Plane or pain? 5 outside picks to make England's World Cup squad
We pick out the odds-against players who are worth backing to make it to Russia, and the ones who will be staying at home for the summer.
Five to back
Ruben Loftus-Cheek –
No England player has been more talked about than Loftus-Cheek over the past week, thanks to an assured performance on his debut against Germany.
The 21-year-old was England’s best player against the world champions, and has a rare combination of technique, strength and poise in the centre of midfield.
Southgate used these friendlies as an opportunity for young players to earn a regular place in the squad, and if he sticks to his convictions he’s got to pick Loftus-Cheek again in March.
Perform well again there, and he’ll surely be in Russia next summer.
Joe Gomez –
While Loftus-Cheek stood out against Germany, Gomez was England’s top performer against Brazil.
Matched up against Neymar, the defender didn’t quite shackle the PSG superstar, but he did subdue him, which is pretty good for a 20-year-old.
Southgate left out Chris Smalling for these friendlies because he wants defenders who can bring the ball out of a back three, and Gomez fits that role perfectly.
He’s in competition with Michael Keane and Harry Maguire for two places in the squad, and is worth backing at this price to win that battle.
Fabian Delph –
Assuming the injury that kept Delph out of the latest squad was a minor one, it seems the Manchester City midfielder is comfortable with his World Cup chances.
He probably should be, given that he’s playing regularly – and well – for the title favourites, even if it’s in a position he’s unlikely to occupy for England.
Having someone who can play both in midfield and at left wing-back in a 3-5-2 is a boost for Southgate, as it frees up a place in the squad for a more specialised player elsewhere.
That versatility should be enough to justify giving Delph a seat on the plane.
Nathaniel Chalobah –
It’s easy to forget about Chalobah, given that he’s been out with a knee injury since September and was therefore never mentioned when Southgate was attempting to call up every available midfielder for the last round of friendlies.
The 22-year-old is a favourite of the current England manager’s, however, having played regularly for him in the under-21s.
Chalobah captained England at the European Under-21 Championship in the summer and was picked for the senior side for the first time in August after a strong start to the season with Watford.
He’s ahead of players like Jake Livermore and Jack Cork when fully fit, and should earn a place in the squad providing he enjoys another run for his club side before the end of the season.
Luke Shaw –
Shaw obviously won’t be at the World Cup if he spends the rest of the season in Manchester United’s reserves.
With a loan move in January, though, he could receive his chance.
The left-back was called up by Southgate in March, despite starting once for his club in the five months prior.
If he finds his way to another club and gets fit, he’ll have an outside shot at getting in the squad, providing one or two of those ahead of him in the pecking order go down with injuries.
Five to avoid
Michael Keane –
Everton’s defensive problems haven’t reflected well on Keane this season, while other centre-halves have caught the eye more in the past couple of England matches.
Gomez and Maguire have both looked more comfortable in Southgate’s back three, and they’re certainly better value to go to the World Cup.
Danny Welbeck –
Welbeck’s a fine player who’s actually performed better for his country than his club over the past few years, but his injuries make him hard to back in this market.
He’s had persistent knee problems for a couple of years, and it’s hard to see how he fits into Southgate’s system even if he is fit.
Fraser Forster –
Forster was left out of the most recent squad as Southgate moved from four goalkeepers to three, and Jordan Pickford’s performance suggests that there will be no room for the Southampton shot-stopper any time soon.
His only real chance of making the squad is a Jack Butland injury.
Nathaniel Clyne –
Clyne’s out for three months after back surgery, and he’d need an excellent finish to the season to have any real chance of making it into the squad.
Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier are ahead of him at the moment.
Jermain Defoe –
Calling for Defoe to be in the England squad was fashionable while he was scoring for Sunderland, but the 35-year-old’s chances are slim now that the goals have dried up at Bournemouth.
Southgate’s emphasis on youth indicates that Tammy Abraham – younger and more prolific than Defoe so far this season – is a better bet if there’s an injury crisis up front.