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England squad: Jadon Sancho and Eric Dier face crucial moment as Gareth Southgate closes on World Cup selection

Jadon Sancho is pushing for England recall, but Marcus Rashford may be out injured; Eric Dier is also close to a call-up while Ivan Toney and Harvey Elliott are in the England manager's thoughts; Gareth Southgate picks his final pre-World Cup Three Lions squad on Thursday at 2pm

Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Eric Dier (pics: AP)
Image: Jadon Sancho and Eric Dier are hoping to make it into England's squad for their final two matches before the World Cup, while there is a doubt over Marcus Rashford's fitness

As Gareth Southgate picks his final pre-World Cup squad, it's a pivotal moment for some in the race to make the England squad for Qatar.

At the start of the week, one key decision for the England manager was whether to recall Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho.

One of those calls may have been made for him, with Rashford set to miss out with a muscle injury, which may allow room for Sancho to be included against Italy and Germany in the Nations League later this month.

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Despite Marcus Rashford being set to miss out on an international recall, Erik ten Hag is still tipping the forward to make the World Cup squad

It looks increasingly likely that Tottenham's Eric Dier will be re-introduced for this squad, despite his England exile now extending to almost two years.

Liverpool's Harvey Elliott and Brentford's Ivan Toney are both very much in the thoughts of the England manager, though it's touch and go whether either will be included at this stage.

England manager Gareth Southgate during the UEFA Nations League match at the Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton. Picture date: Tuesday June 14, 2022.
Image: England manager Gareth Southgate picks his final squad before the World Cup on Thursday

The choices that the England manager makes now will give strong clues about his plans for Qatar, with only four full international training sessions before he picks the 26 players to represent their country at the first winter World Cup.

So - while Southgate might name a bigger squad than usual, so that he can make final assessments on one or two fringe players - don't expect a raft of experimental new faces to be called up.

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Is there space for Rashford and Sancho?

Jadon Sancho fired in Manchester United's third against Crystal Palace after he was played through by Anthony Martial
Image: Jadon Sancho (left) and Marcus Rashford have been in great form since the start of the season

Sancho was a regular England incumbent until the Euros final 14 months ago when both he and Rashford missed penalties in the decisive shoot out against Italy.

Sancho's form fell away the following season at Old Trafford, as did his England prospects.

But the 22-year-old former Borussia Dortmund winger has bounced back from his extended spell in the doldrums, and his all-round play has been better even than his stats suggest - he's registered two goals in six Premier League games so far this season.

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Take a look at Jadon Sancho's superb goal against Liverpool from all angles. The 22-year-old opened the scoring in Manchester United's 2-1 win over Jurgen Klopp's men.

His United team-mate Rashford boasts an even more impressive recent record. Under new United manager Erik ten Hag, Rashford has registered five goal involvements in six Premier League games (three goals and two assists). Though the true extent is unknown, this muscle injury has come at the wrong time.

Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish, Mason Mount - all remain some distance ahead of Rashford and Sancho in the England pecking order right now.

Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford were targeted with racist abuse on social media after England's Euro 2020 final defeat
Image: Will Sancho and Rashford be impact players for England - or do they deserve to start?

Though Jarrod Bowen's difficult start to the season with West Ham may well cost him his England place this time, meaning he's a long shot for a place on the plane to Qatar.

Southgate impressed by Toney form

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Rob Dorsett gives an update on Gareth Southgate’s upcoming squad selection for the Nations League which could include Harvey Elliott and Ivan Toney for the first time after both have impressed so far this season

Rashford has been used as a lone striker by Ten Hag, so if he is called up by England, might another striker miss out?

Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Patrick Bamford and Callum Wilson are all out of the picture, so Tammy Abraham is expected to keep his place, despite a dip in form with Roma. Southgate sees him as the natural understudy right now to Harry Kane.

With Southgate watching from the stands, Abraham was forced off with a shoulder strain last weekend against Udinese. The injury wasn't serious, however, and the 24-year-old returned with the winner against Empoli on Monday night.

Tammy Abraham
Image: Tammy Abraham has been in good form for Roma this season

When it comes to Toney, Sky Sports News has been told the England manager has been impressed - as so many pundits have - by the form of Brentford's main goal-getter. His season stats outdo even Rashford's: Toney has notched five Premier League goals and 2 assists so far.

The 26-year-old's excellent form stretches back to last season too - he's scored 13 Premier League goals since January. That makes him hard to ignore.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Brentford’s win against Leeds in the Premier League.

Is this Dier's big chance?

With Harry Maguire in the mire (he hasn't started a Premier League game for a month and is seemingly bereft of confidence) Southgate has a problem in defence.

John Stones and Kyle Walker are both struggling with minor injuries, and so will need to be assessed before any England call-up. If included, their game-time may have to be measured.

All of that plays into Dier's hands. His consistently impressive performances for Spurs - towards the end of last season and at the start of this - mean he is arguably England's most in-form centre-back right now. He was before the last squad selection too, back in May, when Southgate admitted he was close to a recall.

Eric Dier has been in good form for Tottenham
Image: Eric Dier has been in good form for Tottenham

But the England boss also pointed out that Dier is used in a fairly specialist position by Antonio Conte - the middle of a back three - and that England will often switch between that formation and a back four.

"We know Eric, and we don't know some of the younger ones," was how Southgate explained his omission in May. Dier hasn't played for England since November 2020.

No issues in midfield

Conor Gallagher shows his disappointment after England's 4-0 loss
Image: Conor Gallagher faces a tough wait to see if he has made the grade

Whether Conor Gallagher has done enough to keep his place will be the key question here. He probably has, and will hope that the new Chelsea manager Graham Potter gives him as much game-time as Thomas Tuchel did.

Kalvin Phillips' return to fitness will be a blessed relief to Southgate - he's missed a month of football with a shoulder injury, but came off the bench for Manchester City late in last week's Champions League win over Sevilla.

England's medical staff will have to carefully Phillips' workload, however, as he returns to match fitness.

Elsewhere, it's likely to be the usual midfield population of Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Mount and James Ward-Prowse.

Easy pickings in goal

With England's number one, Jordan Pickford, missing with a thigh injury, it will be a chance for someone else to stake their claim as first choice understudy.

No surprises here - expect Nick Pope, Aaron Ramsdale and Dean Henderson to be included.

Will any young players make the grade?

Harvey Elliott
Image: Harvey Elliott could get a first senior England call-up this autumn

Unlike his predecessor, Roy Hodgson, Southgate's instinct is to name a larger initial squad in case of any subsequent injury withdrawals, rather than to offer late call-ups to players initially outside the camp.

Combined with that, the England boss is always looking to promote talent from the under-21s, and the logistics for this camp may help Liverpool's 19-year-old star, Harvey Elliott.

Elliott is currently part of the u21s squad, whose friendly matches have been organised to mirror those of the senior team: they play Italy away the day before Southgate's team, then Germany at home a day after the senior team play the same opposition at Wembley.

Promoting Elliott to the senior ranks at any stage would be about as seamless as it gets.

Another sparkling youngster, Sporting forward Marcus Edwards impressed earlier this week with a man-of-the-match Champions League performance against Tottenham - the club that released him three years ago. But don't expect a surprise call-up for him. Yet.

England's opening match of the World Cup against Iran is in 67 days' time.

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