That’s it the next time England get together their 23 man World Cup squad will have been announced.
Gareth Southgate has opted to make his final squad early rather than naming a provisional squad and then whittling it down to a final 23. Southgate explained this was to make England’s training camp a performance camp rather than a selection camp. The logic is sound and it also avoids potential problems if he makes a decisive choice as Glenn Hoddle did when he dropped Paul Gascoigne and split up Manchester United’s class of ’92 when he cut Nicky Butt & Phil Neville.
Southgate also hinted that at least 19 players are now confirmed for the final 23, her my position are those likely 19 players:
Goalkeepers- Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland, Joe Hart
The big question here is who starts and the likely number 1 appears to be Pickford given his distribution skills fit perfectly with England’s playing out from the back philosophy. Butland is number 2 and could yet be number one. Hart will go as number 3 ahead of Nick Pope given his huge experience and there simply isn’t time to blood another young ‘keeper.
Defenders/ Wingbacks- Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Ashley Young, Danny Rose, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Joe Gomez
It seems Walker will start on the right side of the back 3 alongside Stones & Maguire with Trippier at right wingback and either Rose or Young starting on the left. Gomez has athleticism and versatility and his marking job on Neymar in November largely confirmed his place.
Central Midfielders- Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Henderson’s improved form and string performance in Amsterdam confirmed his place whilst clubmate Oxlade-Chamberlain showed a huge improvement on his previous England performances in midfield . Dier’s place as a holding midfielder has been nailed on since England qualified.
Attacking Midfielders- Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard
Alli’s has a bad week with England but his place was never in doubt whilst Lingard guaranteed his spot with a goal and assist this week.
Forwards- Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford
No changes here although Southgate will be relieved to see Sterling reproduce his club form for his country after years of struggle with the national team. Worries over Rashford’s lack of playing time at Old Trafford were quickly forgotten with his brace against Liverpool whilst Vardy has recaptured his title winning form of 2016. And Harry Kane is Harry Kane.
And the final 4?
England will need at least one more central defender, one central midfielder, one attacking midfielder and that leaves 1 wildcard.
Central defender options
Phil Jones is the prime contender for this spot, Southgate rates him as England’s best pure centre back and Jones had a fine start to the season before a series of minor injuries and one occasion incurred the wrath of Jose Mourinho. But Jones could be back as soon as this weekend and looks likely to regain his place at United. If Jones doesn’t make it Southgate’s backup plan will likely be a James Tarkowski following his credible debut last week. Elsewhere Gary Cahill will be in contention if he can regain his place at Chelsea and Michael Keane is admired by Southgate but has suffered a poor first season at Everton.
Central Midfield options
England will pick one more deep-lying midfielder preferably with a good passing range. Harry Winks was the early favourite for this but has struggled with injuries and the competition of Moussa Dembele. Lewis Cook won his first cap against Italy and looks a good fit for England’s system but is still hugely inexperienced whilst Southgate also namechecked Fabian Delph as a player still on his radar if he can find a run of games at Manchester City. And of course there’s Jack Wilshere, the Arsenal enigma missed the friendlies with a predictable injury recurrence and now looks doubtful to get another chance. The problem with Wilshere is in tournament football you play 3 games in 10 games in the group and up to 7 in a month if you make the last 4, there are serious doubts Wilshere could make that schedule and with Adam Lallana also struggling for fitness (more on him below) it looks like too bigger risk for Southgate to take. Probable Pick- Lewis Cook
Attacking Midfield options
This should be Adam Lallana’s spot. But Lallana is coming back from a long term injury and has struggled to get matches under his belt at Liverpool. Fortunatley Jurgen Klopp still believes in his player and it looks like Lallana will get ample opprtunity to prove his fitness between now and the end of the season. If he blows it Southgate will look again at Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the elegant midfielder is coming off a 3 month injury layoff but impressed in the autumn internationals and returned to the Crystal Palace first team just before the international break giving him every chance of making his case. Elsewhere Ross Barkley his contuing hs rehab from long term injury and Demarai Gray is struggling to put it all together with Leicester but remains a key player with the Under 21s.Probable Pick- Adam Lallana
And the 23rd man
With 1 pick left Southgate could go conservative and pick an extra full-back if Kyle Walker is now considered one of the centre-backs with Ryan Bertrand and Trent Alexander-Arnold both waiting in the wings. He could take an extra midfield option- offering a lifeline to Wilshere or possibly taking Loftus-Cheek and Lallana. Up front Danny Welbeck has suffered a poor season but does have a good international record should Southgate feel he needs a 5th forward in the squad and he’s also given chances to under 21 starlets Dominic Solanke & Tammy Abraham whilst Dominic Calvert-Lewin has continued his development after his Under 20 World Cup Final heroics. England’s success at youth level means there’s plenty of gifted youngsters who Southgate might deem worth a punt- Ryan Sessegnon, Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden to name 3. But I think he’ll ultimately pick Loftus-Cheek given the promise he’s shown on the assumption he gets back in his club first 11. Probable Pick- Ruben Loftus-Cheek
There is of course time for someone to make a late run as Rashford did in 2016 and Sterling in 2014 but with only 8 games to go before the Premier League season ends it seems Southgate’s mind is made up and it’ll take something special to change it.