On the plane or sofa?  How England’s World Cup squad is shaping up

On the plane or sofa? How England’s World Cup squad is shaping up

on the plane

It looks certain that Jordan Pickford will keep his place as No 1 in Qatar. Southgate has made clear that Kyle Walker is one of the leaders who makes his squad tick and he believes the same of Harry Maguireeven if the boo boys think otherwise. John Stones will also be an influence on and off the pitch. Kieran Trippier is another who has been namechecked as a pillar of the dressing room, and can fulfill both full-back roles. although Reece James faces a stern battle for the right-back berth, it is inconceivable he will be overlooked for at least a squad spot.

Mason Mount looks a guaranteed starter, Southgate having gone out of his way to highlight his importance to England’s pressing game recently. Declan Ricewhose driving runs cannot be replicated, is also sure to travel and Kalvin Phillips can be confident of starting alongside him even if a sub-par showing against Hungary is fresh in memory. Jordan Henderson’s presence was missed over the past fortnight and he will not be overlooked.

Although neither hit form during this month’s Nations League slump, it virtually goes without saying that Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling are nailed-on picks. As Southgate asked last week: where else are England going to find goals? Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka will be asked to help on that front. Foden offers ingenuity that Southgate cannot find anywhere else and the manager sees Saka as a model professional who can contribute in a range of positions, even if the Arsenal winger had clearly run out of steam when the June internationals came around.

In the departure lounge

Aaron Ramsdale will travel as England’s second keeper unless domestic form deserts him. He impressed against Italy and few can operate comparably with their feet from him. At the end of last week Nick Pope had expected to play in the home match against Hungary but ended up bereft of Nations League action. He is firmly viewed as No 3 and will hope the spectre of Championship football does not complicate his prospects.

It was a surprise not to see Conor Coady play at Molineux but he is well-liked in the setup and has a clear edge on the rest of those pushing Maguire and Stones. Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell will need to prove their fitness but, with England crying out for at least one left-back specialist, Southgate will select both if he can. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s status will be a point of conjecture until the squad is chosen: he should squeeze in if, as expected, 26-man parties are permitted but Southgate has clear doubts about selecting a de facto playmaker at right-back within his structure.

Luke Shaw celebrates his goal during the international friendly between England and Switzerland at Wembley.

Luke Shaw has to recover from his injury problems to secure a place in England’s World Cup squad. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

Jude Bellingham struggled in both Hungary games but performed with appetite when deployed early on in Germany. Any clamor for him to start in Qatar may have dampened but he looks too lavish a talent to leave at home. so too Jack Grealish, who clearly does not convince his manager as a starter but can shift England through the gears when he comes off the bench and would need a disastrous early-season spell to fade from the picture. Although England does not have a backup striker to seriously compete with Kane, Tammy Abraham is ahead of the rest for that spot. He did not shine against Italy, though, and cannot afford a dip in the new Serie A season.

Hoping for a ticket

If England travel with five specialist centre-backs then one of ben white, Marc Guéhi and Fikayo Tomori will miss out. It appears to cough up, although White’s absence from the June camp was unfortunately timed. Tomori may hold a slight edge on Guéhi after impressing Southgate against Italy.

James Ward-Prowse felt unfortunate to miss the cut for Euro 2020 but looks similarly borderline for Qatar. He did little to move the dial when given the chance against Italy, although Southgate professed himself happy. Conor Gallagher‘s energy was particularly apparent early on against Hungary and he could prove a useful, flexible analogue of Mount, but his time may be likelier to come at Euro 2024.

In a shot-shy team there has been plenty of temptation to press Jarrod Bowen‘s claim. He offers something different and attractive in attack, but he made some poor decisions on the ball during Tuesday’s debacle and still has everything to prove at this level.

Emile Smith Rowe will feel he can step back up from the Under-21s if he starts the season strongly at Arsenal. There is even more intrigue in the status of Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho. Southgate has suggested the Manchester United pair face a long road back into his affections for him, but Sancho flickered into life towards the end of last season and Rashford would offer proven goal threat to a struggling attack. There may yet be room for one of them.

Those labors at the business end mean Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ollie Watkins will be quietly hopeful of giving Southgate something to ponder during the early weeks of next season. Calvert-Lewin, in particular, has the tools to unseat Abraham.

Watching from the sofa

Dean Henderson, Sam Johnstone and Fraser Forster may sense vulnerability in Pope’s position but Southgate’s goalkeeping options look set. It is hard to see James Justin building on an iffy debut at Hungary in the near future, especially as alternative picks return to fitness. Now that Tyrone Mings, who had become a stalwart until this month, has been displaced by younger options in Tomori and Guéhi he seems unlikely to be tasked with a backup role. Eric Dier would have improved several England sides of the past but apparently not today’s. Kyle Walker-Peters and Tyrick Mitchell will be thwarted by the surfeit of full-back options unless an injury crisis hits.

There is a sense Jesse Lingard‘s chance has passed, even if he revives his club career, and Harvey Barnes looks a long way from the sweet spot that might bring a return. Patrick Bamford is miles from the running and the same may apply to Callum Wilsonalthough the freshly-fit Newcastle man could be an intriguing dark horse for a call from Southgate if he begins next season as he finished 2021-22.

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