Kane cements top spot on famous F365 World Cup ladder

Dave Tickner
England captain Harry Kane lines up with his England team-mates ahead of the game against Albania

After narrowly securing the result they needed against San Marino, England are off to the World Cup in Qatar!

It all feels markedly less bleak than the October update – 15 unanswered goals in two games will do that, we suppose – as we finally reach the year-end ladder after a record-breaking end to a pretty monumental 12 months all told.


1 (1) Harry Kane
Hahaha. Winty was visibly angry at not being able to shunt him off top spot last month, and he’s hammered home just why he couldn’t be shifted this time around. Seven goals in two games, to the evident fury of fellow England goalscoring luminaries such as Michael Owen and Gary Lineker, who famously scored all of their goals against Germany, Brazil and Argentina. It was masterful stuff, really. Kane had everyone shooting their ‘stat-padding’ bolt far too early after he helped himself to a perfect first-half hat-trick against a team that conceded seven goals in their other nine qualifiers combined, before showing everyone just what real stat-padding looks like. Sixteen England goals in 2021, which is just daft. That’s one goal fewer than David Beckham scored in his entire England career. It wasn’t just the goals this week, though: the spark that has been missing since the summer seemed to return as well, and it feels like it was more than just the paucity of opponent placed in front of him. It all raises the question: just how much ketchup and mayonnaise was he eating?


2 (3) Harry Maguire
More shameless stat-padding from England’s second vital Harry, who is now England’s highest-scoring central defender with seven goals. Whatever his Manchester United travails, he clearly retains the very fullest of confidences from his England manager and fair enough too. Whatever the calibre of opposition, two goals, two clean sheets and one enraged Roy Keane represents a job well done.


3 (2) Declan Rice
Not a bad international break for him to miss in a busy season really; one in which England were always likely to be able to cope perfectly well without him but, from a more selfish position, one in which nobody would really have the chance to stake a significant claim on what is now one of the very safest spots in the team. On club form probably England’s best player right now.


4 (4) John Stones
Once again fighting to be a first-choice starter for Man City. But still very much a first-choice starter for Southgate and England. This is fine.


5 (5) Kalvin Phillips
Started both games. Will continue to start games. Is a starter. This is fine.


6 (6) Raheem Sterling
While Kane, Maguire and Stones all took the chance to put whatever club strife they’re going through to one side, Sterling did not. He generally missed out on the first-half fun against Albania and then withdrew from the squad for San Marino due to a ‘personal matter’. Clearly still in Southgate’s first XI, but the competition for those spots around Kane is becoming fiercer than ever.


7 (12) Phil Foden
Are we greedy for wanting slightly more? Played pretty well in both games, but given the extent of England’s serene progress through those games and his own club form… Yeah, we’re being greedy. Ignore our entitled bleatings and focus instead on the fact he’s started each of the last four qualifiers.


8 (8) Jordan Pickford
Has still done nothing to make Southgate reconsider his status as No. 1 but has challengers emerging everywhere now. Aaron Ramsdale keeping a clean sheet against San Marino won’t bother Pickford, but if he continues to excel for a Big Six club…


9 (7) Luke Shaw
Shambling about for Manchester United and then forced out of this squad by concussion, while Ben Chilwell appears to have emerged from his own funk for both club and country. In October we declared the left-back battle ‘thoroughly won’; Shaw remains ahead, but battle has been resumed.


10 (10) Kyle Walker
Certain starter whenever Gareth wheels out a first-choice back three, and possible starter even when he doesn’t.


11 (16) Reece James
Enjoying a stellar season for Chelsea and carried that form into a swashbuckling display against Albania. Popping up in central midfield and looking perfectly comfortable doing so (opposition caveats notwithstanding) also does him no harm. Versatility and all that. England have millions of right-backs, but for both club and country none are performing better right now than the Chelsea man. We reckon he’s at worst second-choice right-back now and that is a pretty comfortable spot to hold in any Southgate squad.


12 (9) Mason Mount
Dentists are sadistic bastards.


13 (21) Aaron Ramsdale
Made more saves against San Marino than any Premier League keeper has had to make against Spurs for almost a month now. Has an obvious opportunity to cement himself as at worst England’s clear second-choice given the profile of his club role and current level of performance.


14 (17) Jude Bellingham
Harsh to say he didn’t quite take his chance against San Marino? Bit of a hiding to nothing for a squad player seeking to impress in a way, but Jordan Henderson made the more compelling case this week against Albania.


15 (11) Jack Grealish
A mildly frustrating week. Appeared as a sub for the second-half training session against Albania then ruled out of the fun against San Marino through injury. Nagging doubt that Southgate picks Grealish despite himself remains, and Emile Smith Rowe has now replaced the City schemer as subject of The Clamour.


16 (28) Ben Chilwell
Weird loss of form for both club and country now happily appears to be behind him. ‘Might just force Southgate into picking almost as many left-backs as right-backs’ was October’s speculation. At the end of the international year, we’re almost certain Southgate’s squad now has two left-backs. Whether that will prove ‘almost as many’ as the right-back total remains TBC.


17 (23) Jordan Henderson
Absolutely first rate when deputising for Rice against Albania. Time as a first-choice starter for Southgate’s England is clearly behind him; time as a valuable and trusted squad lieutenant very much ongoing.


18 (13) Kieran Trippier
Captained England last month, left out this month. We’re pretty sure Southgate hasn’t taken against one of his favourites, but he has gone from being at worst second choice at both right-back and left-back to at best third choice in both positions. This is Southgate we’re talking about, so Tripper remains inside the 23 for now, but March will tell us more. Not least because Trips might be in a relegation scrap with Newcastle by then.


19 (20) Bukayo Saka
England’s best player against San Marino, which sounds like damning with faint praise but isn’t. Everything England did came down the left in the first half, and then down the right after half-time when Saka switched flanks. Denied a first-half goal by all the deflections but bagged himself the all-important tenth. We love him and so, more importantly, does Gareth.


20 (15) Conor Coady
We think he’s ahead of a vulnerable-looking (both on the field and on this list) Tyrone Mings. He needs to be, frankly.


21 (18) Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Bad international break for a striker to miss from a personal stats viewpoint, obviously, but still The Other Striker as things stand. For multiple reasons, he needs to get back playing and making Everton far less bobbins than they have been in recent weeks. October’s update mentioned the benefit of him playing for a side potentially in the top-six mix, which a few short weeks later already sounds sarcastic.


22 (19) Sam Johnstone
Third choice and looking over his shoulder. We would strongly advise him to get back into the Premier League, one way or another. For lots of reasons, really.


23 (14) Tyrone Mings
Managed to look a bit shaky against San Marino which is…sub-optimal for a centre-back fighting for his starting spot at club level. Remains inside the 23-man cut-off for now but looks the most vulnerable in there given those in pursuit. Hence: 23.


24 (37) Emile Smith Rowe
The week’s big winner. Not just for getting his debut and then his first start and then his first goal but because everything about him fits. He strikes us as the absolute epitome of a Southgate player. Creative but not showy. Skilful but hard-working. No trouble on or off the pitch. Solid young man. And above all clever. Nobody should pretend that what he did against San Marino can or will be enough to nail down a squad place but it sure was a good way to start and the Lampard-esque arrive from midfield is not something you necessarily associate with England’s other clever players. It was exquisitely timed and will have caught Southgate’s eye. ESR faces a whole bunch of top-rate competition, but balls-out prediction time: we expect him to be the other side of the 23 line by the end of March. What we have no idea about is who will have slipped out. We’re also assuming here that squads will be back at 23 for the World Cup. If it’s 26 again, then happy days: he’s on the plane.

Harry Kane celebrates with Emile Smith Rowe


25 (22) Jadon Sancho
His Manchester United travails and Smith Rowe’s breakthrough are a bad combination. Plenty of time for things to change, but now back on the outside and needing to force his way back in. Some signs of life at United required.


26 (25) Trent Alexander-Arnold
Still fiendishly difficult to place in these lists, still routinely placed in the mid-20s with a dunno shrug. There’s just nothing new to say, is there? We still think he’s fourth-choice right-back in Southgate’s eyes, but equally that doesn’t mean he’s definitely outside the squad. We did enjoy the pivot on certain corners of Football Twitter from ‘Harry Kane shameless stat-padding lol’ to ‘TAA showing Gareth what he can do’ by assisting the eighth, ninth and tenth goals. Remains the same puzzle he has been for quite some time: a supremely talented footballer who just doesn’t quite suit this particular team. And that in a position where England have quite literally millions of options.


27 (29) Fikayo Tomori
Moving up a couple of spots despite not being called up feels counter-intuitive but his call up in October still appears to put him ahead of anyone outside the current first-choice four centre-backs (plus Walker) in Southgate’s mind. And Mings’ form mings.


28 (27) Tammy Abraham
Nicely taken goal against San Marino, but also missed a sitter. So has neither particularly advanced nor harmed his cause and remains precisely where he was if everyone is fit: third-choice in a position where only two squad spots exist.


29 (26) Marcus Rashford
Badly timed injury setback that. Had got himself back and scoring for Manchester United just like we told him to (brilliant strategy, Sir) and then missed out on all the fun. Will have to cling to the fact that he was at least named in the original squad; if he’s playing and scoring come March then he will at the very least get the chance to make his case. But it kind of needs to be compelling.


30 (34) Ben White
One of many who will surely have an eye on Mings’ squad spot and even Coady’s. And probably has the best platform of any contender to make his case if Arsenal continue their current policy of avoiding the rakes rather than stepping on every single one of them.


31 (31) Ollie Watkins
Has outperformed Patrick Bamford on international duty and on that basis sits in splendid isolation as England’s fourth-choice striker. Needs injuries or an unignorable run of goalscoring form or probably both to force a positive change in that status.


32 (NE) Conor Gallagher
Okay, it needed several misfortunes for him to get a call-up but it came with a first cap and could easily have come with a first goal. Against admittedly terrible opposition he nevertheless displayed his eerie quality of appearing to be everywhere on the pitch all at once. Like Smith Rowe – even more so, if anything – there is something undeniably and quintessentially Southgate about him.


33 (30) James Ward-Prowse
A man destined to be in and around every England squad but never really a serious tournament squad option no matter how good a set-piece he can take.


34 (33) Mason Greenwood
‘Greenwood is still stuck on one cap and that looks unlikely to change anytime soon’ was October’s still highly relevant assessment.


35 (32) Nick Pope
Fourth-choice keeper is as cruel a gig as third-choice is a sweet one. The good news for Pope is that one of the first three nearly always picks up some injury or other. The bad news is that it is quite often him.


36 (36) Patrick Bamford
Fifth-choice striker as things stand and may have plenty of time to rue that underwhelming performance against Andorra. It was a huge chance.


37 (24) Jesse Lingard
We can all be pleased that Lingard’s international career got that fun coda, but barring another eye-catching January loan move that’s probably that now.


38 (48) Ezri Konsa
Aston Villa’s best English centre-back is overdue for a crack at it now, surely.


39 (38) Dean Henderson
‘Needs a move’ was all we said in October. Nothing to add, beyond noting it at least looks like happening. Still no guarantees even then, mind.


40 (40) Eberechi Eze
We know more about Southgate’s thoughts on Eze than we do any other player not currently involved. Apparently set for an earlier-than-expected return from injury when the Premier League resumes and sense remains that if he can prove form and fitness in a far more exciting Palace side than that he last represented then he will at the very least be given a chance come March.


41 (35) Demarai Gray
42 (41) Curtis Jones
43 (NE) Marc Guehi
44 (43) Jarrod Bowen
45 (45) Ivan Toney
46 (39) Ben Godfrey
47 (47) Joe Gomez
48 (44) Harvey Barnes
49 (46) Aaron Wan-Bissaka
50 (50) Phil Neville