As ever, a reminder: The order below is based not on our opinion, but our estimation of Roy Hodgson’s thoughts. Blame him, not us, if it makes you mad. The numbers in brackets are from the last ladder – in November.
It’s also the last ladder before Hodgson names his squad. A lot has changed in five months, and a lot more could still in the next six weeks…
1 (2) – Joe Hart
‘Hart starts, whatever the weather,’ we concluded in the last edition of this ladder. That was true whatever Jack Butland did against Germany, but it’s consolidated further now. The only difference is that Hart moves up one to top spot. If you’re not fine with him as our No. 1, you’re either a maverick or a fool, and anyone who describes themselves as a maverick is a fool.
2 (5) – Chris Smalling
There might be a lot of pertinent concern about England’s central defence, but there is one thing on which both the John Stones and Gary Cahill camps can agree: They’re fighting for one place. Whatever Hodgson decides, it’s Smalling + 1 in France.
3 (1) – Wayne Rooney
Well bloody well. What do we have here? Firstly, any talk (however sporadic) that Rooney will not make the squad is as silly as pouring yoghurt onto your naked torso as a replacement for whipped cream. That said, Rooney’s first-team position is clearly not secured, and it feels like a bandwagon is beginning to roll. So no longer top spot. Also, he’s the only member of this top five whose absence from the squad entirely would not cause national panic.
4 (4) – Harry Kane
It turns out that he does exist after all, and he’s pretty good. The list of players to score 20 or more Premier League goals in consecutive seasons reads as follows: Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Thierry Henry, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Carlos Tevez, Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez and Harry Kane, and he’s started doing it for England too. Never mind being on the plane/ferry/Eurostar, Kane is starting the first game in France.
5 (18) – Dele Alli
The first of the three big Tottenham climbers, and probably the quickest rise in England Ladder history. Alli was a new entry at No. 33 in October, 18th by November and in the top five by March. If you think this lofty position is an overestimation of his current importance, imagine the outrage if Alli wasn’t selected. Burn the Hodge!
6 (3) – Raheem Sterling
A notable faller, due to both form and fitness. There is no doubt that Sterling goes to France, but much less certainty on his starting place. It’s not unreasonable to think that heading into a major tournament not being viewed as England’s One Great Hope might be a good thing for both player and team.
7 (6) – Gary Cahill
The debates over whether Cahill starts are mercifully irrelevant – and may be decided by the pre-tournament friendlies – because he’s a dead cert for the squad. That’s partly for his England form and partly for his experience. If you want to drop Rooney and Cahill from the starting line-up, you run the risk of Jordan Henderson being the most experienced outfield international. Which brings us terrifyingly to…
8 (9) – Jordan Henderson
Timed the standard English pre-tournament injury lay-off well enough to miss October and November fixtures rather than March, and did himself good in the process. Still, we’ll say what we always say: Has never actually played well for England.
9 (11) – Danny Welbeck
Before the Germany and Netherlands games, Welbeck accounted for 36% of the goals in the squad picked by Hodgson. That might make you yelp, but also proves that he goes if he stays fit. Need more convincing? Wayne Rooney is England’s top scorer under Hodgson with 23. Welbeck has 14. Next is Frank Lampard, with six.
10 (26) – Eric Dier
Another big mover, and another Tottenham player about whom the only question is whether they start against Russia in Marseille. Dier is far from the finished article in Hodgson’s defensive England, but there is no such thing as a perfect solution. This is the best fit.
11 (24) – Luke Shaw
There are reports that Shaw will be back in training next week, which is good news for Uncle Roy. In my book he still takes the 20-year-old as his first choice if he possibly can. The only two left-backs with more qualifying minutes than Shaw are Kieran Gibbs and Leighton Baines, and both seem to have been lost on the wind.
12 (12) – Ross Barkley
Still firmly in the squad but more likely to be used as an impact substitute. Barkley has had a fine season, but is a sufferer of Alli-itis. Take tablets twice Dele.
13 (14) – John Stones
Fluffed his lines against Netherlands to hamper his progression up the ladder. Those of us who see ball-playing as a pleasant addition to good defending rather than an alternative are still mighty worried. ‘England have to back John Stones,’ tweeted Daily Telegraph chief sports writer Paul Hayward. ‘Their job to help him cut out errors. He’s too good to be abandoned.’ Erm, there is a middle ground between starting and being ‘abandoned’: Just being in the squad.
14 (8) – Nathaniel Clyne
Finally our first right-back. We’ve never been truly convinced by England Clyne, and have serious doubts about him against the best opposition, but there’s no doubt that it is still his to lose.
15 (30) – Fraser Forster
Moved up a spot in the goalkeeping queue by not being injured. We’re not that scared about him actually having to play either, however unlikely that is.
16 (29) – Jamie Vardy
Winty might not like it (scratch that: Winty does not like it), but Vardy is in. The Leicester goals might have dried up, but no player made better use of England’s last two fixtures than Vardy. The goal against Netherlands when starting might have been his bread and butter, but the finish against Germany was the caviar placed on top. This is happening.
17 (23) – Adam Lallana
Sneaked in by a whisker last time, but Lallana has moved up a few rungs for two distinct reasons: 1) Roy keeps on picking him, and 2) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has fallen away so much. Lallana might be more divisive than any other member of the squad, but he’s gone from possibility to probability in four Jurgen Klopp-themed months.
18 (28) – Phil Jagielka
Staying quiet in the corner while everyone argues over Cahill and Stones, like a child trying to avoid being noticed and sent to bed.
19 (16) – Daniel Sturridge
The fifth striker on this list, yet you’d struggle to find many who would doubt Sturridge’s seat on the plane if he can stay fit between now and May 12. The talent has never been in doubt, but nor too have the worries over those balsa wood legs.
20 (34) – Danny Rose
And so to our final big Tottenham climber. A strong performance against Germany saw Rose named as Man of the Match, but the way he struggled against Quincy Promes on Tuesday will have alarmed his international manager. We have Rose just ahead of Bertrand due to being the closest mimic of Shaw’s attacking instincts, but it’s a tight one.
21 (41) – Tom Heaton
England’s No. 3. England’s England’s No. 3. Out of nowhere, too.
22 (20) – James Milner
Less and less useful over time, but still taken with you just in case something goes wrong, like travellers cheques. Milner’s only gone and moved out of the kitchen utensils market.
23 (7) – Jack Wilshere
A big faller, but not quite gone. No we do not think that Wilshere should be taken after failing to play a single Premier League minute this season, but we can’t help but think that Hodgson still harbours hope and an uncomfortable bulge in his trousers. If Wilshere gets back fit and plays well before the announcement, he should brush up on his French. ‘Qu’est-ce que nous pensons à Tottenham?’
24 (NE) – Danny Drinkwater
The next cab on the rank should Wilshere miss out, and that’s a distinct possibility. Poor Mark Noble.
25 (21) – Ryan Bertrand
Has the most caps of the Shaw/Rose/Bertrand three-into-two quandary, but only goes if the former cannot prove his fitness. A weird European Championship final start to match his weird Champions League final start? Probably not, on at least two counts.
26 (32) – Kyle Walker
Walker was 24 places behind Clyne in November, but the gap is now down to 12. Win the Premier League title and he really could still make it, but not at the time of writing. You only take one specialist right-back when Dier and Stones can fill in.
27 (19) – Theo Walcott
If you tell everyone you want to be treated as a striker and then start one club game in five months as a striker (a 0-0 FA Cup draw with Hull), don’t be surprised if you don’t get the call for a major tournament. Walcott has scored four competitive international goals in the last seven-and-a-half years. Half of those were as a substitute against San Marino.
28 (25) – Fabian Delph
Fun fact: Only two of England’s starters against Netherlands played more qualifying minutes than Delph. He’s a Hodgson favourite, but just keeps getting injured at the wrong times. To be honest, he keeps getting injured at all the times.
29 (10) – Leighton Baines
The biggest faller in the list. ‘Baines is still Roy’s No. 1,’ I wrote in November. ‘I don’t personally agree with that, but that’s not really the point of the ladder.’ Finally he starts listening.
30 (13) – Phil Jones
Roy loves him like a fat kid love cake, as 50 cent would say, but Jones has gone from half-crocked to perma-broken. He’s started seven club games this season, and it feels like an illusion that he started the final qualifier against Lithuania in October.
31 (17) – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Had completely forgotten Oxlade-Chamberlain’s existence until looking at the last ladder. Some things are better when they go unnoticed, but footballers aren’t one of them.
32 (22) – Ben Foster
“I spoke to Ben before we got together for this get together to explain to him why I was taking Tom,” said Hodgson last week. “We had a conversation because I know him quite well – we worked together at West Bromwich Albion. We lost Hart so we brought Tom in. We’ll wait and see going forward.” So that’s that.
33 (27) – Kieran Gibbs
‘Is there a more nothing-y player in the Premier League than Kieran Gibbs?’ a recent Mailboxer asked. Quite.
34 (31) – Michael Carrick
It’s all very well bemoaning Carrick’s lack of international recognition, but that doesn’t change the salient fact: He turns 35 in July. If Carrick played in the Euros, he’d be England’s seventh-oldest outfield player in the last 30 years. Stuart Pearce, Teddy Sheringham, Frank Lampard, Martin Keown, Peter Beardsley and Ian Wright are the answers to your next question.
35 (33) – Jonjo Shelvey
“I just want him to know that I’ll always be there for him, and tell him never to lose hope” – Matt Stead, March 30. Shelvey played a part in each of England’s last three games before Germany. It might be a while until his next cap.
36 (42) – Jesse Lingard
Don’t normally like saying this, but wouldn’t be near the squad were he not playing for Manchester United. Still, he’s in here.
37 (RE) – Andy Carroll
Included by the Daily Mirror in a list of ‘free-scoring English strikers chasing titles, Europe and then glory for the Three Lions’. Back in the 50, but that’s still a ludicrously optimistic statement.
38 (38) – Andros Townsend
Stays where he was, aka on his summer holidays rather than shooting high and wide from distance in France.
39 (39) – Ryan Mason
Sounds mean, but quite glad this is no longer a thing.
40 (37) – Wilfried Zaha
Looked a possibility when Palace were flying. Chunky saw to all that.
41 (40) – Marc Albrighton
42 (36) – Saido Berahino
43 (44) – Scott Dann
44 (48) – Aaron Cresswell
45 (NE) – Marcus Rashford
46 (NE) – Mark Noble
47 (45) – Ryan Shawcross
48 (NE) – Michail Antonio
49 (46) – Tom Cleverley
50 (50) – Phil Neville