Gareth Southgate has confirmed his 26 man squad he expects to secure World Cup qualification next week. So what does this squad tell us;
- The field is narrowing– Nobody was dropped from the September England squad with Vardy, Welbeck, Chalobah and Heaton missing out through injury and Forster & Delph coming in. The current injury group reads Heaton, Clyne, Rose, Shaw, Chalobah, Lallana, Antonio, Welbeck & Vardy. If you’re not amongst the 9 injured players listed, the 26 selected or playing for one of the age group squads (Gray, Solanke, Abraham, Davies to name 4 who are) you’re not currently in contention for Russia. The biggest names missing at present are Jack Wilshere, Jamaal Lascelles, Marc Albrighton, Nathan Redmond & Alfie Mawson. Lascelles is the one who will consider himself unlucky after an excellent run of form for Newcastle. Wilshere meanwhile is hardly unlucky but remains the player most hope will get a run going to force his way in- England simply don’t have an equivalent talent at present, but as we saw at Euro 2016 picking Wilshere whilst short of games isn’t an option.
- Goalkeeper race wide open- Fraser Forster is back after a good run of form with Southampton. With Tom Heaton injured it appears to be a 5 horse race for the gloves. So far Southgate has stuck with Joe Hart, but his club form is the worst of the 4 ‘keepers selected and he was partly at fault for the goal England conceded against Slovakia. It seems likely the manager will give someone else a chance for these 2 games.
- Centre back competition looks tough– England looked woefully short of centre backs 2 summers ago, now there appears to be an abundance. There are six centre backs in this squad meaning England could afford to overlook Mawson and Lascelles. The current pecking order appears to be Cahill- Jones- Stones- Keane- Smalling- Maguire. The presence of Smalling is slightly frustrating given his lack of games for Manchester United but with Southgate not ready to trim his squad it appears experience is keeping the United man in the race for now.
- Fab’s Back. Two weeks ago this would have been a shocker but today it’s no surprise. Fabian Delph got himself back into the City first team in the EFL Cup, then scored a stunner at the weekend and was excellent for 90 minutes in the Champions League. With Gundogan, Mendy & Kompany all injured Guardiola has shuffled the City pack and Delph is back. It’s nicely timed for England with Nat Chalobah injured, Delph offers a superior central midfield option to Jake Livermore and is likely to add to his 9 caps next week.
- Youngsters staying with the Under 21s- As in September Southgate continues to keep the youngsters together with the under 21s. For now giving the Under 21s the best available squad (bar Marcus Rashford) seems sensible much as I’d like to see Tammy Abraham given a senior cap. After the run of trophies won by England’s youth teams this year the Euro Under 21s of 2019 is high on the list of priorities for England as they build to Wembley hosting the Euro 2020 final and the much heralded timeline of winning the ultimate prize in 2022.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (West Ham, on loan from Manchester City), Fraser Forster (Southampton), Jack Butland (Stoke) Jordan Pickford (Everton)
Defenders: Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Aaron Cresswell (West Ham), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Harry Maguire (Leicester), John Stones (Manchester City), Michael Keane (Everton), Chris Smailling (Manchester United), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham)
Midfielders: Eric Dier (Tottenham), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Jake Livermore (West Brom), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Dele Alli (Tottenham)
Forwards: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Jermain Defoe (Bournemouth), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)