This Thursday England manager Gareth Southgate names his squad for upcoming friendlies against Holland and Italy.
The squad will be the last one Southgate picks before the World Cup in the summer, so this is his last chance to try out new things or asses different players. But what problems does Southgate have and how will this affect who will be in his squad on Thursday?
What problems does Southgate have?
The biggest problem Southgate has, arose on Sunday, with Harry Kane going off injured for Tottenham Hotspur against Bournemouth. The striker, who has 35 goals this season has an expected ankle injury with the extent of it yet to be revealed by his club. There is still a big chance he will be fit enough for the World Cup, but he probably won't be fit enough for the friendlies. While Kane missing the friendlies doesn't sound like the biggest problem, injuries are an issue for him. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Nathaniel Chalobah, Fabian Delph, Phil Jones, and Joe Gomez; who have all been part of previous Southgate squads are injured as are squad regulars Nathaniel Clyne and Jordan Henderson. This means these players won't have a last time to impress Southgate and if there injuries are long term could affect his final squad for Russia.
Players not playing or starting will also be playing on the managers mind. Since Vincent Kompany's return from injury John Stones has not had a look in at Manchester City, while Joe Hart has only just won his place back at West Ham. Gary Cahill, one of England's most experienced players has also been left out by Chelsea of late. To add to this Luke Shaw has rarely played for Manchester United this season while his teammates Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, who have both had good seasons, don't get frequent starts with the formers game on Saturday being his first start since Boxing day. Meanwhile, Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier have suffered due to Spurs's full back rotation policy. Southgate said a few months back that he won't pick players who aren't playing, but a vast majority of his squad are not at the moment leaving him with a problem.
Finally, Southgate must address positions in the team which he could struggle to fill. The goalkeeping situation has been covered largely with the manager yet to name his number one out of a vast majority of players. Hart's form in the last 18 months suggest that he should be nowhere near starting, but as impressive as Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford have been this season, they only have seven caps between them compared to Hart's 75. Southgate must make his decision soon on who is number one is to establish them as the regular over these two friendly games and prepare them for the World Cup.
The striker position is also an issue. Even before Kane's injury the question was who could be the Three Lions fourth striker? Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford will probably be the other two to join Kane, but with previous regulars Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge not playing or scoring it leaves a gap in the team. This potential headache for Southgate will get bigger if Kane's injury does rule him out of the finals.
Which player could force their way into Thursday's squad?
Thursday's squad could feature players who have not been included before, as it is the last chance Southgate will have to see them. The name being talked about most is Fulham teenager Ryan Sessegnon. The 17 year old has scored 14 goals this season as well as contributing four assists. He is also capable of playing both on the left wing and at left back meaning he can offer versatility to the team. While he probably won't go to the World Cup (with Rose, Ashley Young, and Ryan Bertrand in his way), Sessegnon should be included in the squad for the games against the Dutch and Italy to help bed him in for when he eventually becomes a regular.
Burnley have had a great season sitting in seventh place in the Premier League. Sean Dyche's team were one of the favourites to be relegated this season, but have proven critics wrong. Two reasons for this are due to Nick Pope and James Tarkowski. Pope was given his chance when Tom Heaton picked up an injury earlier on in the season and has taken it with both hands, keeping ten clean sheets and making 89 saves this season. These are impressive stats and given that on paper he has had a better season than Hart, there is a chance he will feature in the friendlies and be one of the three keepers at the World Cup. Meanwhile, Tarkowski has replaced Michael Keane superbly in the Burnley defence and there is talk that he will replace Keane in the England squad. He is likely to be in the squad on Thursday and if he impresses he could be on the plane.
One player who won't feature on Thursday but could feature in Russia is Bayer Levekusen winger Leon Bailey. Bailey qualifies to play for the Three Lions due to his two grandparents having English passports. Bailey has also refused to pledge his international allegiance to Jamaica; and has been approached by Southgate and the FA. With nine goals and five assists this season he could be a crucial, as well as surprising, addition to the team.
What decisons would you make if you were Southgate? Let us know in the comments below!