The England national side remains unbeaten in World Cup qualification – but is Gareth Southgate any nearer to knowing his best XI?
He was without star striker Harry Kane, vice-captain Jordan Henderson and defender Gary Cahill against Lithuania on Sunday, but England still managed a comfortable 2-0 win over their Group F rivals.
Their replacements might have given the England manager more food for thought. Scotland are up next for England, in June.
Chief football writer Phil McNulty has selected what he believes is Southgate’s best starting XI, explaining his choices below.
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Phil McNulty’s England XI
Joe Hart – Manchester City (goalkeeper)
Still England’s undisputed number one but the current lack of serious competition could soon be solved by the return to fitness of Stoke City’s Jack Butland and the continued development of Sunderland’s Jordan Pickford.
Kyle Walker – Tottenham (right-back)
Has seen off competition from Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne for now and is maturing rapidly as an international right-back.
John Stones – Manchester City (centre-back)
He may not have developed as quickly as some might have hoped under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, but still has huge potential and will be a cornerstone of England’s defence for years.
Gary Cahill – Chelsea (centre-back)
Experience and the streetwise approach gained from playing in an outstanding Chelsea side under Antonio Conte keeps him in place for now but there is a growing threat from Burnley’s Michael Keane, and Chris Smalling will always be fighting for a place.
Danny Rose – Tottenham (left-back)
Ryan Bertrand has done himself no harm as a stand-in with Rose injured, but the Spurs defender gets the nod.
Eric Dier – Tottenham (holding midfielder)
Establishing himself as a reliable midfield anchor and fast-becoming a fixture in the side.
Jordan Henderson – Liverpool (central midfielder)
Henderson has developed into an industrious and influential player whose experience will be vital as England move towards Russia in 2018. The Liverpool captaincy has given him an extra layer of authority. He is a modern midfield player but should contribute more goals.
Adam Lallana – Liverpool (attacking midfielder)
Lallana is another who is established on the team-sheet and who has made such great strides under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. Now looks right at home with England, with the sort of energy and creation manager Gareth Southgate wants.
Raheem Sterling – Manchester City (attacking midfielder)
Sterling is yet to become the player everyone thought he would become when he forced his way into the England team but definite signs of progress under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and still only 23.
Dele Alli – Tottenham (attacking midfielder)
A world-class player in the making who is not fazed by any opposition. He could be the player who brings Wayne Rooney’s England career to a close and he currently keeps Everton’s Ross Barkley out of the side. He would have licence to roam and get in behind Kane, while Lallana and Sterling provide width.
Harry Kane – Tottenham (striker)
Natural goalscorer, mature individual and a potential future England captain. Has had a dry spell with England but his undoubted class makes him an obvious choice as the main marksman of the next generation.
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