The Qatar World Cup starts on November 20, with England playing their opening match a day later, and the clock is ticking for Gareth Southgate to finalise his 26-man squad.
Southgate will have had less than half a Premier League season to assess his available players before making a final call, but, after six years in the job, he should already have a good idea who is on that plane to Doha.
World Cup squads will rise from 23 players to 26 under new measures brought in by Fifa, which will give Southgate something extra to think about as the Three Lions aim to end 56 years of hurt.
England reached their first tournament semi-final since 1996 at the 2018 World Cup, before reaching their first final since '66 last summer when they lost to Italy on penalties in the Euros.
With that in mind, we have asked our team of football writers to pick who they would like to see represent England in Qatar...
With a 26-man squad – rather than 23 – there is a little room for experimentation. My wild card is Crystal Palace’s talented and skilful Eberechi Eze who has not previously received a call-up but is playing well and can cover a number of forward roles. Marcus Rashford would also make it at the expense of Tammy Abraham who has been unconvincing for England. Jarrod Bowen did well in the summer but I believe Eze and Rashford – who is finally back in form – offer more.
Trent Alexander-Arnold does not make it which will upset a lot of Liverpool fans but he has simply not done enough for England, unlike his rivals Reece James, Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker. On the other flank I would take just one specialist left-back in Ben Chilwell, partly because Trippier can play on that side as can other players if Southgate goes for a more attacking wing-back. Luke Shaw is not playing and out of form.
Unfortunately, Kalvin Phillips cannot be considered because he is injured. While Jordan Pickford is also out, it is understood he will be fit next week. Ben White can count himself unfortunate and I did give consideration to another wild card – Brighton striker Danny Welbeck – but Ivan Toney is younger and deserves his chance.
A number of players have been included whose form and fitness over the next month will dictate whether they make the flight to Qatar, so Manchester City’s Kalvin Phillips, for example, is a big question mark. Luke Shaw, similarly, will be lucky to make the squad if he remains out of the picture at Manchester United and is included here simply by virtue of the absence of alternative left-backs. I think Gareth Southgate will go with Harry Maguire regardless.
With the borderline calls up front, I’d go with whoever is in the best form closer to the tournament so the likes of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Ivan Toney could easily be interchangeable with players such as Jarrod Bowen, Harvey Elliott and Tammy Abraham, among others. I’d like to see England in a 4-3-3 set up but there is the flexibility in the squad defensively to utilise a back three if required.
Barring more injuries or Gareth Southgate falling in love with another right-back, it is hard to imagine fresh faces breaking into the squad at this late stage. The England manager must know his preferred starting XI for the opening World Cup game, but a 26-man squad should allow for wildcards.
Assuming Kyle Walker will be a right-sided centre-back should Southgate go with a back three, and Kieran Trippier is an option as left-back as much as on the right, there is an argument that James Tarkowski is currently playing as well as any English centre-half in the Premier League. He has made an excellent start at Everton, although Southgate is likely to be loyal to Harry Maguire no matter how little he plays for Manchester United, and it would be brutal to omit Conor Coady so close to Qatar.
In midfield, James Ward-Prowse has been selected recently for his set-piece expertise, but where and when will he be used at the World Cup? Promoting Aston Villa’s Jacob Ramsey, Liverpool’s Harvey Elliott or Everton’s Anthony Gordon from the under-21s would be a nod to the future as much as here and now. Of the three, Ramsey fits the necessary profile given the recent injury record of Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips. A midfield trio of Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham and Ramsey would bring athleticism, technical ability and excitement.
Up front, unless Ivan Toney impresses during the upcoming friendlies he will miss the final cut.
Most of the squad – from Jordan Pickford to Harry Kane – picks itself. There are perhaps only three or four spaces that invite debate. And Gareth Southgate is blessed in that he has a number of players like Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker and Bakayo Saka who are able to adapt to a variety of roles.
If the principal maxim is to pick on form, it seems impossible to find a place for Luke Shaw or Harry Maguire whose declines have been underscored by their lack of game time at their club. There is no more point picking them than there is selecting Dele Alli or Jesse Lingard, two other stalwarts of the last World Cup whose time has passed.
Unlike them, Eric Dier, however, is back to where he was in 2018, flourishing under the tutelage of Antonio Conte at Tottenham. Ben White is developing similarly at Arsenal under Mikel Arteta. Both are far more plausible picks than either of the Manchester United men.
Southgate is also fortunate in the quality of his midfielders, and any combination looks good as long as it involves Jude Bellingham. Variety is required in attack, which is why, as back-up to the obvious picks like Kane, Saka, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling, Ivan Toney should go just in case a bit of muscle is needed in the dying moments of a game. And I would send Marcus Rashford, simply because on form he is electric. And his form is returning.
International squad selection is a complicated business so I have tried to simplify it as much as possible by picking three goalkeepers and the two best players per position (in a 3-4-3 formation, as that seems to be the direction in which Gareth Southgate is heading).
That leaves three spots to be filled by “wildcard” players. The first of those is obvious enough: Mason Mount, who does not fit naturally into a 3-4-3 system but simply must be included for his versatility and all-round quality.
Southgate is clearly leaning towards the inclusion of more defenders, but 10 defensive players feels like plenty. Unfortunately, that means no place for the likes of Kieran Trippier (Trent Alexander-Arnold is included instead), Conor Coady or Fikayo Tomori (Eric Dier, Ben White and Marc Guehi get the nod).
England are short of quality in midfield and Liverpool’s Harvey Elliott could yet make a late run for the squad. Elliott certainly possesses the sort of technical skill in central areas that England are so often lacking in major tournaments.
The final spot is for an attacker, and you can take your pick from the likes of Jarrod Bowen, Ivan Toney, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho. I am going with Toney, largely because he offers a totally different option from the bench.
It is a close call between a revived, but currently injured Marcus Rashford and Ivan Toney in attack. The Brentford man has the edge as he is in the squad, but needs to impress during this international break or the door will be left ajar for Rashford.
Fikayo Tomori and Eric Dier push out Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings in the centre of defence, although I suspect Harry Maguire and John Stones will still be first choice again given Gareth Southgate’s loyalty to those who have impressed for England in the past.
Kieran Trippier is just ahead of Trent Alexander-Arnold as he can also play at left-back and the Liverpool player has had a slow start to the season. My wildcard choice is James Maddison returning to the fold. He has been in excellent form for Leicester and he scores and creates goals. Sources have indicated he has matured as a man, too. I suspect Southgate will prefer someone like James Ward-Prowse.
Trent Alexander-Arnold would be a wildcard selection but his quality going forward would be a risk worth taking if England are chasing matches where they need a gamechanger. It means Gareth Southgate would have four right-backs but Kieran Trippier can play on the left and Luke Shaw’s lack of game time at the moment means there is adequate back-up.
James Ward-Prowse is worth taking to Qatar for his set-pieces and his penalties, should that be needed later in the tournament.
Up front, Dominic Calvert-Lewin could make a late surge if he returns from injury but the pace of Marcus Rashford means only one back-up striker for Harry Kane is needed and Tammy Abraham is a player who Southgate has had faith in, even though Ivan Toney deserves his call-up.
Conor Coady would be a huge miss in terms of his positive presence around the camp but Eric Dier has to be there on form over the last year. Fikayo Tomori would also be unlucky to miss out. Jadon Sancho deserves a place in the squad for his performances this season and his pace would be a threat off the bench.
Have your say...
Our writers have picked their squads, now it's your turn. Use the team builder below to pick your England starting XI. For now, we are asking you to pick from Southgate's recent Nations League squad, plus any players or 'wild cards' our writers themselves have chosen: