England: Three players to watch at the 2018 World Cup

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England national team manager Gareth Southgate speaking with his players during a training session for the World Cup (photo credit: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images Europe-Zimbio)

For England fans the World Cup has often only seemed to bring bitter disappointment. There will be either glorious failure or total disgrace, either way the end will be the same. 2018, for one reason or another however, is different. There is the old cliché “It’s the hope that kills you,” and maybe that’s why it feels different. England fans don’t have much hope this time. And maybe that’s a good thing. England’s expectations were wildly inflated during the year’s of the “Golden Generation” of Beckham, Rooney and Gerrard etc. they were doomed to fail. This young group, the youngest in the tournament, seem relaxed. There is a sanguine atmosphere around the team. The only problem is that positivity does breed optimism, and on the eve of their first match against Tunisia on Monday, is the hope starting to re-emerge? Time will tell. But if England are to have a memorable tournament, here are three players who will almost certainly play an integral part:

Jesse Lingard (Midfielder, 25, Manchester United)

Results are the only thing that really matter in football, and that is ultimately how this England team will be judged. But most will be in agreement that there is something different about this England team. There seems to be a feel-good feeling in the camp. Players of the previous generation used to speak with a sense of dread. Players would freeze, shackled with fear. This team seems relaxed and enjoying themselves. They even appear to be having an amicable relationship with the notorious British media. Nobody embodies this fresh England team more than Jesse Lingard.

The Manchester United player is as ebullient off the pitch as he is on it, rarely seen without a smile on his face. Fans of the Old Trafford endured a frustrating season, but Lingard was one of the few players who consistently gave them reasons to cheer.

Lingard was a favorite for Southgate when he was manager of the under-21’s and he has cemented himself in the senior midfield too. With his intelligent movement, ghosting into between the lines of defense and midfield, he fits well into the expansive football that Gareth Southgate desires. One thing that England need to get right is the progression of the ball from midfield to attack, and this where England really need Lingard to perform. If England go far in this tournament it will probably mean Lingard is having a good tournament too.

Jordan Henderson (Midfielder, 27, Liverpool)

Jordan Henderson keeps proving the critics wrong. There were more than few raised eyebrows when Liverpool shelled out over $20million to Sunderland to bring him to Anfield in 2011. And few wondered if he was capable of stepping into Steven Gerrard’s shoes and taking on the Liverpool captaincy after Gerrard moved to LA Galaxy. Last season Henderson led Liverpool to the Champions League Final in one of the most thrilling seasons Liverpool has seen in years.

Henderson still has his critics and many wonder whether he is up to the task of marshalling England’s midfield. But he always does his job. He was an integral part of Jurgen Klopp’s system, pressing high and spoiling across the pitch, chasing the opponent’s midfield like a terrier. As an attacking threat his detractors will say he barely offers more than sideways pass, but he has shown he has a lot more in his locker than he is usually given credit for. His ball distribution is impressive, he rarely gives the ball or makes mistakes. England will need Henderson at his best, and it is lucky for them he rarely gives any less.

Harry Kane (Forward, 24, Tottenham Hotspur)

Harry Kane loves scoring goals, and England are more than ok with that. Individual awards/records mean a lot to him, as evidence by his much-mocked claiming of a goal from a Christian Eriksen cross against Stoke earlier in the season, so Kane will surely have the Golden Boot on his mind. If he can find ways to find the net England will have a chance to progress deep into the tournament.

Gareth Southgate has also made an interesting decision in making Kane his captain. Over the years England have traditionally had passionate, chest-thumping captains, like Terry Butcher and Tony Adams, and in more recent times John Terry. Kane is unlikely to be reciting Shakespeare’s Agincourt speech in the dressing room. But this might be a good thing. Kane seems to be unruffled by the usual pressures of being an England footballer. After-all this is the player who everyone said would be a one season-wonder after his breakout season in 2014-15, but has gone onto prove the critics wrong every year since.

This character trait has helped him at Spurs, but does allude to one issue he may face in this tournament. Kane scores a lot of goals, but at Spurs he gets a lot of chances. In the Premier League last season Kane’s shot accuracy was only 41%. He still managed 30 goals which means he possesses that key sense of delusion that top strikers have, where they aren’t bothered by a missed chance, they’ll just assume they’ll score the next one (players like Alvaro Morata is an example of someone seemingly not blessed with this sense of delusion). With the way England set-up Kane is unlikely to be supplied as many chances as he’s used too from his Spurs teammates. But there’s no denying that in Kane England have one of the world’s elite striker’s in the prime of his career. Let’s just hope he’s not taking corners as he was in Euro 16!

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