After the likes of Sol Campbell, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King, England are now lacking in depth at centre back; but, the new generation have now got their chance to assert themselves on the national side.
Only Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill are guaranteed to be going to Brazil and they are likely to be England’s starting pair. The likes of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Joleon Lescott and Steven Caulker will be hoping they are selected for the World Cup given that the last two centre back spots are far from secured.
Chris Smalling is in pole position to secure a place in the England squad for the World Cup after the Manchester United defender started in the friendly match against Denmark. David Moyes has opted to use him in a central defensive partnership with Phil Jones at club level and this will be positive for England in the long term, with both players having great potential. His tackle success of 67.5% from 40 tackles is slightly below par for a top central defender but he has been used as a right back for a lot of his appearances – a position that he is uncomfortable in. His ground 50-50 win rate of 74% and aerial 50-50 win rate of 64% are both very impressive and if he keeps them both at that level while playing centre back, he will be a certainty for a spot in Roy Hodgson’s 23. Despite impressing in midweek for England, it’s unlikely that the former Fulham defender will be starting in the summer, but he could be feature at some point.
His club team-mate Phil Jones has been tipped by many as a future England captain, but he has failed to make any position his own since breaking into the Manchester United side. He has been played at right back, centre back and in the centre of midfield, but it looks like he is going to be playing at centre back for the foreseeable future at club level. His tackle success rate of 73.81% from 42 tackles is better than Smalling. He has also made fewer mistakes than his Manchester United team mate. The former Blackburn defender has a ground 50-50 success rate of 60% and an aerial 50-50 success rate of 54%, worse than Smalling in both areas. Jones would offer Hodgson some versatility and it’s important to have players in the squad who can play in a few positions. He is certainly among the favourites to secure a World Cup squad place, but he still has some work to do with his performances in the final nine Premier League matches.
Steven Caulker is an outside bet to make the final 23, but he was included in the squad to play Denmark. He didn’t feature on Wednesday though. He has been playing for one of the worst sides in the division, but he has impressed for Cardiff. He has a 70.59% tackle success from 34 tackles, which is better than Smalling. The former Tottenham defender has a ground 50-50 success rate of 73% and an aerial 50-50 success rate of 60%, which is better than Jones, but worse than Smalling. Caulker is very good in the air and poses a threat from set pieces as was seen for Cardiff on Saturday as he grabbed two goals. He has played very well in crucial matches this season, like scoring the winner in the South Wales derby against his former side Swansea. The World Cup may come too soon for Caulker, however, he has a big future for England, and he may have to move to a bigger side to become a fixture in the national squad.
Joleon Lescott looks like he could become a victim of the money at Manchester City. There is no doubt that he would be challenging Phil Jagielka for a starting place if he was playing regular football, but he has found himself on the bench as Manuel Pellegrini has preferred Martin Demichelis in the large majority of matches. His tackle success rate of 83.33% is superior to the other three centre backs, but he has only attempted 12 tackles. His ground 50-50 success rate of 54% and his aerial 50-50 success rate of 65% are both impressive, but his limited game time means its hard to compare them to those of the other three English centre backs. He needed to leave Manchester City in January to keep his World Cup dream alive, but he didn’t, which means it’s unlikely that he will be on the plane. If he leaves the Etihad in the summer, he could still make the Euro 2016 squad, but he is 31 now, so he may find it difficult to get back into the England squad.
It looks like Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are in pole position for those last two central defence spots in the England World Cup squad, given their youth and partnership at Manchester United. They both also offer versatility, which will appeal to Hodgson, as he is trying to put together a squad that can deal with any scenario. If he takes the Manchester United pair, he may not have to take two right backs, as both can fill in there. This will allow him to take another attacking option. Steven Caulker has an outside chance of making the plane if he continues his good form, but his best chance will come if there are injuries. He looks likely to make the list of players on standby.