England’s back-to-back friendly draws against Germany and Brazil have given Gareth Southgate food for thought ahead of the World Cup.
It is just 30 weeks until next summer’s tournament kicks off and currently only four more friendlies are planned before England get their campaign under way.
The final two internationals of 2017 have added to Southgate’s opportunities and here Press Association Sport takes a closer look at the options for the squad heading to Russia.
England boast depth of quality between the sticks that has lacked in recent years. Jordan Pickford shone on his international bow against Germany and injured Jack Butland is another contender for the number one jersey.
Joe Hart’s place as number one is under threat from the pair, but the country’s second-most capped goalkeeper ever is surely on the plane given his service and display against the Selecao. Tom Heaton and out-of-sorts Fraser Forster are other options for the squad, while Angus Gunn was drafted in for the Brazil game.
The England manager wants defenders comfortable on the ball and confident enough to bring it out from the back. The three-man backline is here to stay, so the clean sheets against the reigning world champions and five-time World Cup winners bode well.
John Stones, so impressive for Manchester City this term, is a shoo-in, while Harry Maguire and Phil Jones continue to underline their international credentials. Joe Gomez, a surprise call-up for this meet up, bolstered his chances thanks to his man-of-the-match performance against Brazil, while Michael Keane and Gary Cahill are great options. Southgate’s accent on ball-playing defenders means Chris Smalling, omitted from this squad, may struggle to be involved, while Ben Gibson’s decision to stay at Middlesbrough is set to cost him.
As for the wing-backs, England are blessed with some of the best around. Injured Nathaniel Clyne faces huge competition on the right from Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker, while there is even more competition on the left. Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand got the nod this time, with Aaron Cresswell, Kieran Gibbs and Luke Shaw – the youngest player at the last World Cup – now watching from afar. Versatile Ashley Young made his comeback off the bench on Tuesday and provides an option that would bolster the squad at wing-back and further forward.
An area of concern to Southgate is suddenly looking a little more rosy. Harry Winks’ man-of-the-match debut against Lithuania was followed by an even more impressive bow from Ruben Loftus-Cheek, although he was unable to replicate his Germany display when Brazil visited. Eric Dier, skipper for the last two matches of 2017, is bound to go to Russia, while Jake Livermore has proven himself to be a capable, if unspectacular, choice.
Jack Cork and Lewis Cook were called into this squad, but their chances look bleak given Jordan Henderson, Fabian Delph and Nathaniel Chalobah were unavailable through injury along with Winks. Jack Wilshere and James Ward-Prowse will be among those hoping to get another chance in March, while something spectacular is needed to give Theo Walcott, Ross Barkley, Michail Antonio and Nathan Redmond’s chances a late shot in the arm.
England’s reigning player of the year Adam Lallana is sure to return when over his injury issue, with Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling other stars unavailable for the recent meet-up. Jesse Lingard does not have the same ability to sprinkle stardust but remains a trusted lieutenant. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has also played an important role for the England boss, but his lack of game time saw him left out – a shot across the bows he needs to quickly react to.
If Harry Kane is firing – and there is little to suggest he will not – then England have a special player on their hands. The Tottenham striker was unavailable for this meet up through injury but will go to Russia if fit, perhaps even as captain. Marcus Rashford will join him on the plane, so too you would think Jamie Vardy as he looks to complete his journey from non-league to the World Cup.
Youngsters Tammy Abraham and Dominic Solanke featured as Southgate experimented this month but could struggle to make the cut, while at the other end of the spectrum 35-year-old Jermain Defoe needs a quick turnaround in fortunes. Danny Welbeck is likely to make it if he can rid himself of injuries, but Daniel Sturridge knows he needs to be playing regularly after his surprise omission this month.
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