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World Cup 2018 team preview: Can new-look England shake reputation for failure?

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. Next up in Group G is England.

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and dig in to all 32 team previews, eight group previews, power rankings, features and so much more.

Outlook

Odds to win Group G: 46.5%
Odds to advance: 85.7%
Odds to win World Cup: 5.9%
Elo rank: 7
Yahoo Sports power rank: 10

Our writers say: Say what you like about England, but the Three Lions follow an incredibly consistent pattern: qualify with a near-perfect record, capitulate under the unbearable pressure created by media hype, quietly exit the tournament in underwhelming fashion. Wash, rinse and repeat. With Gareth Southgate’s successful back-three experimentation, surprising depth in midfield and the prolific Harry Kane leading the line, there’s always the chance England will relive the magic of 1966 and go all the way. But there’s a better chance of going out at the Round of 16 to Colombia on penalties. Ryan Bailey

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling are two of the faces of England’s new generation, and both could play starring roles at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

Basics

World Cup appearance: 14th
Best World Cup finish: Champion (1966)
2014 finish: Group stage (0-1-2)
Qualifying: Topped UEFA Group F ahead of Slovakia, Scotland, Slovenia
Schedule: Tunisia (Monday, June 18, 2 p.m., FS1), Panama (Sunday, June 24, 8 a.m., FS1), Belgium (Thursday, June 28, 2 p.m., Fox/FS1)

[Group G preview]

Squad

Manager: Gareth Southgate
Captain: Harry Kane (F)
Top players: Raheem Sterling (F), Kane, Kyle Walker (D), Dele Alli (M)
Full 23-man squad

Breakdown

Why they’ll win games: Because they have a system, and players who make it function. In other words, they have a plan, and players who can execute it. You haven’t been able to say that very often about England teams. This one is different. It’s youthful and sans egos. It’s one of the most athletically impressive in Russia. Sterling and Kane accentuate each other’s strengths up top. And the defense, as of May, didn’t concede from open play in 627 minutes of soccer against the likes of Brazil, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

Why they’ll lose games: England’s best player is also its biggest worry: Kane hasn’t been himself since rushing back from an ankle injury in March. It’s difficult to overstate just how far off the pace he was over the final two months of the club season. He has looked better since, though.

Elsewhere, there’s one massive question mark in net. Despite the strong defensive record, there’s not a single center back who has been playing consistently and at a high level for his club. And Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury is a significant blow.

Oh, and there’s still the question of how the Three Lions will break down lesser foes. They haven’t piloted the new tactical setup against a team like Panama or Tunisia.

How they’ll play: It’s already as distinct and defined a system as any in Russia, which is remarkable given its freshness. In a way, it’s an amalgamation of the systems many of England’s players are accustomed to at their respective clubs. It’ll be a 3-5-2, with one No. 6 and dual 8s in midfield. The 6 – Jordan Henderson or Eric Dier – holds and dictates. The 8s – likely Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli – run a lot, act as attack-minded shuttlers, support the strikers and spur counters.

Projected lineup (3-5-2): Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, John Stones, Eric Dier; Kieran Trippier, Jesse Lingard, Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli, Ashley Young; Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane.

Jack Butland and Nick Pope are the other two keepers; none of the three inspire supreme confidence.

Southgate still hasn’t yet tried Dier at center back from the start, even though that would seem to be his best option to maximize the overall talent in the 11. So there’s a chance either Dier or Henderson sits, with Gary Cahill taking Dier’s place in the back three.

There are two other possible alterations. One is a reconfiguration to a 3-4-3, with Marcus Rashford coming in. Another – which isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive with the first – is playing both Dier and Henderson in midfield. That’s a possibility in the knockout stages against stronger opposition.

Rooting Guide

What makes them unique: This:


Why to root for them: That. And also the message that it represents. This is a team of young, diverse, hungry kids soaked in expectations. They’re exuberant. They’re fun. And yet they’re still going to get crushed and vilified if they lose.

Why to root against them: Because you’d take guilty pleasure in the s—storm that would ensue if/when they crash out.

What else makes them unique: This England team wasn’t supposed to happen. It was supposed to be Sam Allardyce’s – yes, that Big Sam, one of the most curmudgeonly figures in football. But after one game, he was sacked following an undercover Telegraph investigation that caught Allardyce explaining how to circumvent FIFA rules to accept illicit payments. Southgate got the job on an interim basis, then on a permanent basis. And England, looking back on the scandal, is probably incredibly thankful it happened.

If you’re going to watch one game … The obvious answer is the Belgium game. But there’s a chance it’s meaningless, especially with no clear favorite in Group H. So take the risk on that, or choose the opener. (Or, ya know, just watch both.)

More Yahoo Sports World Cup team previews

Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan

Group previews

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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