“Big Sam” Allardyce has named his first squad as England manager for the upcoming World Cup Qualifier against Slovakia. While there hasn’t been wholesale changes, there are some notable inclusions, as well as stylistic hints.
First, there is a new addition to the midfield in 26-year-old Michail Antonio, the West Ham winger. Not only does he add another option on either wing, Antonio can drop deeper and cover at right back, which gives England another option. He will also add genuine width to the team, since he is the only winger in the squad besides Sterling and Walcott, who both enjoy cutting inside. Antonio has also been in fine form for West Ham and definitely deserves the call-up.
Looking at the squad, we also have to wonder who will partner Gary Cahill. Allardyce favors experience in defense, which should give Cahill the nod, but there are several options in that team that could stake a claim to sit next to the Chelsea defender. Phil Jagielka seems like a safe pick, having previously acted as the starter, but Chris Smalling and John Stones could each make an argument for that starting berth. For his first England match in charge, I would expect Jagielka to partner Cahill, but if Allardyce may look to shake things up.
Another area where “Big Sam” may look to shake things up is in regards to current England captain, Wayne Rooney. While Rooney will remain the England captain, there is a good chance that he may not be seen as an automatic starter anymore. In fact, this would be the perfect time for a new manager to begin phasing the Manchester United player. The problem for Rooney is that he is no longer even listed as a striker, his natural position. Instead, he is a midfielder. Does he truly work in an England midfield that Sam Allardyce would utilize? For the style that Allardyce will be looking to play, Rooney just doesn’t work as a long term option. And it would appear that Allardyce won’t have Rooney long term as he announced that he would retire from international play after the 2018 World Cup.
The biggest question that really remains comes down to the number of strikers that England will use. Will Sam take advantage of his wealth of talented strikers or try to crowd the midfield and play only one? If he tries to cram all three in, will Vardy and Sturridge be forced out on the wings again, or some other switch up? Ultimately, the striker conundrum will answer many questions about this squad. To make a bold prediction early, we will see two strikers on the field but played in a single striker method. One of the two will drop deeper, playing more as a very attacking midfielder than a striker, which will allow for two deeper midfielders and wingers each.