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, especially with no warm-up matches now left.
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 and also to consider which players might make an impact from the bench.
My wildcard 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.
Harry Maguire’s lack of playing time for his club have become such a concern now that the debate should now centre around whether he makes the plane to Qatar, not over whether he starts. He has tournament experience, yes, but what good is there taking a player whose career has been in a trough for 12 months now?
Kalvin Phillips - who underwent successful shoulder surgery last week - will have to make way if the Manchester City midfielder does not prove his fitness before the tournament. England should move on from taking players to tournaments with big questions over their fitness.
Luke Shaw has edged ahead of Ben Chilwell for now, despite his lack of playing time for Manchester United. The likes of James Maddison, Harvey Elliott and Ivan Toney may offer something different from the bench. It is a surprise the likes of Toney, full of confidence with Brentford, and Fikayo Tomori, who has been in fine form for AC Milan and offers the pace England lack at centre-half, have not been given an opportunity in the build-up by Gareth Southgate. That feels like a valuable missed opportunity.
James Maddison’s form is surely too good to ignore? He has outperformed Jack Grealish this season and his creativity and enthusiasm would add another dimension to the squad. Of all the potential ‘wild cards’ pushing for a position, Maddison is the most compelling choice.
Barring more injuries or Gareth Southgate falling in love with another right-back, it is hard to imagine others breaking into the squad at this late stage. But there is a vacancy upfront, as demonstrated by Southgate taking a look at Ivan Toney during the last internationals.
Callum Wilson could have done no more to persuade Southgate he can deputise for Harry Kane. His injury record is against him, but the same can be said of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, whose recent return has seen his name pushed forward. Southgate knows if Kane is injured, England are in trouble. He may have to take a punt and go with gut instinct in his back-up striker options. Wilson has been on fire for Newcastle.
Assuming Kyle Walker will be fit enough to be a right-sided centre-back - 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 excelled at Everton, although Southgate will be loyal to Harry Maguire despite his issues at Manchester United.
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 able to adapt to a variety of roles.
The most significant issue the manager faces as the tournament grows ever closer is injury. The relentless programme of league and European matches has done him no favours. Reece James is already out, Bukayo Saka is looking doubtful and there were worried glances in the direction of Ben Chilwell as he left the Stamford Bridge pitch clutching his thigh after Chelsea’s final Champions League tie.
In James’s place I would draft in Conor Coady, renowned as a good tourist, excellent in training, a man likely to revive spirits even if unlikely to play. Harry Maguire’s return for Manchester United, while relatively comfortable, was too soon to see if he had recovered his formidable spirit. There remains scant evidence that he is any more worth picking than Dele Alli or Jesse Lingard, two other stalwarts of the last World Cup whose time has passed.
Unlike him 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, while Maguire’s Manchester United colleague Luke Shaw is looking better with every game under the smart stewardship of Erik ten Hag. Unfortunately for him, Milan’s Fikayo Tomori showed some worrying signs of fragility against his old club Chelsea in the Champions League, so Southgate might be advised to lean on Marc Guehi’s greater stability as a backup.
The manager remains 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. I would also send Marcus Rashford, simply because on form he is electric. And, as he demonstrated by netting his 100th Manchester United goal with a fearsome header against West Ham recently, his form is returning. As is that of Callum Wilson, who is showing at Newcastle what a canny finisher he is. Provided he stays fit.
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. With Reece James struggling to make it, I would take Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kyle Walker (assuming he is fit) as right-back options. Ben White is on the plane, too, after a sensational start to the season with Arsenal.
England are short of quality in midfield and Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek offers a level of versatility and physicality that could be extremely useful.
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. A few weeks ago, I was leaning towards Toney. Now, however, it seems that Rashford is returning to his best form.
The main changes to my original squad come in attack, with Callum Wilson playing himself into the squad ahead of Ivan Toney and Marcus Rashford coming in ahead of Tammy Abraham. Ultimately, the players in form should get the nod and the fact Southgate picked, but did not start Toney, in the last international get together doesn’t bode well for the Brentford man.
The injury problems at right back bring Trent Alexander-Arnold back into the squad with Reece James surely not able to prove his fitness before the tournament.
Southgate favourite Conor Coady also replaces Fikayo Tomori. James Maddison almost certainly won’t be a late bolter but he should be.
The number of changes made to my own selections shows the task Gareth Southgate has juggling injuries and getting the right balance heading to the World Cup. Kyle Walker and Reece James are not worth taking the risk in my opinion. They are likely to miss the start of the tournament even if they recover from their injuries quickly but should England reach the latter stages, the defenders that got them there should keep the shirt.
It is a slightly different scenario for Kalvin Phillips. His shoulder injury looks like it will heal and there is no other player like him at Southgate’s disposal. In defence there is a case for James Tarkowski to go, but he should have been getting friendlies during the last two years so throwing him in at Qatar is too much.
The 26-man squad means an extra centre-back can be taken and also an extra striker. Callum Wilson would be my wildcard. He scores all different types of goals and it does not matter if it comes off his shins or sweetly off his boot, he has that instinct of knowing how to get the ball on target. This squad would see Ben White on standby, along with James Ward-Prowse in midfield and Jadon Sancho among the forwards.
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: