Although Gareth Southgate won’t name his England squad for World Cup 2022 until October, you suspect these final weeks of the 2021/22 campaign will be vital for those with an interest in being included in the party.
It’s likely that Southgate will name a preliminary squad of maybe 26 players in the early going, although that will later need to be trimmed to 23 as is customary for the World Cup. And given that the likes of Harry Kane, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and John Stones are auto-picks barring injury, then it doesn’t leave a lot of wriggle-room for those on the fringes of the action.
The head coach will be looking for the right balance in his squad and for players in form that perhaps explains why Crystal Palace duo Marc Guehi and Tyrick Mitchell, and the prolific Tammy Abraham, have been included in his squad for the March internationals against Switzerland and the Ivory Coast.
But there’s still time for others to force their way into the reckoning, so which outliers and surprise picks could be named by Southgate in England’s World Cup 2022 squad?
It seems a near certainty that Jarrod Bowen would have been selected for the Three Lions’ friendlies in March but for injury.
The Hammers’ forward has suffered a broken bone in his foot, and given that’s the kind of injury that needs rest and slow-paced rehabilitation, Bowen may miss a good number of games much to David Moyes’ chagrin.
The 25-year-old has been involved in 16 Premier League goals this term (eight scored, eight assisted), the second-highest tally for an Englishman behind Kane and given that he’s also hit the woodwork on four occasions, Bowen might actually be the most productive English player in the division right now.
As per the excellent WhoScored’s rating system, Ivan Toney has been the 15th best player in the Premier League this term and the sixth best Englishman.
And when you look at the goals scored stats purely for domestic strikers in the Premier League, it makes for pleasing reading for the Brentford frontman:
- Harry Kane – 12
- Ivan Toney – 11
- Jamie Vardy – 10
- Raheem Sterling – 10
- Bukayo Saka – 9
- Emile Smith-Rowe – 9
Goals are worth their weight in gold in tight major tournaments, and the fact that Toney has been hitting the back of the net with regularity in a struggling Brentford side is all the more impressive.
Kane will lead the line, that’s a given, with possibly Abraham as his deputy. But strikers have the ability to make it impossible for managers to leave them out when they are scoring regularly, and so to some extent the ball is in Toney’s court for the next six months or so.
It feels like he has been around for an eternity, but Callum Hudson-Odoi is still only 21 years old.
Just as surprising is that he has only won three caps for England, and while he is in and out of the team at Stamford Bridge he does possesses one attribute that all World Cup managers crave in their limited squads, versatility.
Hudson-Odoi can play as a wing back in five-at-the-back systems or as an orthodox wide man in 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 set ups and that dual ability will surely keep him at the forefront of Southgate’s mind as he seeks to get the balance right.
The youngster rarely lets Thomas Tuchel down when he appears for Chelsea and indeed he ranks top-10 in the Premier League this term for Goal Creating Actions Per 90 Minutes, higher than the likes of Kane, Foden and Mason Mount.
You would be hard pressed to describe this as a golden generation of English central defenders.
The two mainstays of the Three Lions’ back five, John Stones and Harry Maguire are prone to the odd error, while the jury is out on whether Kyle Walker is a natural in the position.
Conor Coady isn’t playing Champions League football. There is no question you’d like as many of your international starting eleven as possible to be playing elite opposition regularly, while Eric Dier seems to have fallen out of favour with Southgate.
That’s one of the reasons why the head coach wants to take a look at Guehi and Ben White at close quarters, however he may just have overlooked another interesting option to shore up his backline.
Trevoh Chalobah has forced his way into a Chelsea team with the second-best defensive record in the top-flight, making 26 appearances at the time of writing.
What’s interesting about the 22-year-old is that he very much fits the bill for a modern centre back: he’s agile, athletic and comfortable on the ball, but he still ticks the boxes when it comes to physicality, winning headers and making clearances.
Southgate could pick as many as five central defenders in his World Cup 2022 squad and at this point it would be a surprise if Chalobah isn’t on the plane to Qatar.
If Chalobah is overlooked, there could be a vacancy for a fifth-choice central defender….at which point Max Kilman may become a possible curveball selection.
The 24-year-old’s story is fascinating. Born to a Russian father and Ukrainian mother, he played much of his football in non-league before Wolves snapped him up from Maidenhead United.
Andriy Shevchenko wanted to call him up to the Ukraine national team, but the FA refused, stating that his 25 caps for the country’s Futsal team meant he had committed to England.
That Futsal past confirms the technical abilities that Kilman has, but at 6ft 5in tall he is no shrinking violet either, no wonder Chelsea have been linked with a move for him.
Kilman is well established in a Wolves defence that has shipped the fourth lowest tally of Premier League goals this term and so he is an outsider with a real chance of a shock call up.
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