, he absolutely hit one in off the post from outside the box. “There’s no dross from Andros” the commentator said. His 7 assists for Crystal Palace this season are not to be scoffed at, the boy’s still got it. Andros is assistant main lad. He’s older than Dele, they’re ex-club mates, but Dele has the room under his spell, the brighter career, and a better haircut. If you look close enough, you’ll see a jolt of desperate envy every time Andros glances Dele’s way.
Striker: Harry Kane
Kane’s scoring this year was only topped by one Mohamed Salah, who is himself a god amongst men. No shame in that Harry. The Tottenham boy will likely be leading from the front in Gareth’s starting 11. Harry will be flying the plane.
Striker: Jamie Vardy
Jamie Vardy has the haircut of a ten-year-old boy who’s just found his older brother’s shockwaves wet-look hair gel, and has applied it generously. Not wax, but gel. His hard, clumpy hair hasn’t stopped him scoring 20 English Premier League goals this season, though, so more of the same in Russia please Jamie. Will be found on the plane whatsapping best pal David Nugent every 45 seconds.