For now we are in the brain of Gareth Southgate…but that could change. We feel dizzy…
1 (2) John Stones
‘Get used to seeing Stones’ name near the top of his list for a long, long time to come,’ is what we wrote in September, but we did not quite envisage him recording his debut No. 1 this soon. And yes, we are slightly worried that the most certain England starter is a centre-half in what still looks a decidedly dodgy defence. We are clinging to the hope that Pep Guardiola will continue to iron out the ‘oh sh*t, what is he doing…not there…not there’ moments.
2 (10) Raheem Sterling
Rising in absentia after Theo Walcott failed his two auditions on the wing and Jesse Lingard looked like exactly what he is – a willing runner who is operating way above his natural talent level. Surely one of the five lost players Gareth Southgate had pencilled in to start against Malta, Sterling’s direct running (when allied with renewed confidence) causes problems in far better defences.
3 (11) Joe Hart
Now can we all move on and accept that we are lucky to have a really quite excellent goalkeeper who looks much improved by his humbling at Manchester City? It’s telling that Southgate told him that he plays better when he is ‘calm’. Less of the chest-thumping, more of the goalkeeping, fella.
4 (5) Adam Lallana
‘Lallana’s stock has never been higher,’ wrote Daniel Storey last month. It’s now higher still as absence from stunted creativity makes the heart grow fonder.
5 (9) Jordan Henderson
Oddly, Slovenia did not give him the same time and space as Malta to control the ball, look up, have a cup of tea, check his horoscopes and then search out a run from Lingard or Daniel Sturridge. The result was a panicked and slightly lost Henderson, not playing in the role he is learning at Liverpool and clearly buckling under the weight of the armband. But there is a dearth of options in midfield and managers like his determination and leadership; to be fair, he does point excellently.
6 (3) Luke Shaw
We get an awful lot of stick for blowing smoke up the now-smaller bottom of Shaw, but we do believe he is England’s long-term left-back. Playing occasionally would help his cause and our argument.
7 (7) Dele Alli
The plaudits he received after the Malta game were prompted more by his willingness to embrace the tag of ‘The Entertainer’ than his performance, which was too often casual and wasteful. He was little better against Slovenia but always gets pundit points for being young and looking busy. As a No. 10, you really should look bloody busy. He is clearly The Future, but it would be nice to see a little more end product this side of 2018.
8 (1) Wayne Rooney
Ah, here he is. As long as he wants a place in the England squad (until 2018), he will have a place in the England squad (until 2018) and we really cannot begrudge him that.We are told time and again that he is an excellent influence on the younger players; is he the new useful potato masher?
9 (6) Harry Kane
Just not in the kind of form that made us think ‘if only Harry Kane were fit’ at any point during that Slovenia game. The one thing we weren’t short of was players willing to shoot into the legs of a defender from 25 yards. And still he is nailed on to start England’s next game if fit.
10 (4) Eric Dier
Oh balls. He’s supposed to be The Answer. Now we daren’t even ask The Question. Poor against Iceland when it mattered in France and then poor once again against Slovenia when his task (to be better than a non-midfielder in midfield) seemed relatively simple. In danger of being usurped by Victor Wanyama at Tottenham and in danger of becoming a utility man for England because that Dier-Henderson dynamic is not deserving of the ‘d’ word.
11 (8) Gary Cahill
Just when his form should be making England caps hard to collect, Rooney’s demotion leaves a hole for an older voice on the pitch. Being 30 might well be Cahill’s greatest asset right now; it’s certainly not his calmness under pressure.
12 (16) Nathaniel Clyne
There may be something in England not playing to the strengths of the Tottenham full-backs, but Kyle Walker’s brace of poor performances plays into the hands and trusty right boot of Clyne. It’s always going to be nip and tuck, and right now Clyne’s nips are just ahead.
13 (20) Danny Welbeck
‘Welbeck’s biggest hope is that those deputising carry out his job only half as effectively,’ was the verdict in September. Like Michael Carrick at Manchester United, he gets better the less he plays.
14 (14) Daniel Sturridge
Remember when we worried about Marcus Rashford getting a chance with England because we had a bevy of strikers collecting goals with the enthusiasm of Lingard leaping to the defence of his buddy cop bromance? Now we look f***ed again. Sturridge scored against Malta but frustrated massively against Slovenia. I marginally prefer Sturridge to Kane but that’s like saying I marginally prefer a ham sandwich to a cheese sandwich; I crave pulled pork and slaw (when did we lose the cole?) on a toasted ciabatta.
15 (13) Chris Smalling
Third-choice centre-half – possibly for club and country. It’s a long way down from his lofty No. 2 position before Euro 2016.
16 (15) Danny Rose
Very much lacking the wow factor but he’s a very good English left-back who feels like a stopgap until Shaw is fit. The good news for Rose is that Shaw never seems to be fit for long. It’s a bloody shame for England but it’s excellent for the career of 2016’s Wayne Bridge.
17 (12) Kyle Walker
Unlike his Tottenham teammate, he does not have a far younger shadow darkening his door; Walker has every chance to play every England game if he takes the chances afforded by games against Malta and Slovenia. It was exactly these kind of struggles that meant Glen Johnson was England’s first-choice right-back for the 2014 World Cup. Which sounds kind of mental now. Or it did until he was suddenly in an England squad again.
18 (18) Jack Butland
Injured but his youth and class are going nowhere fast. There will be plenty of caps left for Butland when Hart’s time has passed.
19 (32) Jack Wilshere
He’s a) playing and b) watching England’s midfield play pretty bloody awfully. Some of you think we like him a little too much but he is so very much better than any other English midfielder when judged on anything other than stamina and fitness.
20 (19) Theo Walcott
Oh Theo. Theo, Theo, Theo. You had two chances and you f***ed it. You really did. Even when club confidence is high, it apparently does not translate to England. The version we got was timid and all-too willing to hide in a left-back’s pocket.
21 (26) Marcus Rashford
Not yet trusted to start (which is probably right) but clearly preferred off the bench to Jamie Vardy (which is definitely right). Not yet England’s saviour but the wings are on order from Amazon.
22 (22) Fraser Forster
Once again: ‘Forster is a decent goalkeeper destined to get fewer than 15 England caps. He can start up a little support group with Ian Walker, Ben Foster and Tim Flowers. Sorry Rob Green, five’s a crowd.’
23 (23) Phil Jagielka
Bizarrely still in the England squad at the age of 47 so we have to keep him here until he is not picked (next month).
24 (21) Danny Drinkwater
Sorry Danny, but you are so last season.
25 (18) Jamie Vardy
26 (38) Jesse Lingard
It’s really difficult to write about Lingard without using the words ‘willing runner’ and that really is too close to ‘headless chicken’ to be good enough at this level. As long as Southgate is in charge, his former England Under-21 charges will have an advantage over late bloomers like Michail Antonio, but should he be in a fully-fit England squad? Absolutely not.
27 (25) Ryan Bertrand
Ah, we enter the realms of the third-choice full-back.
28 (30) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
“Given the opportunity, I do enjoy playing in central midfield and last week in training with England I was playing more centrally,” said The Ox. And yet even with England’s dearth of central midfielders, he remained on the bench. He is not playing enough for Arsenal to justify selection in any position.
29 (31) Andros Townsend
After 62 minutes of Walcott hiding, Townsend came off the bench and begged you to look at him. Townsend’s style means that he will always look exciting off the bench but do we really want to go back to a place where we need a direct runner to come off the bench after an hour? He’s probably never going to be Plan A so rightly remains on the fringes.
30 (24) Michail Antonio
‘The journey’ won him a call-up to Sam Allardyce’s first/only/last England squad and Southgate kept the faith. But it’s telling that it was Andros Townsend who came off the bench when Walcott’s non-performance prompted a change in Slovenia. This ‘journey’ back to West Ham from England might be his last.
31 (NE) Jordan Pickford
Sorry Tom Heaton, but the FA have invested in Pickford and so gets the nod as fourth-choice keeper. For now. He will climb.
32 (27) Ross Barkley
He dropped an awful long way in September and drops further still in October. Not picked by successive England managers and even his club manager has no sympathy; even at 22 it feels a long way back.
33 (NE) Michael Keane
No outfield England call-up has played more often for Gareth Southgate’s Under-21s than Michael Keane. It can only be a matter of time before he usurps Jagielka.
34 (34) Kieran Gibbs
It turns out you don’t actually have to play to be England’s fourth-choice left-back.
35 (39) Nathan Redmond
One man/boy praying Southgate gets the job on a permanent basis; he has to be the next England Under-21 cab off the rank.
36 (29) Fabian Delph
He’s the player whose very existence is incredibly easy to forget. Which is not a ringing endorsement.
37 (28) Tom Heaton
He’s probably had a lovely time.
38 (RE) Calum Chambers
While we are (possibly temporarily) in the mind of Southgate, we have to give preference to his Under-21 favourites. And he is at least playing football now.
39 (37) Mark Noble
And as quickly as the dream began, Noble awoke. Still uncapped, still not quite good enough.
40 (33) Aaron Cresswell
Keeping his fellow Hammer company in the lower reaches of this ladder for the last 18 months and likely to stay there until he gets fit and keeps fit.
41 (40) – Scott Dann
42 (36) – Ryan Shawcross
43 (43) – Wilfried Zaha
44 (44) – Leighton Baines
45 (35) – Andy Carroll
46 (RE) – Glen Johnson
47 (NE) – Troy Deeney
48 (48) – Phil Jones
49 (NE) – Steve Cook
50 (RE) – Phil Neville