September has finally arrived and with it sees the return of international football after three weeks of Premier League action. With domestic football on hold, fans will get to see the first glimpse of the England squad since Sam Allardyce took over from Roy Hodgson. Euro 2016 was the latest in a long line of tournament failures and ‘Big Sam’ will be looking for better results in the 2018 World Cup in two years.
Using Football Manager 2016, we attempt to predict how the Three Lions will perform in Russia…
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Fraser Forster, Jack Butland
Defenders: Eric Dier, Chris Smalling, John Stones, Luke Shaw, Leighton Baines, Harry Maguire, Michael Keane, Kyle Walker, Steven Caulker
Midfielders: Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli, Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Ward-Prowse, Jack Grealish, Theo Walcott
Strikers: Danny Welbeck, Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge
Despite falling out of favour at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, resulting in a subsequent loan move to Torino, Joe Hart remained England’s number one at the World Cup. Allardyce has indicated that Hart has his full support and also took Fraser Forster and Jack Butland as backup options.
There was no place in the squad for the likes of Nathaniel Clyne and Danny Rose as Allardyce favoured Eric Dier at right-back. Chris Smalling and John Stones were the first-choice centre-back partnership with Luke Shaw displacing Leighton Baines at left-back. There was also call-ups for uncapped defenders Harry Maguire and Michael Keane from Hull and Burnley respectively.
In midfield, Jordan Henderson took the captain’s armband following Wayne Rooney’s retirement from international football. He was partnered by Dele Alli and Jack Wilshere in a midfield trio using the 4-3-3 formation. Jack Grealish and James Ward-Prowse earned a place in the squad for the first time whilst the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also travelled.
Up front, the former Sunderland manager preferred Harry Kane and Danny Welbeck to Daniel Sturridge and utilised Raheem Sterling in an attacking midfield position. Jamie Vardy was not able to earn a call-up whilst Marcus Rashford missed out through injury.
England were drawn into Group D alongside Brazil, Costa Rica and Nigeria. The group could be considered as one of the most favourable in the tournament and the Three Lions will be expected to progress to the knockout stages comfortably; with only Brazil providing any real competition.
Game 1 – Nigeria
England’s first game of the tournament was against Nigeria and Allardyce was looking to capitalise of Brazil drawing against Costa Rica with a good result against the Super Eagles. England took an early lead when Henderson opened the scoring after just ten minutes with a superb volley. England doubled their lead just ten minutes later when Ward-Prowse slipped in Sterling who rounded the keeper brilliantly. John Obi Mikel’s mistake allowed Sturridge to score the third goal of the game in just thirty minutes. England controlled the game but Nigeria pegged one back through Kelechi Iheanacho five minutes from time before Kane wrapped up the victory in injury-time.
RESULT: England 4-1 Nigeria
Game 2 – Costa Rica
On the back of a dominant performance against Nigeria, England could secure progress to the knockout stages with a win over Costa Rica. They almost got off to the worst possible start as Pablo Viquez slotted home only for the offside flag to be raised. Chances were few and far between but England finally got their opportunity on the hour mark when Kane controlled before unleashing a vicious shot past Keylor Navas. Ten minutes later, Ward-Prowse doubled the lead with a free-kick, scoring his first international goal and securing England’s passage to the next round.
RESULT: Costa Rica 0-2 England
Game 3 – Brazil
The most eagerly anticipated game of the group stage meant very little to England other than maintaining a 100% record as Allardyce’s side had already secured their spot in the next round and had virtually guaranteed a first place finish. They faced Brazil who were fighting for their place after being beaten by Nigeria. With one eye on the knockout stages, England rested the majority of their preferred starters and found themselves behind just before half-time when Philippe Coutinho’s cross was turned into his own net by Caulker. England dominated possession but could not find an equaliser. Nevertheless, they topped the group following Nigeria’s draw with Costa Rica.
RESULT: Brazil 1-0 England
THE KNOCKOUT STAGES
Round of 16 – Belgium
England drew Group C runners-up Belgium in what promised to be a hugely entertaining tie in the round of 16. Allardyce altered his line up to cope with the attacking threat of the Belgians and resorted to a five defender formation. However, Belgium took an early lead when Romelu Lukaku struck from distance. Sturridge equalised after half-time but Lukaku restored his side’s lead with an easy tap-in following good attacking play. The game was back and forth with Grealish coming off the bench to level the scores again. Extra-time commenced with both sides trying to break the deadlock and it was Oxlade-Chamberlain who was the hero for England in the 118th minute to send England to the quarter-finals.
RESULT: England 3-2 Belgium (AET)
Quarter Final – Russia
Next up for the Three Lions was hosts Russia, who they faced in their Euro 2016 group and represented a good draw as they avoided the likes of Germany and Argentina. Allardyce reverted to his favoured 4-3-3 formation and his side dominated the possession in the early stages. However, Russia were clinical on the counter-attack and took the lead inside ten minutes when Alexandr Kokorin headed home from a corner. England continued to press and press but found themselves even further behind when Alan Dzagoev curled a beautiful shot into the top corner on the stroke of half-time. For all of England’s possession, they could not find their rhythm in the final third and crashed out of the tournament in the quarter-finals.
RESULT: Russia 2-0 England
Considering it was Allardyce’s first international tournament as manager of England, things could have been much worse. Reaching the quarter-finals is an improvement on England’s Euro 2016 campaign but fans would have been hoping to beat Russia especially after knocking out Belgium. However, there are plenty of positives to take from England’s performance and Allardyce would be proud of how hard his side fought for the win.
Do you think England can win the 2018 World Cup in Russia? Comment below!