The 2022 World Cup is just months away and that means preparation is about to be stepped up a notch.
England fans, for once, will go into the tournament brimming with confidence after their last two wildly successful international campaigns.
A semi-final defeat at the hands of Croatia in the 2018 World Cup, followed by a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out loss to Italy in the final of Euro 2020 demonstrate clear progress – could they go one better in Qatar?
We certainly hope so. Although, assessing the abundance of attacking quality at national teams like Brazil and France paints a frightening picture for any rival.
In order to have a chance, England will need to achieve the level of defensive solidarity that permitted them to concede just two goals at the Euros, whilst also finding some added attacking spark at the other end.
First things first, though, let’s concentrate on the basics. Much has changed since the Three Lions last walked out at a major tournament after all.
Players have improved, form has declined, new options have become available. Are Harry Maguire and John Stones still England’s two banker centre-back options? Not quite…
10. Tyrone Mings
Standing 6ft 4inches from the ground, Mings is a physically imposing centre-back that can dominate many attackers on his day.
The Aston Villa man has also been capped by England 17 times and scored twice, demonstrating an obvious goal threat.
Although, a rather inconsistent season at club level has seen Mings miss out on Gareth Southgate’s most recent England squad, despite being a mainstay since his first inclusion in 2019.
9. Conor Coady
Now aged 29, it seems Coady has been steadily developing as a footballer year on year.
He certainly isn’t the most flashy of modern central defenders, but he’s been the leader in a Wolves team that makes its living from being defensively compact.
Probably not a starter, however a shout to be included in the squad as a back-up option.
8. Joe Gomez
Gomez is a player that has the potential to be a leader for England in the future. The issue for him, quite honestly, is that he can’t get enough game time at Liverpool to reach his full potential.
A move to another top-half Premier League team would be ideal in helping him step out from the shadows of Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate.
Because one thing’s for sure, still just 25, Gomez could be world class.
7. Harry Maguire
Some will totally refute the suggestion that Maguire could fall so far down the pecking order given his strong performances at the last World Cup and Euros – Southgate certainly would.
But there’s no room for sentiment in elite football. Maguire’s form hasn’t just dipped, it’s disintegrated.
Based solely on recent performances the United captain wouldn’t be getting near the England team, so until he recovers from this slump in his career, unfortunately, he shouldn’t be considered for a starting role for us.
That’s just the name of the game, it’s a competitive industry. Although, should his form return to him at the start of new Premier League season, we would be all for Maguire making the trip to Doha.
6. Marc Guehi
The 21-year-old has enjoyed an impressive debut season at Crystal Palace and he’s comfortably been one of the form defenders in the league.
Consequently, he got his call up by Southgate for the March internationals and impressed with his overall level of play.
Could be a wildcard option.
5. Ben White
White could be a real candidate to start the first game in Qatar. His form has been on an upward trajectory after initially finding it difficult when he first arrived at Arsenal for a whopping £52 million fee.
He’s only been capped four times by England so far, however the Nations League fixtures should provide ample opportunity for that to change.
Let’s hope Southgate gives him plenty of game time between now and November.
4. Reece James
Thomas Tuchel has successfully utilised James as the furthest right of a trio of central defenders on numerous occasions throughout this season.
Now, we know Southgate’s pragmatism won’t allow him to change from his back-five (or back-three, whatever you want to call it) so we feel including James is a perfectly suitable suggestion.
The Chelsea man has enjoyed a tremendous 2021/2022 season and to have him in the squad would be a massive bonus. Not to mention playing him or Kyle Walker in this role makes room for Trent Alexander-Arnold to add some much needed creativity from the full-back position.
3. Kyle Walker
Take your pick and swap either Walker or James around as you like. If Southgate insists on using three central defenders, we would simply put one of these two as the very right selection.
Their inclusion brings that added bit of pace and power to track back should England need it.
In truth, it’s tough to split them for this role, but Walker gets the nod due to his added international experience.
2. Fikayo Tomori
Tomori has enjoyed his best season yet in northern Italy and has been instrumental in AC Milan winning their first Scudetto in over a decade.
He’s become the latest addition in a fast-growing club of English top-six rejects that have found themselves in European football.
Tomori and Pierre Kalulu have been the central cogs in a watertight Milan rear-guard that conceded just twice in their last 11 matches on route to securing the Serie A title.
If we’re looking at performance over the past twelve months, Tomori ought to be the first pick of the bunch, but he misses out due to having only appeared twice for England before.
After being excluded from Southgate’s last squad to ‘ensure continuity’, this time he has made the cut. So keep your eye out for him.
1. John Stones
It’s actually difficult to put Stones ahead of Tomori as well, but unlike Maguire, he has maintained a decent level of form for Man City this term.
The real issue is that he’s only played 14 Premier League games. Sure, there has been the odd injury involved, but for the most part it’s the quality of Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte that make him second fiddle.
Of course, they’re both exceptional defenders, so whilst not ideal, that can be forgiven. Stones also been capped 55 times by the Three Lions now which makes him an experienced head in the dressing room and out on the field.
His form at the last two major tournaments has been exemplary and so, all things considered, Stones is our first choice selection for the moment.