With England’s first match at 2022 FIFA World Cup just under two months away, here is a look at which players deserve a spot on the plane to Qatar.
Amidst serious questions surrounding England’s form after a disastrous UEFA Nations League campaign, Gareth Southgate now faces a tricky task in determining who will be in his World Cup squad and who needs to be dropped in favour of higher-quality players.
Some sections of the squad however are easier to predict in terms of nailed-on player selection than others, yet any injuries between now and finalisation of the squad on 13 November could well result in changes and surprise call-ups.
Another aspect to consider is that England like all other teams can select up to 26 players in the squad – instead of the previously traditional 23 player limit, in order to provide more flexibility on top of risk of Coronavirus causing issues within individual squads mid-tournament.
Southgate therefore faces the tough task of putting together a 26-man squad which will lift the mood of a nation disappointed by their Nations League exploits, whilst ensuring that England can again challenge for a title after reaching semi-final of 2018 World Cup and Final of UEFA Euro 20220.
Now, here is a look at who is likely to make the goalkeeping, defence, midfield and forward sections of the squad, as England prepare for a group containing Iran, USA and Wales.
Barring a major injury crisis, it is pretty certain to say that Jordan Pickford and Aaron Ramsdale will be the first goalkeeping names on the plane given their form compared to other English goalkeepers in terms of ability.
As for the third-choice goalkeeper, that position currently feels like a battle between Dean Henderson and Nick Pope, who have both performed well this season because no other goalkeeper looks likely to challenge the aforementioned four names for a World Cup spot between now and late October.
The only outside candidate realistically is Sam Johnstone but as second-choice goalie at Crystal Palace, it is extremely difficult to see him snatching that last spot.
Returning to Henderson and Pope, there certainly isn’t much to separate them in terms of performance, which makes their performances in upcoming games for their clubs the more important, although I have a feeling that Pope might just snatch that final spot.
Goalkeeper: Jordan Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale, Nick Pope
Southgate’s defensive selection seems easy to guess given his consistency in calling up the following defenders; Kyle Walker, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Luke Shaw, Reece James and Conor Coady.
Although Harry Maguire looks a serious doubt due to his loss of form so far this season, I do expect Southgate to stick with him especially after having done so for Nations League games in September 2021 – despite Maguire withdrawing due to legal trouble whilst holidaying in Mykonos, Greece.
Ben Chilwell meanwhile should make the World Cup squad if he can continue to show his form after returning from a lengthy knee injury, which kept him out for much of last season.
As for Eric Dier, Marc Guehi and Fikayo Tomori, they will need to maintain their form if they want what could be the final spot with goalkeeper, midfield and forward selections pretty much roughly set in stone.
Dier though looks the most likely to edge the battle given his form and he also offers a versatile tactical option as a midfielder if necessary, unlike Guehi and Tomori although Tomori could sneak into the squad if Maguire is dropped.
Defence: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ben Chilwell, Conor Coady, Eric Dier, Reece James, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker
Southgate’s midfield pretty much seems set in stone with Jude Bellingham, Mason Mount, Declan Rice and James Ward-Prowse all but surely guaranteed a spot on the plane.
As for the final midfield spot, I imagine Southgate will leave it until the official squad submission deadline of 13 November, in order to allow Kalvin Phillips time to recover from a shoulder injury which looks doubtful otherwise Jordan Henderson surely will get the nod given his experience.
Although Southgate tends to go light on his midfield selections, I do feel that he might take one less forward and instead take another midfielder to open more tactical options, which would open the door for Leicester’s James Maddison to be recalled if he continues his strong form
Midfield: Jude Bellingham, Jordan Henderson, James Maddison, Mason Mount, Declan Rice, James Ward-Prowse
Much like with midfield, I feel that the forward selection is all but decided with the following players guaranteed to be in Qatar; Harry Kane, Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden.
Jarrod Bowen meanwhile offers versatility in winger and striker role so I do expect him to be included, especially if he can continue to show decent form in the UEFA Europa Conference League, amidst his current domestic dip.
As for the final pick, I expect it to be a four-way tussle between Tammy Abraham, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Ivan Toney, with the final spot ultimately boiling down to who has the best form over the next few weeks.
I though would seriously consider tactical versatility within Southgate’s plans as part of the decision, which probably makes Rashford and Sancho the frontrunners, due to Rashford’s pace when playing on the flanks and Sancho’s versatility on the wing and in a second striker role.
As for that final spot, it will likely boil down to who has the better form, although I feel that Rashford’s pace and versatility could bring more tactical options for Southgate than Sancho, especially in terms of impact substitute role.
As for Toney, it is hard to see him breaking into the World Cup squad given that he didn’t get any game time against Germany, after being snubbed from the teamsheet against Italy so he needs to raise his game to a new level in the next few weeks if he wants to snatch that World Cup spot.
Forward: Jarrod Bowen, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford