It really is only a month since we last did one of these. As ever, these are not our thoughts, but our estimations of Gareth Southgate’s thoughts were he to pick a squad for Russia now. Go…
1 (1) Harry Kane
Two England games during this international break and two winning goals for our best striker. Kane did not even play particularly well in either game, but that does not matter a jot. All we can do between now and June 2018 is pray that he doesn’t get injured and hope that he has put a miserable Euro 2016 behind him. The boy’s a bit special.
2 (2) Dele Alli
Alli may be a little concerned that England playing a 3-4-3 formation doesn’t leave him with a natural place in the starting team, but there is no doubt whatsoever of his importance to Southgate and his status as a vital member of the squad that will go to Russia. Southgate picked him for a two-match period in which he was suspended for the first game and the second was likely to be a dead rubber against Lithuania, for goodness sake. Be nice if he could end the eight-game international goalscoring drought next month, mind.
3 (4) Adam Lallana
As this excellent piece from Adam Bate details, England are desperately short of creators. Lallana can just about claim to be one of those, and has been England’s best player over the last year when fit. Absence makes the heart grow far fonder than makes us comfortable.
4 (16) John Stones
The ladder’s first big winner. Not only is Stones finally in excellent form for a Manchester City side that has conceded two league goals all season, but he is yet to concede a goal for England in a competitive game and was one of only three players (Jordan Henderson and Kane the other two) to play every minute during this international break. Stones’ final surge up the ladder comes with Southgate’s use of a 3-4-3 formation that provides an extra starting place for a central defender. Look at that rise (a phrase that nobody has ever said to me).
5 (8) Marcus Rashford
So on the plane that he can order his drinks and nuts to meet him at his seat. Rashford was Man of the Match against Slovenia, and the only player that offered any penetration. Probably faces a battle with Danny Welbeck to start as the left-sided forward but, on current form and fitness, Rashford is winning hands down.
6 (5) Gary Cahill
Is it instructive that it was Stones who played both games and Cahill who was given the rest against Lithuania? Maybe, maybe not, but it probably doesn’t matter either way. All being well, both will start alongside each other either in a back four or three-man central defence in Russia. And then we pray.
7 (3) Jordan Henderson
I’ll repeat what I wrote on Sunday evening: ‘His passing isn’t good enough over long distances nor sufficiently probing. He loses possession and then rushes forward to try and make amends, which will lead to him being caught out of possession against good teams (think Germany at World Cup 2010). He is still too slow with the ball.’ Unfortunately, he’s also a cert to be on the plane and a virtual cert to start matches. Still, Winks’ performance against Lithuania does cause Henderson to drop from the very top rungs of this ladder.
8 (6) Kyle Walker
Drops a couple of places because Trippier did a fine job, which subsequently makes Walker slightly less vital, but he’s far and away England’s first-choice right-back. Crucially Walker is just as comfortable at wing-back. He might even have a first league title by the time Russia rolls around.
9 (7) Eric Dier
How many times have we said that we don’t worry about Dier against the likes of Malta and Slovenia, but Germany and Brazil? Next month, England are playing Germany and Brazil, so it might be sink or swim time for Dier. Unfortunately, the talent pool of English central midfielders is so shallow that even sinking to the bottom keeps your place on the plane reserved.
10 (9) Raheem Sterling
Surely a naturally better fit than Alli as the right-sided forward in a 3-4-3, but the Alli love-in will dictate that Sterling would probably miss out. Still, he’s playing superbly at Manchester City, he was one of England’s better players against Slovenia and he’s still only 22. It’s not all bad.
11 (10) Ryan Bertrand
Until Danny Rose comes out of his Tottenham hibernation, Bertrand is England’s first-choice left-back. He’s hardly an exciting, marauding full-back in the style of Kyle Walker but, with Marcus Rashford ahead of him, the protection Bertrand offers is just fine. And he did play on the wing in a Champions League final.
12 (11) Joe Hart
It might annoy plenty of people that Hart is still England’s No. 1, but Southgate has seen no reason to change his goalkeeping status quo. In fairness to Hart, he didn’t do much wrong during England’s qualifying campaign. The rest of us are just pleased to finally have some goalkeeping competition that doesn’t involve Rob Green, Scott Carson or Chris Kirkland.
13 (12) Phil Jones
Pulled out of the squad with injury, but was named in the first place, which means more. Jones started each of England’s three games before this international break, playing 262 of a possible 270 minutes. If he keeps playing for Manchester United, he keeps playing for England.
14 (15) Jack Butland
He’s played two full matches for England, and both were away in Lithuania two years apart. Anyone who thinks that Southgate will suddenly transform Butland from that status to his first-choice goalkeeper is being optimistic rather than realistic. This will need to be a gradual process, if it happens at all.
15 (13) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Dreadful against Slovenia and can’t buy a league start for Liverpool following a £35m move. And yet he’s still in 15th on this ladder. We’re in so much trouble in Russia, aren’t we? Like pants down, against the wall, metre-long cane trouble.
16 (21) Michael Keane
A particularly dodgy moment when almost scoring an own goal against Lithuania, and not exactly enjoying life at Everton right now, but Keane is ahead of Chris Smalling as England’s fourth central defender, and so goes to Russia as it stands.
17 (14) Danny Welbeck
Welbeck’s attendance at the 2018 World Cup depends entirely on where it falls in his perma-cycle of injury-recovery-decent form, which is destined to be repeated ad infinitum.
18 (18) Danny Rose
The last time Rose played a game, Sunderland weren’t even bottom of the Premier League. At some point, it would be nice to see our best left-back on a football pitch.
19 (20) Jordan Pickford
His third-choice goalkeeper position is even further nailed down by Tom Heaton’s injury. Get ready for a few weeks of warming up Joe Hart and sitting on the bench. Still, the free kit is nice.
20 (22) Jamie Vardy
The two striking questions come down to Welbeck vs Sturridge and Vardy vs Defoe. Welbeck is winning his personal battle and Vardy is winning his too, despite pulling out of the latest squad. On Premier League goals this season alone, he leads Defoe 5-1.
21 (NE) Harry Winks
The big call, and the one that may make Sarah Winterburn sigh the next time she does this ladder. I have a reputation for getting over-excited about young players, you see. Winks being called up to the squad got him into the top 40. Winks starting against Lithuania got him in the top 30. Winks being Man of the Match on his debut got him in the 23. Now he needs some games for Tottenham.
22 (24) Kieran Trippier
The big change over this international break: Trippier is now Tottenham’s first-choice right wing-back, and thus England’s second-choice. Southgate moving to a 3-4-3 would further strengthen his case over Nathaniel Clyne, and he has impressed for Spurs this season while Clyne has been injured. So there.
23 (32) Jesse Lingard
Squeezing back in, despite playing 75 minutes in the Premier League this season. When Southgate looked to his bench in search of penetration against Slovenia, he chose Lingard. When he looked again for a replacement for Dele Alli against Lithuania, he chose Lingard. When I needed a neighbour, were you there, were you there? Yes, I was there. I’m Jesse Lingard. I’m always here.
24 (23) Nathaniel Clyne
See the Trippier section two rungs above. It’s not just about Clyne getting fit, but proving he is more reliable than his direct competitor for a squad place. Right now, that looks tricky. He’s been done by Walker’s move to Manchester City.
25 (27) Harry Maguire
I don’t think my wonderful boss agrees, but I have Maguire over Smalling on the basis that the latter stayed on the bench throughout both games while Maguire started – and played pretty well – against Lithuania. Perhaps the ‘small club’ issue will play against him when it comes to the tournament selection crunch, but Maguire might now be the next cab off the rank. Still, with Eric Dier as the new James ‘handy household appliance’ Milner, Southgate only needs to take four specialists. Maguire is the fifth.
26 (25) Daniel Sturridge
Losing out to Welbeck, and not getting enough regular starts at Liverpool to knock down the door. Sturridge is left hoping for an injury, which isn’t exactly the most unlikely of strategies in World Cup year. That’s assuming he doesn’t get broken again himself, of course.
27 (19) Chris Smalling
He has only played 465 minutes of Premier League football since February. In some positions in this England squad that doesn’t matter, because our options are so cripplingly disappointing. But at centre-back, it does matter.
28 (RE) Fabian Delph
A massive climber, from outside the 50 to the fringes of the squad having been picked for Slovenia and Lithuania but pulling out with a knock. If anything epitomises England’s shallow pool of central midfielders, it is Delph’s re-emergence having started three league games since May 2016. One good performance out of position really is enough to get you an England call-up.
29 (17) Jake Livermore
The big faller, because Harry Winks came into the side and made Livermore look more average by comparison. It’s difficult to believe that Livermore was even in this squad having not started every game for West Brom this season, but at least he didn’t get off the bench. I know that sounds incredibly uncharitable, but this is not the time for niceties.
30 (33) Aaron Cresswell
Played against Lithuania, which is nice. But a trip to Russia relies on one of Danny Rose or Ryan Bertrand being borked.
31 (26) Nathaniel Chalobah
The first of the injured brigade. Chalobah was called up in September but is now likely to be out until the new year. It’s very easy to quickly be forgotten. Chalobah’s problem is that he will have a maximum of two games to impress before Southgate names his provisional squad. He’s still uncapped, remember.
32 (31) Jermain Defoe
Love the manner he has kept himself fit at the age of 35, but the only way you get taken to a major tournament at that age is a) if you offer something completely different, or b) if you are scoring hatfuls of club goals. Defoe is 0 from 2.
33 (30) Ross Barkley
Injured, and so dropping with each edition. I still suspect that a run of four or five good games after joining Tottenham in January would see Barkley propelled up this list because he’s exactly the type of player managers like, but there are too many ‘ifs’ at play for Barkley to justify a place any higher up this ladder.
34 (29) Danny Drinkwater
Injured at the worst possible time, straight after a move to the kind of club where England managers suddenly believe you’re a better player.
35 (34) Tom Heaton
Why are so many sodding players injured in this section?!
36 (28) Jack Wilshere
Actually not injured. But so out of favour at club level that he’s taken to social media to joke about needing a club with first-team football. Like Theo Walcott, Arsenal players take a long time to drop out of the 23, but when they do they tend to sink without trace.
37 (36) Luke Shaw
Remember Luke Shaw?
38 (33) Theo Walcott
Yazz were mistaken. Theo-nly way is down.
39 (47) Tammy Abraham
Moving up the list with each Premier League goal for Swansea. But not quickly enough.
40 (37) Joe Gomez
Playing for Liverpool, but the defensive record hardly screams “Pick me!”.
41 (39) Nathan Redmond
42 (40) Ruben Loftus-Cheek
43 (38) Dominic Solanke
44 (41) Fraser Forster
45 (42) Rob Holding
46 (RE) Michail Antonio
47 (NE) Jamaal Lascelles
48 (47) Andros Townsend
49 (RE) Ashley Young
50 (50) Phil Neville
You got this for free, so why not do a nice thing and buy a book for charity. We’ll think more of you…