England kick off their World Cup preparations against Germany and Brazil this month, with Gareth Southgate to name his squad for the upcoming friendlies on Thursday.
The Three Lions have once again sailed through qualification, but the big question now is how to prevent the senior team from stumbling on the biggest stage.
Roy Hodgson led England into the last three major tournaments, with former England defender and Under-21s head coach Southgate now charged with producing a team capable of competing at the highest level.
The Football Association’s preparations for Russia begin with back-to-back glamour Wembley friendlies against Germany and Brazil as England look to pit their wits against the best – and learn valuable lessons often not possible in qualifiers.
Southgate was without a string of important players for last month’s meet up and will once more be unable to call on several key members for the last matches of 2017.
Adam Lallana – England’s reigning player of the year – continues to be sidelined, where he is joined by the likes of Danny Welbeck, Nathaniel Chalobah, Tom Heaton and Ross Barkley.
Question marks remain over the fitness of a few other players ahead of Thursday’s squad announcement, with Southgate using this meet up as a chance to hone the three-man defence he plans to use at the World Cup.
Danny Rose and Luke Shaw, left-backs on the road to full fitness, would operate well in that system, as would the injured Nathaniel Clyne on the opposite flank. Resurgent Ashley Young has impressed for Manchester United at full-back this term and last played for England in September 2013.
Harry Winks’ man-of-the-match debut against Lithuania bolsters his chances of making the England squad, although Southgate’s midfield options have improved a little since then.
Danny Drinkwater has appeared in Chelsea’s previous three matches and is pushing for a call-up, while Fabian Delph, Jack Cork and Tom Cleverley look to be other options along with Jack Wilshere.
An unused member of the squad last November while on loan at Bournemouth, the 25-year-old last played for his country as England bowed out of Euro 2016 to Iceland.
Wilshere is now back with Arsenal and has impressed in the Europa League, with manager Arsene Wenger backing him to return to the international fold.
“I think he’s ready,” Wenger said. “Personally, I think he’s ready. He was not three weeks ago but he is today.
“He’s ready. I have the same problem. He’s competitive. In every single competition, he’s ready to play. I would encourage him to do it.”
Whether Arsenal team-mate Theo Walcott returns to the fold is another matter, while the likes of Andros Townsend, Michail Antonio and Jay Rodriguez are pushing for an international recall.
Nathan Redmond, James Ward-Prowse and Alfie Mawson have not given up on a World Cup spot, while their former England Under-21s team-mate Tammy Abraham has reportedly committed his international future to the Three Lions amid interest from Nigeria.
The striker, on loan at Swansea from Chelsea, may find it hard to get into the squad right now, so too veteran Jermain Defoe having struggled for form since joining Bournemouth.
Another attacking option could be Andy Carroll, who West Ham team-mate Aaron Cresswell last month backed for the England squad.
Asked if the former Liverpool and Newcastle striker could be part of the Three Lions again, Cresswell told Press Association Sport: “Of course he can. Everyone knows what Andy is capable of, especially in the air, and you could say it’s a different dimension and that different way of playing.
“If Andy stays fit between now and the end of the season, there is no reason why he can’t be in contention.”
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