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Data analysis: Who should start for England?

With England having long been assured of qualification for next summer's World Cup, Gareth Southgate will have had plenty of time to evaluate which players he should be considering for a place in his squad.

This week's two friendlies - against top-class opposition in the form of Germany and Brazil - will provide a valuable benchmark, but he can't ignore what's been happening in the Premier League.

With the help of data from StrataBet, we've picked our own starting XI for this week's game from the current England squad and looked more broadly at who should be given a seat on the plane in June.

For each playing position - assuming Southgate sticks with the three-man defence that he deployed in their most recent fixture - we've isolated the most relevant key stat and ranked every English player based on their Premier League performances since the start of last season.

Goalkeeper

Southgate's job has been made tougher by the unusually large number of withdrawals, but there's still a strong starting line-up available to him. In goal we'd recommend Everton's Jordan Pickford be given a chance to justify his large summer transfer fee, as only the injured Tom Heaton has pulled off more saves for each Premier League goal conceded recently.

Ben Foster would be our third-choice goalkeeper by this measure, with current choices Jack Butland and Joe Hart ranking a distant fifth and sixth respectively after disappointing starts to their domestic campaigns.

Centre-backs

We're going to need three central defenders, and fortunately three of the top five - ranked by fewest central 18-yard entries allowed per 90 minutes - are still in contention to face Germany and Brazil. John Stones, Gary Cahill and Phil Jones are all established at top-flight clubs, with youngster Stones encouragingly ranked best of all, but there are some surprising names emerging on our shortlist.

Newcastle's Jamaal Lascelles - already their captain and heralded by Magpies legend Alan Shearer - and Lewis Dunk of fellow top-flight newcomers Brighton have both excelled at stopping opponents in their tracks and should be considered for an audition at international level.

Both arguably made more sense for this month's squad as they have allowed fewer than seven entries per 90 minutes, while Harry Maguire and Michael Keane have each permitted over nine and rank among the poorest options overall by this measure.

Full-backs

Focusing on the defensive side of the full-back's game, Southgate may be relieved to learn that he has already handed the Premier League's top recent performer a chance to impress. Joe Gomez has allowed fewer entries down the right per 90 minutes than anyone else, and Danny Rose (pictured) has topped the charts on the left, so we'd be happy to see them both get some game time this week.

When Gomez's Liverpool team-mate Nathaniel Clyne returns from injury though, then it may be worth moving one of them over to the left at Rose's expense given how well the Reds duo have performed individually.

While England seem to have already identified the best options available at full-back, we suggest that they run the rule over Huddersfield's Tommy Smith as potential cover given his impressive showing this season.

Central midfielders

Starting with the more defensively-minded players, it was a shame to see both Fabian Delph and Jordan Henderson pull out of the squad this week given that they've let fewer opponents past them per 90 minutes than any of their fellow countrymen in this position.

Of the players available, a partnership of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Eric Dier stands out in the data, although Dier only ranks eighth best overall while Southgate's only other options in his current squad - Jake Livermore and Jack Cork - come out as the third and fourth worst and are therefore less likely to provide sufficient steel if called upon.

When compiling a shortlist for Russia, we'd encourage England's backroom staff to check out Isaac Hayden and Dale Stephens - both among the top five Englishmen by this measure - as insurance against any further absences in this department.

Attacking midfielders

Moving out of the engine room and into the creative departments, Southgate is currently without the services of his three best performers: Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli. In the interim, the emerging Manchester United duo of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford have been involved in the most chances per 90 minutes of the options available and won't get a better chance to show what they can do.

In the build-up to next summer's tournament, we're flagging up Southampton's Nathan Redmond, whose only senior cap to date was coincidentally against Germany back in March. Redmond has been the heartbeat of the Saints' attack this season and has been involved in almost as many goalscoring chances - as either creator or finisher - as the injured Alli.

Forwards

There is only room for one starting striker in this formation and, when he's fit, you'd get some funny looks if you weren't writing Harry Kane's name on the team sheet. The Spurs frontman has banged in almost a goal per game in the Premier League since the start of last season, but England will have to make do with Jamie Vardy and his more modest scoring rate for now.

Tammy Abraham is an outside shout given that he's almost matched Vardy's output since his loan move to Swansea, edging out the more established duo of Jermain Defoe and Andy Carroll.

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Andrew McDermott
@a_mcdermott in Football