England weak in key areas as World Cup approaches

With less than three months to go, at least half of England's starting lineup for its opening match of the World Cup remains uncertain.

It makes the upcoming friendlies against Netherlands and Italy pivotal for England coach Gareth Southgate — and also for a slew of players who might otherwise have viewed the matches as a distraction amid a crucial stage of the season at club level.

Gone are the days when the England team was filled with Premier League superstars and the lineup often picked itself.

The starters for its most recent match — a friendly against Brazil on Nov. 14 — contained only five players who would be considered regular starters for their clubs: Kyle...