England renew their bid for global domination this month for the first time since their World Cup dream ended in tatters after a heroic run to the semi-finals.
Gareth Southgate’s Young Lions exceeded all expectations, united a nation and got everyone talking about the beautiful game again.
And there’s reason for optimism despite falling agonising short of the ultimate prize.
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As well as a plethora of emerging players who have been involved in youth tournament victories in recent years, England boast some of the best players in the world in their respective positions.
But bizarrely one of them could face a real right to hold down his place in Southgate’s plans.
Kyle Walker is arguably the best right back in the world, going from strength to strength in recent seasons at Spurs and then Man City.
His combination of pace and strength coupled with an insatiable appetite to offer an outlet on the overlap means he fits perfectly into Pep Guardiola’s system.
But England have a vast pool of right backs – and Southgate’s go-to formation leaves Walker looking a bit like a square peg in a round hole.
That’s because Kieran Trippier and Joe Gomez might just be slightly better than Walker at right wing-back and centre-back respectively.
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Southgate fielded a 3-5-2 setup throughout the World Cup warm up games and the finals in Russia, with Walker on the right of that back three.
His speed across the ground was seen as the last line of defence to bail England out of trouble, but a number of times his positional awareness caused issues for the Three Lions.
In the World Cup opener against Tunisia Walker conceded a needless penalty, losing sight of the ball from a simple cross that very nearly cost England all three points.
Then, most fatally, in the semi-final Walker’s bearings went AWOL, allowing Mario Mandzukic to steal in behind him and deliver that ultimate sucker punch in extra time.
Considering he was earmarked as one of the more senior figures in a young, vibrant England side he showed naivety on the biggest stage of all.
Southgate can now take one of three routes as England prepare to face Spain and Switzerland over the next week.
Alter his shape to fit Walker’s mould, stick to his guns with the same setup or drop the Man City man altogether and give the in-form Joe Gomez the chance to shine alongside John Stones and Harry Maguire.
It’s a fairly pleasant headache to have, so could England really be feasibly better off without one of the best in the world in their position?
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