John Brewin: This is the worst England squad I can remember

With the World Cup right on the doorstep, we wonder is this the bleakest squad The Three Lions have ever had heading into the tournament?

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Jake Livermore is a midfielder for the worst team in the Premier League. He is not a bad player, but he is badly out of form.

Rather than anything he has achieved with West Bromwich Albion on the field this season, he is now best known for being a passenger in the taxi he and three senior pro colleagues commandeered while disobeying curfew on a mid-season break in Barcelona.

And yet he is in England’s squad to face Holland and Italy. These days, though, as coach Gareth Southgate has admitted, the main criteria for England selection is regular Premier League football. It doesn’t seem to matter how players are performing.

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While Livermore trains at the English Football Association’s St George’s Park this week, Harry Winks is resting up back home in Hemel Hempstead. When Winks starred for Tottenham against Real Madrid in October, it appeared England might at last have found a player capable of controlling the tempo in midfield.

But a recurring ankle injury halted Winks’ development and as a result of Mauricio Pochettino being careful with a young player, and the form of Mousa Dembele, Southgate’s policy means Winks’s dreams of a Russian summer are fading fast.

It makes for a 27-man squad that could be most politely described as experimental, though with Harry Kane, the sole world-class player, missing it looks like the type of group that might fulfil an end of season tour to the Americas when the FA are seeking votes for another ill-fated bid to host the World Cup finals.

Fresh selections like Swansea’s Alfie Mawson, Burnley’s James Tarkowski, Leicester’s Harry Maguire and Bournemouth’s Lewis Cook are decent enough players, but there is little there to race the heart like the “golden generation” of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand that ended up disappointing an expectant nation.

This is England 2018, and the 31 other nations traversing the Steppes and Urals in Russia this summer have little to fear, not even Tunisia and Panama, drawn with England and Belgium in the group stage.

No sensible, sane Englishman could possibly look at those players and have any faith that 52 years of hurt are going to end in Russia.

The First World War was closer to the 1966 World Cup than the present day, and the gap is surely only going to get greater.

Each department of Southgate’s squad throws significant questions.

Burnley’s Nick Pope has received a deserved first call-up as the best performing English goalkeeper of the season but should he get some action during Friday and Tuesday’s 180 minutes of friendly football, then he has more than a chance of booking a place on the plane, despite having never played Premier League football until September.

Pope is not competing against much. Joe Hart moved to West Ham to resurrect his England career yet was dropped by David Moyes before being part of the Hammers team embarrassed against Burnley as the London Stadium became a war zone.

And last weekend, both his former young, hopeful understudies, Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford, committed errors in Everton’s 2-1 win at Stoke that reflect their recent patchy form.

As a former centre-half, Southgate is most critical of defenders, and while the casting aside of Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill, playing badly for Manchester United and Chelsea, it has left him a coach planning to field three centre-backs with a choice from Mawson, Maguire, Tarkowski, John Stones, Joe Gomez and a withdrawn Eric Dier. There is talent there, but little in the way of experience.

Midfield is a morass of players of potential but low reliability, with Jack Wilshere and Dele Alli leading the list, while Livermore’s presence is given credence by being, aside from Dier, the only player of 11 who regularly performs the long-lost art of the defensive midfielder.

With Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling as available attacking players, then the forward line is by far the strongest part of the team, and even in the absence of Kane, yet none of those players has much of a scoring pedigree for the national team.

Among the squad, Danny Welbeck, a favourite of the last three England managers but a midweek player for Arsenal, has the most international goals with 15, while Ashley Young, selected as a left wing-back, is next best on seven strikes.

Who is missing? Recent call-ups show that beyond Kane, this is what Southgate has to call from, and while the likes of Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey and Burnley’s Jack Cork may have their champions, such players are highly unlikely to convert England into world-beaters.

Such a lack of resources suggest Southgate deserves sympathy for the failure he is fated to suffer in Russia.

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