England squad: Who will Gareth Southgate pick?
Will Jack Grealish get his first England call? Will Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain make his first appearance since missing out on the World Cup?
By Rob Dorsett, Sky Sports News reporter
Last Updated: 07/11/19 1:49pm
As Gareth Southgate prepares to name his latest squad on Thursday with England on the brink of qualification for Euro 2020, Sky Sports News' Rob Dorsett looks at some of the names in the frame for the games against Montenegro and Kosovo....
This would be the headline call-up, if it happens.
Southgate has been aware of Jack Grealish's tremendous form for some time, and my understanding is the Aston Villa man was close to winning a call-up for last month's qualifiers against Czech Republic and Bulgaria. The ankle injury suffered by Chelsea's Mason Mount has made his inclusion all the more likely this time round.
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Grealish has had some injury problems of his own - he missed Saturday's narrow defeat to Liverpool with a calf injury. But he only withdrew from that game in the pre-match warm-up, after the medical team decided he couldn't play a full 90 minutes.
I've been told Villa manager Dean Smith has made it clear to Southgate that Grealish will be fit and available for England, should he receive his first call-up - something that the 24-year-old is desperate for.
Southgate was at Villa Park to see one of Grealish's best performances of the season a fortnight ago, when a goal and an assist against Brighton earned him man of the match. So far this season, he's chipped in with two Premier League goals and three assists.
If it was a surprise to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain recalled to the England squad in September, it would be no surprise to see him back in now. He's back to his best.
Southgate hinted, on his recall after 18 months away because of a horrific knee injury, that he'd selected Ox as a reward for all his hard work battling back to fitness: to let the Liverpool midfielder know he was "still very much in our thoughts". But then last month, the boss said he couldn't justify a second call-up, because Oxlade-Chamberlain had had very little game-time since.
That isn't an issue any more. Four goals in his last four Liverpool games have topped some stellar performances, although against Genk in the Champions League on Tuesday, he played in a more advanced, central role with Mo Salah and Divock Origi on either side - he won't get to play that role for England.
Southgate's system demands two wide men and three central midfielders - at least one of whom, is defensively-minded. And so Oxlade-Chamberlain is competing for his place with the likes of Mount, James Maddison, Harry Winks and Grealish, though Ross Barkley's absence because of an ankle injury will boost his chances further.
England's manager is a big fan - emphasised when he said Oxlade-Chamberlain would have been a likely starter for England in the 2018 World Cup, had injury not cruelly laid him low.
The decision was taken last month that Callum Hudson-Odoi would be better served getting a good deal of game-time with England U21s, rather than hoping for a few minutes as a substitute with the senior team - so it proved. He scored a double against Austria - his first goals at that level - one of which was a superb volley.
But if it was the correct call from Southgate and Aidy Boothroyd to keep him with the youngsters last time out, it may well feel right to promote him back to the seniors now he has fully recovered from his Achilles injury, and is playing regularly - and playing well - for Chelsea. In fact, he's had 10 games in the last six weeks - and four of those matches, he's started.
I know Southgate thinks very highly of Hudson-Odoi, the energy he brings to the camp, and his maturity in the way he interacts with the squad. He likes the impact he can provide, particularly from the bench, offering fresh legs for the men more likely to start in the wide positions, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford.
It would be a surprise if Hudson-Odoi wasn't included in this squad for the games against Montenegro and Kosovo.
John Stones has started Manchester City's last two Premier League games - the first time he's had two consecutive 90-minute run-outs all season.
He's looked composed - City have only conceded once in those two matches since his return. Still, as a whole, he's played precious little football. Before this return to Pep Guardiola's favour, Stones had played only four competitive matches for the champions since March 2.
That's what's cost him his England place - Southgate has always told his players, to be selected, you have to be playing regularly and playing well. But England's manager admires Stones' composure and resilience of character, despite the criticism that has come his way.
Southgate really values his ability on the ball, despite some high-profile mistakes recently in an England shirt (most notably in the Nations League semi-final against the Netherlands, which cost England a place in the final) .
Tyrone Mings' impressive international debut in Sofia last month might have pushed Stones a little further down the pecking order in terms of a starting place, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him back in the England squad - maybe at the expense of Michael Keane, who had a torrid time in the defeat to Czech Republic last month, and was dropped for the second game against Bulgaria.
There are signs that Dele Alli's confidence is returning, after months in the doldrums. No one predicted a player of such huge influence during England's progress to the World Cup semi-finals 18 months ago could have such a fall from grace.
Omitted from the last two squads, having only played a total of 30 minutes of Premier League football to that point of the season, he's now had three consecutive Premier League starts for Spurs, with a Champions League start in between. Mauricio Pochettino has renewed confidence in Alli, and he seems to have responded in kind. His goal against Everton on Sunday seemed a watershed moment.
He's been such a key player during Southgate's tenure, winning 24 caps in just over three years, and is certain to be back in the England manager's thoughts. Whether or not he's done enough for an immediate recall remains to be seen.