Several of England's key players at Euro 2020 are now struggling for form or fitness with the World Cup kicking off on November 20; however, a number of new faces have emerged since the final defeat to Italy and are staking their claim for a place on the plane to Qatar
Friday 23 September 2022 19:37, UK
There are just 27 days until Gareth Southgate must name his provisional England squad for the winter World Cup.
That means time is running out for those players who are hopeful of securing a seat on the plane to Qatar in November to make their claim to the England manager.
The Three Lions relied on a core group of players on their run to the final of Euro 2020 14 months ago, with 10 players racking up at least five starts each from England's seven fixtures.
But some of those are now facing questions over whether they still merit a place in the England squad, let alone the starting XI, which is less than ideal for Southgate given England begin their campaign in less than two months.
Add in the fact that managers will be able to name an enlarged squad of up to 26 players for the tournament, as well as the hugely underwhelming performances England produced in their most recent fixtures in June, and it becomes clear that surprisingly few players can be certain of their involvement.
The most glaring issue facing Southgate as he makes his final plans ahead of the World Cup is what to do with Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw? The Manchester United duo were key players for England at Euro 2020, making 11 starts between them, while Shaw even got on the scoresheet in the final against Italy.
However, those heady days of summer will seem like a long time ago for both players given their fortunes at club level since. Maguire and Shaw were not alone in seeing their form slip away during the final days of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's reign, nor were they the only members of Manchester United's squad to fail to be invigorated by Ralf Rangnick's interim spell in charge at Old Trafford.
The arrival of Erik ten Hag was meant to represent a clean slate for the embattled squad but, after continuing to struggle in United's defeats to Brighton and Brentford in their opening two games of the season, Maguire and Shaw have played a grand total of 10 minutes combined in their following four matches.
The fact that Ten Hag's side have won all four of those games reflects poorly on the pair and leaves Southgate with a big decision to make. The manager's loyalty to those he trusts is demonstrated by the way he has stuck with the likes of Maguire, Shaw and Jordan Pickford (more on him later) during their down spells, but making a case for the United pair to retain their places in the starting XI is extremely tough.
Maguire has long looked like a player who has lost his confidence, and his brief substitute appearance against Arsenal this month - in which he immediately received a yellow card - didn't suggest he is going to rediscover it any time soon.
As for Shaw, fitness has often been used by his critics - rightly or wrongly - as a reason for any drop in performance levels. Those critics will have been given more ammunition by the left-back's output against Brighton, when he recorded the second-fewest sprints among all team-mates to play more than 90 minutes, and against Brentford, when he made fewer intensive runs than all but one of his outfield team-mates.
Both players were included in Southgate's squad to face Italy and Germany in the Nations League this month, which might provide a clue as to whether the manager plans to stick or twist starting them in Qatar.
Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson, Nick Pope, Aaron Ramsdale.
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ben Chilwell, Conor Coady, Eric Dier, Marc Guehi, Reece James, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Fikayo Tomori, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker.
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham, Mason Mount, Jordan Henderson, Declan Rice, James Ward-Prowse.
Forwards: Tammy Abraham, Jarrod Bowen, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling, Ivan Toney.
To make matter worse for Southgate, England aren't blessed with options at left-back beyond Shaw. Kieran Trippier - more naturally a right-back - was used on the left at Euro 2020, while Ben Chilwell was in the squad but failed to make it onto the field.
Chilwell has continued to endure tough times since that fruitless summer, with a serious knee injury ruling him out for the majority of last season and Marc Cucurella now usurping him in Chelsea's starting XI.
Beyond Chilwell, the only left-back with recent international experience is Crystal Palace's Tyrick Mitchell - who missed out on a call-up in the final pre-World Cup squad.
Southgate's concerns will not be limited to his defence. Kalvin Phillips was a breakout star for England at Euro 2020 and earned a move to Manchester City this summer, but the former Leeds midfielder has played just one minute of his new side's season. Injuries have hampered him, but competition from the likes of Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan at club level is likely to limit Phillips' involvement once he is ready to return.
To compound matters, Phillips withdrew from the latest England squad with a shoulder problem and now faces surgery and a race against time to be fit for the World Cup.
Jordan Henderson would be the obvious candidate to replace Phillips, but the Liverpool captain's tendency to rarely complete a full 90 minutes raises questions over whether he can be relied upon to start regularly at a major tournament, when matches come every four of five days.
Southgate may also be slightly perturbed by what he has seen from Mason Mount in the early stages of this season. The Chelsea midfielder has a habit of quickly establishing himself as a favourite of the manager he works under and Southgate - who handed him five starts at Euro 2020 - is no different.
However, after recording 29 goal involvements for Chelsea last season, Mount has failed to register a single goal or assist for the Blues this campaign and was dropped for the win over West Ham last time out.
The decision over who starts in goal for England at the World Cup is less a cause for concern and more a topic of debate for Southgate. Jordan Pickford has had an iron grip on the No 1 shirt since the 2018 World Cup - so much so that Aaron Ramsdale, Nick Pope and Dean Henderson have just 12 caps between them compared to the Everton 'keeper's 45.
Southgate has stuck by Pickford even when successive Toffees managers have been forced to publicly answer questions over his form.
The Everton stopper will miss both upcoming Nations League games after straining his thigh in the Merseyside derby - an omission which should shed light on which 'keeper Southgate considers as his preferred understudy.
In fairness to Pickford, Frank Lampard's appointment as Everton manager appears to have led to an upturn in his performances. But the fact remains that he has recorded fewer clean sheets and conceded more goals than both Ramsdale and Pope since the start of last season.
With that in mind, perhaps England's goalkeeper situation can be looked at in one of two ways. It can be said that the Three Lions have an established No 1 in Pickford who has regained his mojo ahead of the World Cup and is ably backed up by Ramsdale, Pope and Henderson; or it can be argued that the impressive performances of the Everton stopper's deputies are creating doubt at the position at just the wrong time for England.
For what it's worth, Southgate is likely to take the former, more positive, view.
It seems strange, given their status as some of the elite young talents in European football, to look back at Reece James, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden's involvement at Euro 2020 and see they made just three starts between them at the tournament.
James was England's third-choice right-back behind Trippier and Kyle Walker, Bellingham was behind Phillips, Henderson and Declan Rice for a place in midfield, and Foden quickly lost his starting berth to Bukayo Saka.
Fast forward 14 months and all three look primed to play a major role for England in Qatar. James has a legitimate case to be England's starting right-back given his performances for Chelsea, Bellingham seems to have leapt up the midfield pecking order after starting four of his country's last seven games, and Foden must be confident of an increased role in Southgate's attack given his key role in Manchester City's title triumph last season.
Meanwhile, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford have improved under Ten Hag at Manchester United. The duo have just one England appearance between them since the Euro 2020 final, with their struggles for club form doing nothing to further their cause at international level.
But Sancho and Rashford appear rejuvenated under Ten Hag - which will perhaps soften the blow of Maguire and Shaw's decline under his watch - and have returned to form just in time for the World Cup with a combined seven goal involvements in Man Utd's last four matches.
However, Rashford failed to make the latest squad due to effects of an injury picked up in the 3-1 Premier League victory over Arsenal on September 4, while Sancho was omitted for not reason other than form.
A number of players who didn't make the Euro 2020 squad will also be giving Southgate food for thought ahead of the World Cup. Trent Alexander-Arnold's unique talents surely must be utilised at international level, while Marc Guehi and Fikayo Tomori were given well deserved call-ups for England's Nations League fixtures in June and this month. Along with Ben White - who was an unused player at Euro 2020 - Southgate has options to choose from should he finally decide to move on from Maguire.
Conor Gallagher established himself in the manager's thoughts thanks to an impressive loan spell at Crystal Palace last season, and the midfielder has continued to see first-team action since returning to Chelsea. Also featuring regularly for the Blues is Ruben Loftus-Cheek - could the versatile 26-year-old, who was part of England's 2018 World Cup squad, earn a shock recall after four years away? Both missed out on Southgate's latest squad but remain firmly on the periphery.
Southgate will also be relieved to have options when it comes to backing up his talisman and captain, Harry Kane. Dominic Calvert-Lewin claimed the role at Euro 2020 but has fallen down the pecking order, largely due to injury, so Tammy Abraham took on the role in England's most recent squad. The former Chelsea striker's impressive goalscoring record since joining Roma at the start of last season should ensure he remains in Southgate's thinking.
Meanwhile, Ivan Toney couldn't be doing much more to earn himself a place on the plane, having also earned his inaugural call-up this month. Kane is the only English player to have scored more Premier League goals than the Brentford striker's 17 since the start of last season.
While the lack of certainty around England's team just 60 days before they begin their campaign against Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium is far from ideal, no one can claim that Southgate doesn't have options when he comes to plotting the Three Lions' route to success in Qatar.
Gareth Southgate will be able to select up to 26 players for the World Cup in Qatar, but you can use our interactive team selector to build a 23-man England squad and share your selection on Twitter @SkyFootball.