Back in pre-season I ranked England’s centre back options, 2 months on things have been shaken up for the better with Phil Jones much improved and some promising young defenders making their mark. previous ranking in brackets…
1. (1) Gary Cahill
‘A nailed on starter but for how much longer?’ I said in the summer, answer- until next July. Despite that opening day red card Cahill remains England first choice and a solid season at Chelsea will consolidate his place in the team
2. (5) Phil Jones
It looked grim for Jones in the summer but he’s been a Premier League ever present this term. Still has a mistake in him (as demonstrated against Stoke) but has been mostly strong, tough and reliable. Started both England qualifiers in September and unless usurped by Victor Lindelof at Old Trafford a squad certainty for Russia. If he could just learn to pass the ball!
3. (2) John Stones
Stones has had an excellent few weeks, in the most in form team in the country and even doubled his career goal tally against Feyenoord. His ability has never been in doubt but must keep it together when City face opponents with the capacity to fightback. I’ve said before England’s limited midfield options make a ball playing defender a key need next summer- a good season defensively and Stones will be that man.
4. (3) Michael Keane
Has enjoyed a solid start at Everton, making himself first choice centre back ahead of veterans Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams. Impressive on debut Keane’s status as a key man at Everton should retain his place in the squad, but needs a solid season to become a big one to make it into the first 11.
5. (4) Chris Smalling
Gareth Southgate has made it clear to play for England means you must be a regular for your club- if the manager is as good as is word Smalling’s days are numbered. Yet to start a Premier League match this season Smalling is regressing (even further!). Needs a January move or an injury crisis to retain his England place, one to watch when the next England squad is announced.
6. (9) Harry Maguire
Got a deserved first call up in September after an excellent start to his Leicester career. Maguire has shown and composure in possession seemingly making him a good fit for international football. But Southgate cut him from the squad before facing Slovakia preferring Smalling & Keane on the bench. With Smalling struggling at United, Maguire may just jump ahead of him in the pecking order this month. With the last qualifier in Lithuania likely to be a dead rubber don’t be surprised to see him make his debut.
7. (NE) Jamaal Lascelles
The Newcastle captain has been the best player of the Rafa Benitez era at St James Park (and to think Steve McClaren didn’t rate him). At 23 and on an upward curve an England call up surely isn’t far away.
8. (6) Alfie Mawson
Hasn’t done a lot wrong (aside from that late collapse against United!) but flashier performances from Lascelles and Maguire have moved him down the pecking order. But is developing into an excellent centre back under the tutelage of Paul Clement at Swansea, I suspect he’ll get his chance after the World Cup.
9. (NE) Ben Mee
Many a England manager wouldn’t go to Burnley to look at possible new caps. But Southgate went there for Michael Keane and West Brom for Jake Livermore so Mee might just be on the England radar. At 28 it’s now or never and Mee does strike me a Ryan Shawcross level defender who isn’t quite up to International football. But his club form has been excellent so a cap might just come.
10. (7) Rob Holding
Oh dear! Holding’s confidence looks shot from Arsenal’s leaky start to the season and the recent upturn in the Gooners defensive fortunes came when Holding was left out in favour of Mustafi. Still a promising player Holding is approaching an early crossroads in his career with a regular start at the Emirates or the next Callum Chambers his options. For now it’s the Europa League and Carabao Cup.
Dropping off the chart: Callum Chambers & Ben Gibson.