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A case for the defence: Team GB’s options this summer

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With many of England’s defenders returning home from Euro 2012 with their reputations left intact, following Roy Hodgson’s hard-to-beat regime working across 120 minutes (just not on penalties!), Stuart Pearce’s Team GB set-up will similarly look on the defence as the cornerstone to potential success.

Many looked on with intrigue yesterday afternoon as Pearce named his final 18-man-squad with Micah Richards (pictured) officially being unveiled as the third over-23 player alongside fellow senior options Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs, who were much speculated even before the final announcement.

Joining the Manchester City full back in the defence are Ryan Bertrand, Steven Caulker, Craig Dawson, Neil Taylor and James Tomkins.

With all defenders bar Welshman Taylor having played under Pearce in the England Under-21 squad, the manager has seemingly used his one-to-one knowledge of trusted pros again as he has thrust a series of upcoming talents into the heat of Olympic battle.

Let us analyse Pearce’s options and speculate just who might make the starting line up in defence against Senegal in the opening match at Old Trafford.

Ryan Bertrand

Like Jack Butland between the sticks, Ryan Bertrand has had a whirlwind couple of months whereby not only was he selected in the starting line up for a Champions League final but he was also rewarded with a place in Pearce’s much coveted squad.

The 22-year-old Chelsea full back may have wondered whether he would ever make the breakthrough at Stamford Bridge but the youngster has proved an able deputy to Ashley Cole in the latter stages of the 2011/12 campaign.

All Bertrand’s hard work in the Football League is looking to have finally paid off following five different loan spells at Bournemouth, Oldham Athletic, Norwich City, Reading and Nottingham Forest respectively.

Bertrand has a strong case to start and will challenge Swansea City’s Neil Taylor for the starting left back berth.

Pearce certainly knows Bertrand much better than Taylor and having chosen to not name any Scottish or Northern Irish personnel, he will not be afraid to select the Chelsea man over the Welshman, conceding to any potential pressures of needing to start a multinational XI.

Steven Caulker

Tottenham’s Steven Caulker has been merited with a place in the squad due to his determined attitude and domineering presence at centre back.

He has only made one appearance for Spurs at first team level; a Carling Cup defeat against North London rivals Arsenal in 2010 where he looked shaky and was at fault for a couple of the Gunners goals on the night.

However, Caulker has come back fighting and learnt his trade like Bertrand in a number of loan spells, with his most impressive conducted last season in the white of Swansea City, whereby he was a main fixture alongside Ashley Williams in Brendan Rodgers starting line-up.

An athlete as a teenager, Caulker is fast despite his 6ft 3 frame and is in much greater contention for a squad role at Spurs next term with the future of Ledley King in doubt.

Caulker is likely to start at centre half and will be partnered by either West Bromwich Albion’s Craig Dawson or West Ham United’s James Tomkins.

Craig Dawson

West Brom’s Craig Dawson is also highly rated at international level, having figured seven times for Pearce’s England Under-21 side.

Dawson made his Football League breakthrough at Rochdale in 2009 before being snapped up by his current employers in 2010.  He is renowned for his goal-getting abilities, despite being deployed at centre half.

Dawson commands aerial presence and has scored 19 goals for Rochdale in two respective spells, whilst scoring four for England Under-21’s.

Dawson figured just eight times for Albion last term, finding competition in the form of Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley but that hasn’t stopped Pearce realising his potential and the 22-year-old will fight with Caulker and Tomkins for a starting berth.

Micah Richards

Micah Richards will be glad that his exploits for Manchester City have finally been realised in some capacity at international level.  At 24-years-old, he is one of Pearce's three designated senior pros in the squad.

Having worked under Pearce at Manchester City in 2006, Richards possesses rapid pace and strength down the right flank.

He has been overlooked on a number of occasions by England, most notably this summer following an impressive campaign with the title winners but he will finally get his chance to shine at London 2012.

Being the only natural right back in the squad, the berth is undoubtedly his and he will cause the opposing wingers a threat going forward as well as closing down attacks with his tough style.

Neil Taylor

One of the few non-English representatives in the squad, Welsh left back Neil Taylor has been rewarded following his and Swansea City’s impressive first season in the Premier League.

A constant fixture all season long, Taylor isn’t afraid of getting forward, whilst not shying away from his defensive duties.

Newcastle United realised his potential in 2011 and tried to tempt the Swans with a £1 million offer but the former Wrexham man opted to sign a four year deal at the Liberty Stadium instead.

Taylor has won nine caps for Chris Coleman’s Wales side and will battle it out with Ryan Bertrand for a starting berth at left back.

James Tomkins

Basildon boy James Tomkins has had quite an exciting few months after securing a Premier League return via the play-offs with boyhood club West Ham United, whilst being selected for Team GB.

Tomkins already boasts Premier League experience, having figured under Gianfranco Zola and Avram Grant during their tenures, but really stamped his mark in the second tier whereby he was able to showcase good leadership traits and a physical presence at centre half.

Giving little away, Tomkins exploits were recognised at the end of last season as he was named in the PFA Championship team of the year, whilst coming runner-up to Mark Noble in West Ham’s annual ‘Hammer of the Year’ contest.

Familiar to Pearce following ten appearances for England Under-21’s, this may put Tomkins in good stead for a start at centre back alongside either Caulker or Dawson.

My predicted Team GB starting XI (4-3-3) 

GOALKEEPER: Jack Butland (Birmingham City)

DEFENCE: Micah Richards (Manchester City), Steven Caulker (Tottenham Hotspur), James Tomkins (West Ham United), Neil Taylor (Swansea City) 

MIDFIELD: Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Tom Cleverley (Manchester United), Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)

FORWARDS: Scott Sinclair (Swansea City), Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea), Craig Bellamy (Liverpool) 

Stuart Pearce’s Team GB will play Brazil in a friendly at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium on July 20th before playing Senegal (July 26th), United Arab Emirates (July 29th) and Uruguay (August 1st) in the preliminary rounds at the London 2012 games proper.

By Taylor Williams - Follow me on Twitter @Taylor_Will1989

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