This summer's World Cup was the most successful for an England side in nearly 30 years. But despite their unlikely run to the semi-final, the team had obvious weaknesses. What does Gareth Southgate need to do to turn England from perennial underachievers into genuine tournament contenders?
1. Fix the central midfield dilemma.
Poor old Hendo. He worked his socks off in the middle of the park for England this summer, but was more often than not left so isolated as Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard pushed higher up the pitch where they are more naturally comfortable. Giving Henderson a proper midfield partner would almost certainly mean sacrificing either Alli or Lingard in this current system, but England will be much better for having another slightly more defensive minded player alongside Henderson. In Russia, Henderson would far too often receive the ball off the back line and be surrounded by 2 or 3 opposition midfielders (especially against teams that played with a high press) and would resort to launching it long. Eric Dier or Fabian Delph are obvious choices who would immediately give the team a little more balance, and long-term perhaps Ruben Loftus Cheek (who had a couple of sparking cameos in Russia) could prove to be a valuable and dynamic asset in the middle of the park for England.
2. Play an actual Left Back at Left Back
Ashley Young has done an admirable job in defense for both club and country in the last 18 months. But England would be so much more solid if they had an orthodox left back in that position. Luke Shaw has had a terrific start to the season at Man United, Ryan Bertrand is always a useful and solid option, and Ben Chilwell at Leicester looks like he could also be in line for an England call-up sooner rather than later. On the right side, England are spoiled at the moment--Trippier, Walker, and Alexander-Arnold would all walk into most national sides. If Southgate can build a similar sturdiness on the left, England will be so tough to beat down the wings.
3. Figure out how to get the best out of Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling for England is a shadow of the player that he is for Manchester City. He is capable of being England's best player, but he seems to lack the instinctiveness, and confidence that he plays with in a City shirt when he plays for his country. Southgate stood by Sterling this summer after a series of poor performances, and he has had a bright start to the season with City. It feels as though it is only a matter of time before a player of his undoubted potential clicks for his country as well, but it is up to Southgate to get him focused and get the best out of him in the way that Guardiola does at club level.
4. Incorporate some of the exciting young prospects
Overall, this England squad is already quite young. But there are a number of players in the pipeline who should be brought into the senior squad sooner rather than later. Phil Foden at Manchester City won the Golden Ball as England U-17s won the U-17 World Cup last summer, and is a favorite of Pep. Ryan Sessegnon was the player of the season last year in the Championship, and is a mainstay in a newly promoted Fulham side. Jadon Sancho has a lot of German and English media alike excited by his performances for Borussia Dortmund. The sooner that Southgate can introduce these youngsters into his senior squad and get them acclimated to his style and system, the better.
5. Keep the feel good factor in the dressing room
Previous generations of England players have said there was always a cliquiness around the camp, and that club allegiances remained even when the national team got together. This group however, seem to have a genuine affection for one another and camaraderie about them. The core of the squad are all 23-25 so should be together for another 2 tournaments at least, and Southgate should make sure to keep doing whatever he has been doing to make the squad seem so focused on the pitch and so relaxed and happy off it.