England’s competitive preparations are over with little time before Gareth Southgate selects his squad for this winter’s World Cup in Qatar.
Southgate’s 28-man selection for the September internationals contained few surprises and the manager again largely stuck with his trusted core for the defeat against Italy in Milan and draw with Germany at Wembley, the last two matches before the tournament in November.
The Three Lions will be aiming to go one better than they did at Euro 2022 last summer and win their first major international tournament in 56 years in Qatar.
Southgate’s side will play Iran, the United States and Wales in Group B and hope to build on the steady progress of recent years.
Here, The Independent takes a look at who could make the final cut…
On the plane
The England captain is certain of his place and could arrive in Qatar as his country’s all-time leading international goalscorer. Kane is three behind the current record of 53 and will want to surpass Wayne Rooney before the international break is out.
Playing regularly again since his £47.5m move to Chelsea, his importance to the current England set-up has never come into question. Between them, Sterling and Kane have scored more than a third of the goals during Southgate’s reign.
Still just 23-years-old, Rice is one of the best young midfielders in Europe and his importance at international level has grown immeasurably in a short time, to the point where he is practically undroppable. Badly missed in the 4-0 defeat to Hungary.
Ruled out of September’s internationals by a thigh injury, allowing Southgate to look at other goalkeeping options, but they are unlikely to oust Pickford as No 1. Questions over his form have subsided since Euro 2020 and the start of last season.
Walker was described as one of the squad’s “standard-bearers” by Southgate during the summer with his experience, recovery pace and ability to play on the right of a back three making him a shoo-in for selection in normal circumstances. However, surgery on an injured groin six weeks out from the tournament will have him and his manager sweating.
Hailed by Southgate during the summer for his attitude when playing out of possession, Mount offers everything the England manager wants from one of his attacking players – except goals, that is, with just four in 31 caps and none in his last 15.
Foden is England’s brightest young talent and destined to be a key figure in the years to come but needs to nail down a position. That might have happened already but illness and injury has prevented Southgate from playing him regularly.
Still only 20-years-old but mature beyond his years, Saka is a popular and trusted member of the current group. His versatility down both the left and right flank is handy for a manager who likes to chop and change systems.
One of the few players to come out of the summer’s Nations League games with any credit. James is an able defender but with explosive potential going forward as a right wing-back, while also capable of playing centrally in a three.
Not a regular starter for Manchester United under Erik ten Hag but a combination of England’s lack of depth at centre-half, little time to bed in new players and Southgate’s trust in Maguire’s ability is likely to earn him a place on the plane.
Ruled out of this camp with a hamstring issue, injury is the greatest threat to Henderson’s chances of going to Qatar as one of the squad’s senior figures. Far from certain of a starting spot if he gets there, though.
No longer playing as regularly as he was before Euro 2020, when he won back his international place after a couple of years in the wilderness, but getting enough minutes to suggest he will not only travel but start in Qatar.
Phillips’ summer move to Manchester City was always likely to result in him playing second fiddle to Rodri. Factor in some injury misfortune and his starting spot with England suddenly does not look so secure but expect Southgate to keep faith nonetheless.
Rounding off a trio of players on the fringes at City. Still waiting for lift off at the Etihad but Southgate’s reservations over Grealish as a player seem to be a thing of the past. A different profile of wide forward compared to England’s other, more direct options.
One of Southgate’s favourites, his ability on set-pieces is a unique selling point over his rivals for the right-back berth. Able to cover on the left if needed, as he did at the Euros, and another with valuable major tournament experience.
Another old head on young shoulders, Bellingham’s youth is arguably the only thing holding him back from a place alongside Rice in midfield. It’s only a matter of time until he starts regularly. The question is whether that time is now.
Ramsdale is likely to start these Nations League games in Pickford’s absence and can be considered England’s second-choice goalkeeper after establishing himself with Arsenal last season, though some erratic tendencies still need to be ironed out.
Still a top-flight goalkeeper after swapping relegated Burnley for Newcastle, but Pope would likely have remained as one of Southgate’s three even if he had dropped down a division. When it comes to starting, his hesitancy with the ball at his feet counts against him.
With greater scrutiny on his defensive ability than ever before and the competition at right-back as stiff as ever, Alexander-Arnold still feels at risk of missing out on the final cut. The expansion of World Cup squads to 26 players may help him sneak in.
All signs suggest that Rashford would have been included in the squad for the first time in a year had he avoided picking up a minor muscle injury in United’s recent win over Arsenal. Southgate has seen “encouraging signs” in his recent form. A recall could be on the cards.
Shaw started both of United’s opening games, was part of a side that conceded six goals in 135 minutes and has not been seen since due to a foot injury. Included by Southgate all the same, but needs to win his club place back to be sure of a spot in Qatar.
Like Shaw, cannot be certain of minutes at club level, but an absence of trusted, quality options in reserve means that he has been recalled. Arguably offers something England’s other full-backs lack: a genuine consistent goal threat.
Currently leading the race to provide cover for Kane after a strong debut year in Serie A, with strength, speed and hold up play, Abraham is a full package, though will hope to improve on two goals from six starts to begin the current campaign.
Won his place back after lifting a Scudetto with Milan and did not disgrace himself in June’s goalless draw against his adopted nation Italy. Southgate admits he has “a really close call” to make at centre-half. Tomori perhaps has the edge.
Third consecutive call-up since debuting in March, Guéhi being part of the defence that shipped four against Hungary has not done him any harm. Lack of experience could count against him in the final analysis but Southgate is clearly a fan.
Recall perhaps should not be a surprise. Southgate conceded he had been harsh to leave Dier out of the summer squad after a strong end to the season with Tottenham and noted how he “fits in with the culture” upon his return.
Coady was one of the only members of the Euros squad not to play a minute, yet his importance to the dressing room led assistant Steve Holland to name him England’s player of the tournament. Unlikely to threaten for a starting spot, all the same.
More than just a set-piece taker and could benefit from a shortage of midfield depth. Southgate’s captain during their days together at Under-21 level but that did not stop him from being the final player cut from the provisional Euro 2020 squad.
Five goals in six games to start the campaign with Brentford has earned Toney a deserved call-up. An almost immaculate penalty-taking record over the course of his career – scored 24, missed just one – is useful, too.
Retains his place despite failing to score a league goal so far in a barren West Ham attack. Improvement needed but Southgate liked what he saw last time out and would not have been kept around if he did not have a chance of making Qatar.
Work to do
Omitted once again despite signs of improvement and a regular starting berth under Erik ten Hag. Reputation as one of the world’s most exciting young players would suggest the door is not yet fully closed but will need to kick on over the next eight weeks to make the cut.
Recalled in Pickford’s absence. Playing regularly again after a “wasted” year at United, the Nottingham Forest goalkeeper has every chance of challenging Ramsdale and Pope for a place on the plane but is fourth in the queue for now.
Left out having started the season playing at right-back for Arsenal, with England already heavily stocked in that position. Remains to be seen where his future lies following the emergence of William Saliba at club level.
Dropped from the summer squad after the end of his Crystal Palace loan saw a return to Chelsea, where he struggled to find a suitable role in Thomas Tuchel’s system. Needs a new start under Graham Potter to play his way back into contention.
Comfortably ahead of the competition to be Kane’s backup following the Euros but a combination of injury and indifferent form have allowed others to move ahead of him in the queue. Yet to play this season. Time is against him.
Once ever-present in the squad and a Southgate favourite, mixed form at club level and a poor end to last season seem to have dropped him down the pecking order. His left-footedness remains an asset compared to other centre-back options.
Emile Smith Rowe
Gradually fell out of Arsenal’s starting line-up over the course of last season and injury has hampered his chances of forcing his way back into Mikel Arteta’s plans. Last selected for an international squad in March and now unlikely to earn a recall.
Waiting to be recalled since being handed his first caps in March’s friendlies against Switzerland and Cote d’Ivoire, but Southgate only spoke well of his performances and presence around the camp.
Watkins’ advantage over Calvert-Lewin is that he is at least playing regularly but Toney’s call-up only makes a return more unlikely. Southgate appears to have moved towards a more traditional profile of centre-forward.
Ended last season brilliantly and has been one of the few positives in Leicester’s miserable start but still has just one England cap to his name, coming some three years ago. Maddison can only hope that the next tournament cycle brings a fresh start.
Justin became the latest full-back called up in the summer but suffered a difficult debut in Hungary, was substituted through injury at half time, then withdrew from the squad. Another who almost certainly has to look beyond the World Cup before he can consider a recall.
Southgate’s reluctance to introduce new players shortly before the start of tournaments counts against Elliott, who has taken the opportunity presented by Liverpool’s midfield problems and ran with it, but this World Cup has probably come too soon.
Deployed centrally by Patrick Vieira this season and in form, Eze potentially offers Southgate a different sort of skill set in midfield but has probably left it too late to push for a place. Would have been part of the provisional Euro 2020 squad if not for an Achilles injury.
As a wing-back playing for Antonio Conte, Sessegnon has had to cope with being heavily rotated, but his displays have been impressive enough. A lack of left-back depth could count in his favour but probably relying on injury to earn a call-up at this late stage.
England’s predicted 26-man World Cup squad
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale, Nick Pope
Defenders: Ben Chilwell, Eric Dier, Marc Guéhi, Reece James, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Fikayo Tomori, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham, Jordan Henderson, Mason Mount, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice, James Ward-Prowse
Forwards: Tammy Abraham, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/england-world-cup-squad-2022-b2196927.html England World Cup 2022 squad: Who’s on the plane, who’s in contention and who has work to do?