Another international window is in the books and while England only picked up a single Euro 2024 qualifying point they remain firmly on course for Germany next summer and we reckon we’ve got a fair idea what Gareth Southgate’s starting XI might be if that opening game were taking place tomorrow. It contains at least one name most wouldn’t be too happy about.
At which point we must remind you that, as ever, this is not strictly our top 50, but our best guess at the top 50 as it stands in Southgate’s mind. Well, the top 49 anyway. Numbers in brackets show positions from the last update in the summer, which you can read here…
1) Harry Kane (1)
Top four or five of these can go in any order you like now really. They’re locked in. We’ve shuttled Kane out of top spot a couple of times just to feel alive but it’s futile really. Still the main man, and got his 59th England goal in the win over Scotland. It’s his first as a Bayern player, and the 59th that doesn’t count.
2) Jude Bellingham (2)
Vaguely disappointing in a vaguely disappointing all-round performance against Ukraine, utterly brilliant against Scotland in what felt like a breakthrough night. He didn’t need to cement a place in the side, but what he did here was cement a more advanced role more aligned to the one in which he is dazzling for Real Madrid. He’s a brilliant 20-year-old player, but also more than that. Because he already carries himself like a senior player. The obvious comparison is with Phil Foden here: a brilliant player for a brilliant club under a brilliant manager, and three years Bellingham’s senior. But he hasn’t yet cemented a role and still feels like a brilliant young player in this team, rather than simply a brilliant player. Bellingham has it nailed down for a decade now. He is the one.
3) Declan Rice (4)
A less bombastic footballer for England than he is at club level, but a vital and more importantly pretty much irreplaceable component these days. Has all the best qualities of Jordan Henderson or Kalvin Phillips, plus some extra ones and absolutely none of the complications.
4) Bukayo Saka (3)
A quiet interlull for Saka, who got caught up in England’s general malaise against Ukraine and made only a late cameo appearance against Scotland. But he starts on the right side of that attack when all else is equal.
5) Jordan Pickford (5)
Had little to do other than pick the ball out of his net against Ukraine and then watched Aaron Ramsdale do much the same against Scotland. Still very much Gareth Southgate’s number one.
6) John Stones (6)
England’s defending was broadly fine in his absence, but with Harry Maguire a growing worry then Stones’ experience and seniority becomes just as important as his undoubted quality. Southgate is a cautious cat at the best of times; he’s reluctant enough to move on from Maguire full stop, but absolutely won’t be doing it without at least having Stones to call on.
7) Kyle Walker (7)
England’s first-choice right-back until and unless Reece James manages to stay injury-free long enough to dislodge him. Somehow hasn’t lost a single inch of his pace, which is essentially witchcraft, and playing the best ball of his career having been talked out of both international retirement and leaving Man City.
8) Marcus Rashford (9)
Little impact off the bench against Ukraine but excellent against Scotland where he, Bellingham and Phil Foden carved out some intricately beautiful patterns around Harry Kane that were a pretty clear indication of what England’s best among many choices in the various advanced roles might be. We said in the summer that Rashford left, Kane central, and Saka right is the first-choice option and all that’s changed since then is how close to that three we want to see Bellingham and that Foden is the other piece in the puzzle no matter what nominal starting role he’s given. Look forward to October when we change our mind on at least one bit of that.
9) Luke Shaw (8)
Ben Chilwell was left-back against Ukraine, Kieran Trippier a none-more-Southgate stopgap against Scotland. Nothing at all about this fortnight suggests Luke Shaw has been dislodged as first-choice when and if his injury problems are behind him. Won’t be part of the next international break either – which is maddeningly only a month away – but all being equal absolutely will be next summer.
10) Phil Foden (14)
Needed a big performance against Scotland, delivered a big performance against Scotland. His goal was a reminder that he remains perhaps England’s most technically adapt player and one on a pedestal alongside your Rooneys and Gascoignes among semi-recent England players in that regard. It was easy to think at full pace that his goal had an element of fortune, that the ball just sort of bounced off him and into the goal. Watching it back, though, and it was really sweetly timed as he got his feet sorted in the blink of an eye. It was no lucky ricochet, more something akin to a batsman just punching a 90mph delivery straight back down the ground with pure timing. Foden should be batting at four, is what we’re saying here.
11) Harry Maguire (10)
It’s becoming a significant problem, whether Southgate likes it or not. He clearly wants to keep picking him, but he’s rusty as all hell due to the near total absence of any other meaningful football. He did broadly fine against Ukraine and was in truth a touch unlucky with the own goal against Scotland. But Guehi and Dunk looked more composed than Maguire – understandably, because they are playing football regularly – and when Stones returns the arguments for retaining Maguire on grounds of experience become far shakier. Yet still we think if Southgate were tasked with selecting his starting XI for the opening game of the Euros right now he’d be including Maguire’s name.
12) Reece James (11)
We keep telling him to stop being injured. But will he listen? Will he f***. Bad attitude.
13) Aaron Ramsdale (18)
England’s second-choice goalkeeper. That wasn’t totally clear in the summer, so it’s progress of sorts. But it’s hard to see him displacing Jordan Pickford in Southgate’s affections, while he’s also got to keep a beady one on David Raya at club level.
14) Ben Chilwell (17)
England’s second-choice left-back and that’s all we have to say about that. If he’s fit, he’s 100 per cent in the squad.
15) Marc Guehi (20)
Played the full 90 against Ukraine and the first 45 against Scotland would suggest he is, at worst, first-reserve centre-back in the current Southgate pecking order if we assume as we probably still must that Stones and Maguire is his, if almost nobody else’s, preferred pairing.
16) Mason Mount (15)
A huge Southgate favourite of course, but we’re not convinced the Manchester United move is going to work out all that well and he wasn’t much missed here. For club and country, the nagging doubts remain over what, precisely, his best role is. When push comes to tournament-squad shove, we still expect Southgate to have him in there.
17) Jack Grealish (16)
Another player to sit out these games through injury but remains a uniquely different option for England from the bench even if it’s hard to see him starting too many games.
18) Callum Wilson (22)
For the first time it feels like there’s a really clear leader in the great race to be Harry Kane’s understudy, and it’s Callum Wilson who’s won that particular silver medal. That’s fine, inasmuch as Wilson is no better or worse really than the various other options who would all require a significant recalibration of England’s tactics and ambitions because Kane remains levels above the lot of them.
19) Trent Alexander-Arnold (13)
Kept out of this break with a hamstring injury, which is a real shame because he was a significant summer climber after catching the eye in central midfield and frankly anything that shuttles Jordan Henderson down the list of central midfielders is something we’re now very much on board with.
20) Jordan Henderson (12)
England were pretty rubbish against Ukraine when Henderson played and pretty good against Scotland when he didn’t. Fair to put that all on Henderson’s presence/absence? No. Will we let that stop us? Also no. England have loads of really very good midfielders who play in proper leagues. There is no real need for a 33-year-old enjoying a lucrative if despicable semi-retirement in Saudi Arabia. Would no longer be in our top 50 quite frankly, because he’s made his decision. But this isn’t our top 50, it’s our best guess at Gareth’s. And that means he remains firmly inside the top 23.
21) Kieran Trippier (23)
Filling in at left-back, not for the first time, against Scotland shows why he’ll probably remain in the squad even if it’s as third or even fourth right-back.
22) Sam Johnstone (28)
England’s third-choice goalkeeper if the Euros squad were named today, so that means he goes inside the top 23. There’s no science behind this. Potentially set for a fascinating battle with Dean Henderson for the No. 1 role at Crystal Palace this season, with the prize of England’s third-choice gig also at stake for the winner.
23) Kalvin Phillips (25)
We probably wouldn’t have all three of Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips in an England squad. But as we’ve established, we are not Gareth Southgate. And he absolutely would.
24) James Maddison (21)
Could probably have done with Harry Kane staying at Spurs. For a couple of reasons, but his England ambitions would be one of them. Given time on a club training field, two players with their football intelligence would surely, alongside Ange Postecoglou, have come up with a way to harness their talents. With less time available to international managers, and Southgate not really needing to marry the skillsets of Kane and Maddison given the wealth of other attacking options available to him to operate around the skipper, Maddison remains a bit on the outside looking in. The game against Ukraine did him no favours either, with him and Kane frequently stepping on each other’s toes, but what is in his favour is that he’s going to have a stellar club season that attracts a great deal of attention. And he does, as he is already for Spurs, offer a creative skill that might be vital if Kane is absent and replaced by a more workaday regular striker.
25) Eberechi Eze (26)
Long been in and around these lists purely because we all knew Southgate was a big fan. That’s now translated into caps and, while Eze still has a heck of a lot of competition to get past and keep ahead of, he’s firmly in the mix.
26) Lewis Dunk (32)
Out of the one-cap wonder club at least, and showed precisely the calm, unflustered composure you’d expect against Scotland. Definitely behind Stones and Maguire, probably behind Guehi, but firmly in contention for that fourth centre-back spot, you’d imagine.
27) Tyrone Mings (24)
A horrible injury horribly timed in every single way imaginable. Pisser.
28) Levi Colwill (30)
Don’t think he makes Southgate’s squad as we stand right now in September, but very good chance that has changed significantly by next June.
29) Conor Gallagher (27)
Feels to us like there’s now one spot in the squad for him or Mason Mount and Gallagher will be in second place when Mount is fit again.
30) Nick Pope (19)
Outside the first three goalkeeping choices right now, and hasn’t made a convincing start to the season with Newcastle.
31) Eddie Nketiah (RE)
Still uncapped, but he was in this squad and that has to mean something for a player with a belting Under-21 record and a prominent role at one of England’s best club sides. There are, though, still only going to be two spots in the final squad for strikers and Nketiah isn’t one of those two.
32) Raheem Sterling (29)
Must be a bit pissed off, mustn’t he? But he remains a Southgate fave and is playing his best club football for a couple of years. Has to be a chance if a couple of injuries bite in those attacking positions.
33) Ivan Toney (31)
Will need to do something pretty remarkable upon his return to action in January but you’d expect him to outscore all other English strikers in the Premier League for what’s left of the season as long as he keeps himself sharp during his ban.
34) James Ward-Prowse (37)
‘Needs a decent transfer now’ we wrote in June. Got one. Has done him f*** all good, though. Must be pure raging to see semi-retired values-shedding Jordan Henderson picked ahead of him. We know we are. But it’s going to become less and less tenable for Southgate to hold that line while Henderson is out of sight and out of mind in a piss-poor league if Ward-Prowse maintains his early West Ham form.
35) Morgan Gibbs-White (33)
Bellingham-lite. Which is much less of a criticism than it sounds.
36) Cameron Archer (NE)
Is going to be a starting striker for the whole season at a Premier League club, which puts him bang in contention for what remains one of the most open spots in Southgate’s squad even if it’s now Callum Wilson’s to lose. He’s quite good too, which also feels important.
37) Taylor Harwood-Bellis (36)
Southgate is a confirmed fan of the Under-21 captain and thus he’s on the list because centre-back is a position of real flux and uncertainty for England. Slightly disappointing his loan deal from Man City is to Southampton in the Championship rather than a lower mid-table Premier League team, but we also think Southgate would happily pick from the top of the Championship if it’s a player he already has good vibes about.
38) Harvey Elliott (35)
Just a lot of real good players in his way for club and country.
39) Ollie Watkins (39)
Couldn’t get himself in the squad when ending last season scoring lots of goals. Yet to score any Premier League goals this season, and our nagging suspicion is that Southgate doesn’t quite fancy him for whatever reason.
40) Ezri Konsa (48)
Plenty who reckon he’s pretty unlucky not to have had a go, but Mings’ injury offers Konsa the chance to stand out in defence for a good team playing good football under a good coach and alongside a very good and vastly experienced partner in Pau Torres. He also played right-back in the Liverpool game, and you know how much Southgate bloody loves those.
41) Fikayo Tomori (41)
42) Dean Henderson (42)
43) Curtis Jones (44)
44) Jacob Ramsey (45)
45) Tammy Abraham (46)
46) Conor Coady (38)
47) Ben White (40)
48) Jadon Sancho (43)
49) Noni Madueke (NE)
50) Phil Neville (50)