Paul Merson lets two Arsenal stars out of his strongest England XI | Soccer

Paul Merson thinks England should switch to a back three

Paul Merson thinks England should switch to a back three (Image: Sky Sports)

Paul Merson has named his strongest England starting XI and left it out Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale and Bukayo Saka.

Gareth Southgate has guided the Three Lions to a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final but the England boss has come under pressure after a string of poor Nations League results in June.

Southgate’s side failed to win any of their last games this month, losing twice to Hungary and drawing against Germany and Italy.

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Bukayo Saka and Aaron Ramsdale are not included in Merson’s XI (Picture: Getty Images)

The dismal 4-0 defeat by Hungary at Wembley Stadium marked the Three Lions’ worst home defeat in 94 years.

Despite their poor form, England still have a wealth of talented players in their squad for the World Cup in Qatar later this year.

While Aaron Ramsdale, who had a promising debut season for the Gunners last season, started in the 4-0 loss to Hungary and the goalless draw with Italy, Merson stayed with Jordan Pickford at the World Cup.

‘go into a World Cup you need an experienced goalkeeper. We’ve seen it before with Scott Carson against Croatia – a good goalkeeper but not used to playing at international level,” the Arsenal hero told Sportskeeda.

“You need caps to play at the World Cup and Jordan Pickford has them. He has big game experience. Nothing separates Pickford and Aaron Ramsdale at the moment.

“I don’t think the first three months of the Premier League season will make much of a difference. Gareth Southgate has put his trust in Pickford and will continue with him at the World Cup.’

Gareth Southgate has been criticized after England's latest results

Gareth Southgate has been criticized after England’s latest results (Image: Getty Images)

Merson believes Southgate should switch from a back four to a back three for the World Cup, with Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire being the three central defenders.

The former Arsenal winger also wants either Trent Alexander-Arnold or Reece James to play at right-back and Ben Chilwell at left-back, depending on the opposition, when he is fit.

“England need a three-man defense and Harry Maguire will be on the left. John Stones is favored down the middle and England will need Kyle Walker to play in a three-man defence,” Merson added.

‘Walker is versatile and can switch to right-back if England want to move quickly to a back four. If Stones isn’t playing centre-back, Southgate should consider Conor Coady as an option. A three-man defense is a more difficult formation, and Coady has played in that system for most of his career.

“The right-back depends on who England are playing against. In the group stage I would stick with Trent Alexander-Arnold. He is one of the best in the country at passing and can knock out teams with a single pass.

“If England are playing the better teams – Brazil, Argentina, France and Belgium – I would pick Reece James. Alexander-Arnold isn’t particularly secure at the back and I would prefer James in these games.

“On the left we need to see how Ben Chilwell is doing after his injury. If he is fit, I would definitely go with him. Kieran Trippier will feature in the squad and will be a capable replacement. Luke Shaw’s performances are very hot and cold – he’s got top performances and if he can keep them going for the next three months he could make it to the world championships.”

England suffered a dismal defeat by Hungary (Image: Getty Images)

Merson would line up with a midfield two from Declan Rice and Mason Mount ahead of the likes of Jordan Henderson, Kalvin Phillips and Jude Bellingham.

“England should only play a defensive midfielder and I would go in a holding position with Declan Rice. When you play three defenders at the back it’s just a waste of time to have both Kalvin Phillips and Rice in midfield,” Merson said.

“If we’re not doing well and we’re up against a side like Argentina in a knockout game, a horse-for-course approach with two defensive midfielders would make sense. But when we play our first few games in the group I don’t see why England should field more than one defensive midfielder.

“Jordan Henderson is very experienced – he won’t overthrow everything and brings an aura of calm to the team. I would pick him over Kalvin Phillips in the World Cup.

“In my opinion, Mason Mount has to play. People feel his presence makes England too open in midfield. But we have three defenders at the back, two full-backs and one defensive midfielder. I want my other four players to win soccer games for me,” Merson continued.

“Mount is probably one of the smartest players on the England team. He can play right in front of Rice and he’ll do the job. Three forwards don’t do enough damage – you need someone who can give them the ball.

“Jude Bellingham is a great player too, but he wasn’t particularly impressive the other day. Mason Mount is disciplined and I think he’s the perfect creative presence in England’s midfield.

In attack, Merson thinks Harry Kane should play on the wings ahead of Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling with no room for Arsenal star Bukayo Saka.

“Raheem Sterling would be my first choice winger at the World Cup. He shows up regularly for England and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. He’s working hard on the ball and he’s going to be a big part of the World Cup,” Merson began England’s attack.

“I would go with Phil Foden to be Sterling’s accomplice. The likes of Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho will take a big three months to secure a place in the squad. Rashford has been around for a long time and could do it but Sancho doesn’t have much of a chance.

Merson’s strongest England eleven


Wanderers, Stones, Maguire;

Alexander-Arnold/James, Rice, Mount, Chilwell;

Foden, Kane, Sterling

“I don’t see much of a debate here – Harry Kane is playing up front. He’s a shoo-in for the World Cup and I can’t believe he’s played in those Nations League games to be honest. He should have taken a holiday – now he only gets three weeks.

“We need Harry Kane to be fit and fresh for the World Cup. He also needs runners around – there’s no point in him falling deep if nobody’s making the runs. Raheem Sterling is the perfect foil for Harry Kane.’

MORE : ‘The most successful England manager since Sir Alf Ramsey’ – Harry Maguire defends Gareth Southgate

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General Sports Paul Merson lets two Arsenal stars out of his strongest England XI | Soccer

Nate Jones

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