Jack Wilshere, Ashley Young and Nick Pope are in; Joe Hart, Danny Rose and Danny Welbeck miss out: England World Cup squad predictions
Richard Jolly assesses who he thinks Gareth Southgate will be taking to Russia in the summer
The auditions could be over. Gareth Southgate may name his 23-man World Cup squad before England next play, against Nigeria on June 2.
He seems to have settled on a 3-5-2 formation, through 3-4-2-1 is a slight alternative, but decisions remain.
Southgate called up 27 players for the friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy, while name-checking the injured Harry Kane, Phil Jones, Fabian Delph and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
So 31 has to become 23. Eight have to be disappointed.
Southgate has two decisions to make: who is his first-choice goalkeeper and who is the third in line? Jordan Pickford should get the nod for the former. It is questionable if Joe Hart has the personality to be a back-up.
After two seasons of decline, his form does not merit a place in the squad, especially as Nick Pope has been outstanding for Burnley.
Pick: Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland, Nick Pope.
Southgate will play three and while Eric Dier and Kyle Walker are also able to slot in, should take five specialists. Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling can prepare for a summer off. With Joe Gomez a Southgate favourite, James Tarkowski, despite conceding a penalty against Italy, should edge out Alfie Mawson.
Pick: John Stones, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Joe Gomez, James Tarkowski.
It should be simple to select the right-sided duo. The left poses more problems. Danny Rose would have been first choice but has lost his place at Tottenham and is out of form. Those playing well should be preferred, which would cap Ashley Young’s remarkable transformation and renaissance. His ability to play on both flanks counts in his favour if Walker is used as a centre-back.
Pick: Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Ryan Bertrand, Ashley Young.
The most complicated of all, and partly because Southgate needs to have options to play in a deep duo or a trio with two box-to-box players. Jordan Henderson and Dier have long been certainties, along with Dele Alli, despite his lack of international goals.
Adam Lallana would have been a certainty had he made more than three starts in an injury-hit season but Southgate is unlikely to ignore his deft quality.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jesse Lingard, the match-winner against the Dutch on Friday, both impressed with their movement and running power in the last week and have to travel; they could be the starting No 8s, in the attacking central midfield roles.
That leaves one place in the squad. Jake Livermore, a Southgate favourite, just is not good enough, while the World Cup comes too soon for Lewis Cook, so the final pick could from an injury-prone group, whose fitness problems make each a risk and mean England probably cannot take two of them.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek was man of the match on debut against Germany while it is far from ideal that Fabio Delph has not played international football since 2015 or Jack Wilshere since Euro 2016.
Wilshere is the classiest passer of the trio and England lack a playmaker to knit the game together.
Pick: Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard, Adam Lallana.
Jamie Vardy illustrated his habit of scoring against elite opponents against Italy in the 1-1 draw.
Raheem Sterling has not struck for England since 2015 and, while he has been impressed at times as a second striker in the last two games, is better suited to a supporting role in a 3-4-2-1 system.
Unlike him, Danny Welbeck has a far better goalscoring record for his country than his clubs. Nevertheless, he has had an undistinguished campaign and there are four far more compelling options.
Pick: Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Jamie Vardy, Raheem Sterling.
Updated: March 28, 2018 11:02 AM