They are young. They are in a difficult group that includes Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Their best finish since 1966 was a spot in the semifinals in 1990.
Expectations are always a bit unrealistic for England's chances at the World Cup, but this year, they are justifiably tempered.
But perhaps that is why they could make some noise in Brazil. England may have undergone a bit of a "changing of the guard" in Roy Hodgson's starting 23 this year, but most of the starting 11 is surprisingly easy to project nonetheless, with a slew of players coming off of excellent league campaigns and ready to shine in Brazil.
There are questions that need answering about this squad, of course, but Hodgson has talented players he can attempt to answer them with. Let's take a look at the team's final 23-man roster and project the starting lineup.
|England Group Fixtures|
|Saturday, June 14||6 p.m.||Italy||ESPN||Arena Amazonia|
|Thursday, June 19||3 p.m.||Uruguay||ESPN||Arena Corinthians|
|Tuesday, June 24||12 p.m.||Costa Rica||ESPN2||Estadio Mineirao|
Here is the team's 23-man squad, courtesy of The Guardian:
|England's 23-man Roster|
|GK||Joe Hart||Manchester City|
|GK||Ben Foster||West Brom|
|DEF||Chris Smalling||Manchester United|
|DEF||Phil Jones||Manchester United|
|MID||James Milner||Manchester City|
|FWD||Wayne Rooney||Manchester United|
|FWD||Danny Welbeck||Manchester United|
And here are the projections for the starting lineup:
|England's Projected Starting 11|
Arguably the biggest storyline for England heading into this year's World Cup is the infusion of young talent in the squad, as 2014 represents a changing of the guard in many respects. You need look no further than Hodgson's decision to choose Luke Shaw in defence over Ashley Cole.
He spoke of his younger players prevalent in this year's squad and his reasons for choosing them when he first named the provisional roster, reported by The Guardian:
They've imposed themselves upon me. They've played so well, done so well, been so effective for their club teams and had such success, they've imposed their ability on my thinking.
You can't ignore what people are doing on a week-to-week, day-to-day basis for their club sides. You don't pick football teams with anything other than what's happening at any particular time. They deserve credit for making sure I couldn't ignore them.
Despite that youth movement, quite a few spots in England's starting XI aren't up for debate.
Joe Hart will surely start in goal. The back four is set, with Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Glen Johnson the obvious choices. Steven Gerrard will start in the midfield, Daniel Sturridge will be the team's starting striker and Wayne Rooney will likely play in the role behind him.
After that, however, it gets a bit more interesting.
Hodgson might be disinclined to disrupt the strong chemistry forged this season between Gerrard and Jordan Henderson at Liverpool. The midfield pair work quite well together, with Gerrard providing his incisive passing and ability to move the play forward, while Henderson's tireless work rate and ability to support the back four is vital.
It's possible, of course, that Arsenal's Jack Wilshere could be the choice over Henderson. Though a more skilled player than Henderson—and Wilshere's pairing with Gerrard would make England very technically proficient in the midfield—it could leave the back four exposed.
The other major question is how Hodgson will approach both wing positions, a question made all the more difficult to answer when Arsenal's Theo Walcott was lost for the season in January.
Five players—Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck—could all be utilized out wide.
Lallana seems to be the likely starter after his excellent season for Southampton, while Hodgson has shown an inclination to play Welbeck on the left in the past. Milner is versatile enough to play there as well.
A report by Alex Richards in the Mirror further breaks down the possibilities on the left flank:
On the left side of England's midfield this summer there appears no natural fit: Raheem Sterling, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are options yet all three do their best work on the opposite flank, while Danny Welbeck—if asked—would be a square peg in a round hole.
However, in the shape of Lallana, Hodgson has a genuinely two-footed player, who has played there regularly for his club. Throw in his 7.21 WhoScored rating, and it's Lallana who gets the nod.
Thankfully, Lallana is versatile enough to play anywhere behind the striker. As is Sterling for that matter.
Sterling may be the man most likely to threaten Welbeck's spot after a strong season for Liverpool. Still, Sterling is both inexperienced and likely benefitted somewhat from Liverpool's wide-open, attacking style. England won't be quite so aggressive, begging the question of whether Sterling will be able to restrain himself.
Still, his pace and footwork make him an appealing option.
Oxlade-Chamberlain would bring a bit more international experience to the position, though he too is young. He's also battling injury and had lost time with Arsenal due to a groin injury this season, so his fitness will be something worth keeping an eye on. But he really impressed in the lead-up to the Cup, so he'll likely have a say at some point in this tournament.
And Milner does everything well and has an impressive work rate, even if he doesn't possess the flash of Sterling or the Ox.
Hodgson has the luxury of Milner's versatility if he doesn't trust the two youngsters. But that versatility could also make him most valuable as a super sub, as he could also fill in centrally in the midfield if called upon.
On the other hand, Hodgson might like the option of jolting England's attack later in the game by bringing Sterling off the bench. He has some interesting decisions to make behind the striker.
More importantly for England is the fact that the wing players will be supporting the central attacking pair of Sturridge and Rooney, the former coming off a huge season for Liverpool, the latter remaining England's most talented and recognizable player. No matter whom Hodgson chooses to surround them with, if Sturridge and Rooney don't come up huge in Brazil, it will be a short trip for the Three Lions.
Or, Hodgson could choose to play Rooney on the left wing, which would give him the option of playing Lallana or Sterling through the centre.
Hodgson has some decisions to make, that much is certain. But getting the right combination of players will likely be the difference between a deep run and a short trip, given the difficult opening group the Three Lions will face.