The World Cup is just around the corner and the preparations and hype are ramping up. But this tournament has been talked about for years already.
Back in 2017, talkSPORT predicted what the England starting line-up would look like at Qatar 2022. How well did they fare in their fool’s errand?
We’ve taken a look back at their predictions – arranged in a slightly odd 4-4-2 diamond shape – to see how far off they were from Gareth Southgate’s actual squad.
GK: Jack Butland
Joe Hart was still England goalkeeper back in 2017, but talkSPORT correctly predicted that he wouldn’t last much longer.
Their choice of successor looked astute too – Butland was a solid Premier League performer at Stoke City and had already appeared six times on the international stage.
But the Bristolian suffered with numerous injuries and Stoke’s relegation in 2018 saw his stock gradually fall. After two seasons in the Championship, Butland moved to Crystal Palace and has played just 10 league games in the two seasons since.
With Palace having also signed Sam Johnstone, Butland may well be third-choice at club level now.
Interestingly, though, talkSPORT did namecheck England’s current shot-stopper. They wrote that Butland would “have competition from Hart, Freddie Woodman (England’s U20s highly-rated goalkeeper) and Jordan Pickford.”
After winning the Golden Glove and conceding just twice at Euro 2020, it’s difficult to see anyone else but Pickford as Gareth Southgate’s first choice in Qatar. Especially as he’s been in excellent form of late.
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RB: Kyle Walker
Walker was expected to retain his spot at right-back, although facing competition from Mason Holgate, Kyle Walker-Peters and Kieran Trippier.
talkSPORT wrote: “Walker will have adapted his game slightly after losing a yard of pace, but will still get forward well, using his knowledge and reading of the game to get in excellent positions.”
While working under Pep Guardiola has undoubtedly reshaped Walker’s game, he retains that lightning pace and often acts as a one-man barrier to counter-attacks.
A solid shout, and one of Southgate’s favourites five years later. Walker is going to Qatar, despite a recent injury making his inclusion touch-and-go.
CB: John Stones
Stones was another stand-out performer at Euro 2020 after recovering from a poor 2019-20 campaign to star for Manchester City in 2020-21.
Last season, though, he was often on the bench again as Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias were the preferred centre-back partnership, and so far this season he’s failed to nail down a first-choice spot in Guardiola’s favoured XI.
Southgate tends to retain trust in his players and Stones has performed well for England at a World Cup in 2018 as well as the Euros last summer. It remains to be seen whether Stones will start in Qatar, but he’s made the World Cup squad.
John Stones = every @England fan when that goal went in 🙌
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) July 7, 2021
CB: Michael Keane
For a long time it looked like Keane would be starting alongside Harry Maguire for years to come. He only lost his place in the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers in March 2021.
Speaking about his omission, he said: “I was surprised to be left out. I’d been in squads before and was playing well. I only found out when it got announced on Sky.
“Obviously I’m going to keep what was said between ourselves but I know the door is still open. I’ve just got to keep playing well and see what happens.”
That seems a long time ago now, though, and it’s felt like an eternity since he was even realistically in the running for Southgate’s squad. We’d certainly be surprised if Keane can do enough to force his way back in again.
More importantly, we can’t get over 2017 talkSPORT listing Phil Jones as a viable starting centre-back for 2022. It makes you realise England have come a long way in a short space of time. To be fair, Harry Maguire had only just left Hull City for Leicester back in 2017.
LB: Ben Chilwell
talkSPORT foresaw the rivalry between Chilwell and Luke Shaw, stating: “Chilwell will know he cannot slip up though, with a 27-year-old Luke Shaw providing tough competition.”
It was a good shout considering Chilwell was only just breaking into Leicester’s first team back then.
Shaw was first choice for the Euros, with Chilwell not playing a minute. The Chelsea left-back would’ve been nailed on to go to Qatar with the Three Lions but a hamstring injury has seen him ruled out of the tournament.
“I’ve dreamed of playing in a World Cup since I can remember,” he told the BBC back in July.
“To know it’s just around the corner is more motivation for me to try and seal that spot down, not just for me but my family, especially after the Euros which was a pretty difficult time for me.
“If I can go to World Cup as number one left-back and have a good tournament and hopefully as a team we can do well, it would be a highlight of not just my career but my life.”
We’re genuinely gutted for the lad.
CM: Lewis Cook
In 2017, Cook had just captained England’s Under-20 side to World Cup glory and was tipped to cement himself in Bournemouth’s midfield under the watchful eye of future national team manager Eddie Howe.
And Cook made his England debut during the friendly with Italy in 2018 before being named on the standby list for the Russia World Cup.
He hasn’t been called up since. Serious injuries have stalled his development and players such as Declan Rice and former Leeds team-mate Kalvin Phillips have emerged to become England heroes.
Cook is still on Bournemouth’s books and is now back playing regular Premier League football, but we’d be surprised if he’ll ever be back in contention. He was never in the conversation for the World Cup squad. What might’ve been were it
CM: Eric Dier
“Years after being part of Mauricio Pochettino’s Premier League-winning Tottenham side, Eric Dier will be a key part of England in 2022,” talkSPORT predicted.
Ah. They’re sort-of half-right, though that depends on what they mean by ‘key part’. Squad player, at the very least, and deservedly so after enjoying a resurgence under Antonio Conte.
Fingers crossed for more crunching challenges like this in Qatar.
No one will be prouder than Sergio Ramos seeing Eric Dier sign that long-term contract.pic.twitter.com/iHYD5oJa9r
— The Blizzard (@blzzrd) July 21, 2020
CM: Nathaniel Chalobah
Chalobah made 11 starts in the Championship for Fulham last season. He’s made one start this season and was sent off eight minutes into it. Make of that what you will.
AM: Dele Alli
talkSPORT predicted that Alli would be “one of the world’s best No.10s” by 2022 and the creative fulcrum of the England side in Qatar.
The reality is much sadder. He’s slipped out of contention as injuries and a startling deterioration in form have left the midfielder out in the cold. Now at Besiktas, Alli last played for his country in 2019.
With talents such as Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka and Mason Mount filling the mantle of creative responsibility, Alli’s decline will barely be an afterthought during the World Cup. A forgotten man.
ST: Marcus Rashford
Rashford is listed as a striker here, with talkSPORT warning of competition from Dominic Calvert-Lewin (fair enough) and Dominic Solanke (he’s doing pretty well lately, but he’s still a long way off).
He’s not the sure starter described here, but the Manchester United man has blossomed into a fine attacking player and national icon for his work in providing children with free school meals.
After struggling last term, Rashford has regained his form this season under Erik ten Hag and is well worth his spot in Southgate’s squad for Qatar.
READ: Where are they now? England’s U21 team from Southgate’s last game
ST: Harry Kane
Just about scraped in.
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