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There is no footballing side on Earth that flatters to deceive quite like the Three Lions.

England has, regardless of what the naysayers claim, always been capable of producing world class players that could start for any nation.

Worlds in motion: Why the Three Lions are capable of roaring in RussiaThe names of Peter Shilton, Rio Ferdinand, John Barnes, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer, Steven Gerrard, Kevin Keegan, Gary Lineker and David Beckham reverberate throughout history as generational footballing giants. The accolades that these men won as individuals and at club level are countless, with enough trophies, medals and awards between them to fill a museum.

However, these men also have one other thing in common: they never lifted a World Cup. Since their triumph in 1966 the closest England has come to winning sport’s grandest prize was at Italia ’90, when a heartbroken Gascoigne wept as England were bundled out of the tournament in the semi-finals by old rivals West Germany.

Just four years ago in Brazil, England produced their most insipid tournament performance since they failed to qualify for USA ’94: going home after the group stages having failed to record a win and scoring only twice as they lost to Italy and Uruguay, and recorded a dour 0-0 draw with Costa Rica.

For England, home to some of the most celebrated clubs in history, with a population of 53.01 million people, and which continuously produces magnificent players, it is truly baffling how greater success hasn’t been achieved. Of course, various hypotheses as to what causes the maladies that afflict English football have been regularly trotted out.

Some point to a vampiric press pack and others to a national temperament that they say produces players unsuited to the pressure-cooker atmosphere that is international tournament play. More – especially with recent developments in technology bringing the leagues of Italy, Spain and Germany to a worldwide audience – blame an agricultural footballing culture that is better suited to producing panel beaters than footballers.

Other naysayers point to the recent explosion in money that has followed the creation and success of the Premier League, which they claim has simultaneously robbed opportunities for young English players by importing talented foreigners en masse and created generations of egotistical English players who are more concerned with their next haircut, car and socialite than they are in putting in the hard yards for their country.

While there is likely a kernel of truth to be found in all these theories; those predicting the continued downward spiral of English football – no doubt inspired by the lifeless display produced by the side as they were knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland – are failing to recognise the shift that has occurred in England in the lead in to this year’s World Cup.

Although all but the most one-eyed of English fans would acknowledge that the task of turning around 52 years of heartbreak is likely too big of an ask of the young group that new manager Gareth Southgate has brought to Russia, there are numerous reasons to believe that Russia 2018 may mark the beginning of a turnaround in English football and serve as a launchpad for attacks on Euro 2020 and Qatar 2022.

Indeed, a demonstration of the changes in English football must start with Southgate himself. The 47-year-old, who oversaw England’s U21 side for three years prior to his elevation to the senior role, has brought a new sense of energy, flexibility and initiative. Much like the man who brought him into the England side as a player – Terry Venables – Southgate has opted to eschew the traditional 4-4-2 set up of England sides past and employ a three-man defence in Russia.

In making the move Southgate, who oversaw many of the current squad in their junior representative days, has demonstrated a willingness to shake off the shackles of tradition and expectation which weighed so heavily on England managers of the past, doing instead what he thinks maximizes the strengths of his young playing group.

This lack of sentiment has also extended to Southgate’s squad selection, with the England boss proving quite willing to wield the axe over ageing or under performing members of the squad. Players such as Joe Hart, Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere would have in years past been able to rely on their reputations for a seat on the plane to Russia, but have been left out of the team by Southgate.

Their places within the squad – that has an average age of 26-years – have been taken by the likes Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier, Dele Alli, Harry Maguire, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Eric Dier, Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane.

While their mileage does vary, this young group of players largely heads to Russia free from the emotional baggage of years past, with only Sterling from the above list a member of the 2014 World Cup campaign – of which he was considered one of the few bright spots.

Also important for England, the above players – apart from the Leicester based Maguire – have all in recent years laboured under the tutelage of managers such as Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho. The educations provided under these managers – the influence of Guardiola on Spain’s 2010 World Cup cannot be understated – will serve England well in their 2018 adventure, especially under the new, more dynamic system of Southgate.

This new system all starts with the recently employed back three. In it, Manchester City defender Kyle Walker – who alongside Kane is one of two truly world-class players within the England squad – shifts from his normal wide role and onto the right side of the three centre-backs, injecting some much-needed pace and dare into a back line that will likely also feature ball playing John Stones and the composed Maguire.

Employing three central defenders then allow Southgate to deploy two wing-backs, likely to be Kieran Trippier and veteran Ashley Young, in a more attacking role; enabling England to play with a sense of pace and width previously alien to the Three Lions. In the midfield, Southgate has the flexibility to run out several line-ups depending upon the style required.

In situations calling for a resolute defence, expect to see Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Dier take the field as a pair of holding midfielders, entrusted with the responsibility to shut down the middle of the park. In more adventurous situations, such as against Tunisia and Panama, Southgate can be bold and either bench or shift Dier into the back-three in his place bring in one of the exciting trio of Alli, Loftus-Cheek and Lingard – only one of which will likely feature in the more defensive setup.

Whilst both Alli and Lingard carry more name recognition thanks to playing for Spurs and Manchester United respectively, it is Loftus-Cheek that looms as the most exciting of the three. A part of the Chelsea setup since he was an eight-year-old, Loftus-Cheek spent the past Premier League season on loan at Crystal Palace; overcoming injury to play a crucial part in Palace’s successful push to avoid the drop.

Tall, powerfully built and possessing a composure on the ball that belies his 22 years, Loftus-Cheek’s movement and creativity – with and without the ball – can bring an extra dimension to the English midfield if he is entrusted with a starting position.

Up front, Kane and Sterling are certain starters; although Rashford is a highly capable understudy. Within Southgate’s system, however, there is a greater impetus placed on Kane dropping deep to connect the play and release advancing attackers beyond him, meaning that Sterling has recently been taking on a more central role than he is employed in at Manchester City.

Whilst Kane’s ability to take chances is beyond reproach, Sterling will, therefore, need to improve his finishing if England is to make a deep run in the tournament, the 23-year-old having not scored for England since 2015.

With such an exciting squad a quarter-finals berth should be expected from England at the 2018 World Cup, in which Brazil likely looms. If England is to shrug off the labels that have haunted them for decades now – as New Order sung in their legendary 1990 football anthem World in Motion – is the time.

Originally published at dailyfootballshow.com

Post written by Joey Lynch, Twitter: @joeylynchy
for Daily Football Show, Blog: dailyfootballshow.com, Twitter: @dfs_aus

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