Paul Merson picks his 23-man England squad for 2018 World Cup

Magic Man also selects his starting XI for opening game in Russia

Paul Merson picks his England XI to play Slovenia

After England booked their place at the 2018 World Cup, Paul Merson has selected the 23 players he thinks should be on the plane to Russia.

Thursday's 1-0 victory over Slovenia may have been underwhelming, but what it lacked in entertainment it made up for in optimism as England secured their passage to next summer's tournament.

Thoughts now turn to who will make England manager Gareth Southgate's squad, but before that, the Magic Man has highlighted the group of player he feels offer the greatest chance of success.

Merse’s 23-man squad for Russia 2018

GOALKEEPERS

ON THE PLANE: Joe Hart, Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford

STAYING AT HOME: Fraser Forster, Tom Heaton, Ben Foster

England's goalkeeper Joe Hart (L) and England's goalkeeper Jack Butland walk out to experience the stadium during a squad walkaround session at Hampden Par
Image: Hart and Butland should be on the plane to Russia, along with Pickford

MERSE SAYS: I don't like taking three goalkeepers to tournaments, you've got to be bang unlucky to get two injuries. I don't see us being there that long so I don't know why we need three! Hart's experience gets him a spot, we know what he can do. Butland and Pickford need to play against Germany and Brazil and get some big-game experience. Forster has not had a great season, Heaton is injured and, while I'm a big fan of Foster, he's been out of the mix too long.

RIGHT-BACKS

ON THE PLANE: Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier

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STAYING AT HOME: Nathaniel Clyne, Trent Alexander-Arnold

STRATFORD, ENGLAND - MAY 05:  Kieran Trippier of Tottenham Hotspur comes on as a second half substitue for Kyle Walker of Tottenham Hotspur during the Prem
Image: Walker and Trippier pick themselves, according to Merse

MERSE SAYS: Simple choice here. Walker is the best in the business at right wing-back, while Trippier is not far behind him. I'd like to see England play three at the back throughout the tournament, so 'traditional' full-backs aren't needed.

LEFT-BACKS

ON THE PLANE: Danny Rose, Ryan Bertrand

STAYING AT HOME: Luke Shaw, Aaron Cresswell, Kieran Gibbs, Ashley Young

BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 07: (L-R) Andros Townsend, Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand of England in conversation during an England training session
Image: Rose and Bertrand deserve the left-back berths in Southgate's squad

MERSE SAYS: Again, another two easy picks. When Rose gets fit he's as good as anybody in his position and Bertrand is more than capable of matching his levels when called upon. Walker, Trippier, Rose and Bertrand pick themselves in my opinion, but if Southgate opts for a different formation his selections could differ greatly.

CENTRE-BACKS

ON THE PLANE: Gary Cahill, John Stones, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Michael Keane

STAYING AT HOME: Alfie Mawson, Harry Maguire

England team line up (L-R back row) Daniel Sturridge, Phil Jones, Joe Hart, Gary Cahill, John Stones, Jordan Henderson, (L-R front row) Wayne Rooney, Rahee
Image: Jones, Cahill and Stones should start for England in Russia, according to Merse

MERSE SAYS: I'm going for five central defenders to provide a number of options for the back three. People would say Dier could drop back into that position but, for this formation to work, you need three out-and-out centre-halves.

CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS

ON THE PLANE: Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere

STAYING AT HOME: Jake Livermore, Nathaniel Chalobah, Danny Drinkwater, Harry Winks, Fabian Delph, James Ward-Prowse, Jonjo Shelvey

(L to R) England's forward Jamie Vardy, England's midfielder Adam Lallana, England's midfielder Jack Wilshere, England's defender Chris Smalling, England's
Image: Merse believes Wilshere is one few players capable of unpicking defences

MERSE SAYS: Dier is a proper holding midfielder, he sits there and gives the ball to team-mates easily. He, along with Henderson, is virtually assured of a place on the plane. But I'm throwing a wildcard in with Wilshere. Things may change by the time the squad is officially announced, but this lad is one of few who can makes things happen in a football match - something we were crying out for against Slovenia. He can put the ball through the eye of a needle in the tight matches we'll encounter in Russia.

ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS

ON THE PLANE: Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

STAYING AT HOME: Jesse Lingard, Ross Barkley, Michail Antonio, Theo Walcott, Nathan Redmond, Andros Townsend, Scott Sinclair

BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jermain Defoe and Dele Alli of England in action during an England trai
Image: Sterling, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alli make up Merse's attacking contingent

MERSE SAYS: Lallana, like Wilshere, is another player who can unpick tight defences, so he's a shoe-in. Oxlade-Chamberlain gets the nod because he's as versatile as an egg. He could play in midfield, on the wing, at No 10 or even as a wing-back - you need players that are versatile. I'm a big fan of Antonio, and there have been calls for him to be included, but if he cannot get ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain when he's struggling to get into the Liverpool team, what chance does he have when he finally plays regularly under Jurgen Klopp.

STRIKERS

ON THE PLANE: Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford, Andy Carroll

STAYING AT HOME: Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe, Tammy Abraham

Andy Carroll has scored twice in nine appearances for England.
Image: Merse thinks Carroll provides an option defences will struggle to deal with

MERSE SAYS: My first three picks pick themselves, but my fourth will surprise a few. Mark my words, we will not pass a team off the pitch at the World Cup so we need someone who provides a different option, and that's where Carroll comes in. If we're chasing the game we can pump the ball up to Carroll and there will be drama, trust me. If Sturridge was fit he would be the first person on the team-sheet, but you just cannot rely on his fitness or form.

MERSE'S XI FOR OPENING GAME

Having selected his 23-man squad, Merse turned his attention to how England should line-up in their opening group game in Russia.

Merse’s starting XI for first group game

Starting XI (3-4-1-2): Hart, Jones, Stones, Cahill, Walker, Dier, Wilshere, Rose, Alli, Rashford, Kane

I've gone for Joe Hart in goal, with a back three in front of him consisting of Jones, Stones and Cahill. Walker and Rose would be my wing-backs, either side of a midfield pair of Dier and Wilshere - one holding and one who can start attacks.

If we opt for this formation, Dier can slot back into defence if Stones brings the ball forward, and that provides another angle of attack. Then I'd have Alli behind Kane and Rashford. That formation gives us a chance of competing against anyone.

If we're unsuccessful initially, the likes of Lallana and Vardy can come on so we can retain possession while running the channels.

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