England report card: World Cup squad state of play after Nations League shocker

England report card: World Cup squad state of play after Nations League shocker

England now have just two matches left before their World Cup opener against Iran in November and a disastrous run of form during this month’s Nations League matches has left Gareth Southgate with more questions than answers over his squad.

It is difficult to make firm predictions over the makeup of that party since Fifa are yet to even confirm its size, with Uefa having allowed enlarged 26-man squads at Euro 2020 last summer following the post-Covid fixture pileup.

But zero wins - and zero goals from open play - over four games, including a worst home defeat in almost a century - certainly gives food for thought.

Here, Standard Sport runs the rule over the players who featured for England this month and those still hoping to break in.

 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

Goalkeepers

Jordan Pickford

Question marks over his place put to bed by strong end to club season. Place in Qatar is assured and No1 jersey almost as secure.

Aaron Ramsdale

Given the second half of this break to impress and drew praise from Southgate after performance against Italy. Hard to be blamed for any of the four shipped against Hungary and now established as No2.

Nick Pope

Only member of squad not to play a minute over the past fortnight but still seems likeliest to reprise No3 role from 2018 World Cup.

Kyle Walker looked all at sea against Hungary. (REUTERS)
Kyle Walker looked all at sea against Hungary. (REUTERS)

Defenders

Kyle Walker

Certain to make the squad but did not have a good break, terrorised by Jamal Musiala in Germany and poor against Hungary. Best use looks to be in a back three.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Used as a wing-back in first game against Hungary, then left camp early as agreed after Champions League final efforts. Southgate is running out of time to unlock his talent before Qatar but has to be on plane.

Reece James

Gave away penalty within minutes of coming on as a sub against Hungary but probably did most of the many right-backs to push his case. Perhaps favourite to start World Cup opener now.

Kieran Trippier

Injuries meant he was deployed as makeshift left-back but England need a specialist in that position and with James also capable of covering case for inclusion is dwindling, for all he is rated by Southgate.

James Justin

Debut was cruelly ended by injury and not fit enough to feature again. Seems unlikely to be back in September if Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell are fit.

John Stones

Had a real night to forget against Hungary at Molineux but given Harry Maguire’s form, is currently Southgate’s most reliable senior centre-back.

Harry Maguire

Show of faith from Southgate to start him in three successive matches. Still looked woefully out of form but hammering against Hungary came without him in the team. Seems a cert but desperately needs to come back from break reborn under Erik ten Hag.

Fikayo Tomori

Arrived at camp injured, which is a shame as deserved more of a chance to impress after superb season at AC Milan. Worth a start in one of two September games.

Marc Guehi

Similar story to Tomori, though his one outing from the start was a chastening one. Looks to have a big part to play going forward but easy to see how his chance may not come until after Qatar.

Conor Coady

Started first game but did not feature again, even with last two matches played at Wolves’ home ground. Has a reputation as a good tourist after not playing a minute at Euro 2020 but the emergences of Guehi, Tomori and Ben White mean that will not be enough to justify his place in Qatar.

Declan Rice’s performance stood out. (Getty Images)
Declan Rice’s performance stood out. (Getty Images)

Midfielders

Declan Rice

Perhaps had the best fortnight of any England player. Performances levels across the season have been remarkable and midfield fell apart in his absence against Hungary. Second name on teamsheet, after Kane.

Kalvin Phillips

A fortnight that summed up his season, with niggles and setbacks denying him any rhythm or chance to reform partnership with Rice. Seems safe but must find form and fitness quickly at start of next season.

Jude Bellingham

Another of the few who emerged with reputation enhanced. Adds drive with ability to win ball high up pitch and partnership with Rice looked promising at times.

Conor Gallagher

Was the last outfield player handed an opportunity bar the Covid-ridden Foden, which hints at his current standing. Faces crucial decision over club future but as things stand may need injuries to make plane. Not an obvious role for him in Southgate’s systems either.

James Ward-Prowse

Did okay against Italy but was trimmed from final squad on eve of Euro 2020 and hard to see how he forces a way into this one either. As he said himself, England have lots of good set-piece takers.

Mason Mount

Showed flashes in No10 role against Italy after disappointing in Budapest. Comes in for plenty of flack but is another Southgate favourite and seems a very likely starter in Qatar.

Harry Kane and Tammy Abraham. (AFP via Getty Images)
Harry Kane and Tammy Abraham. (AFP via Getty Images)

Forwards

Bukayo Saka

Looked as tired as anyone at the end of the club season and well below his best in an England shirt, too, though hardly alone in that. Will go to Qatar as a forward but Southgate’s willingness to use him as wing-back could open up options if squad limited at 23.

Phil Foden

Didn’t feature until late cameo against Hungary after a bout of Covid but emerged from break as one of the winners as rivals underperformed and Southgate cited his absence as a key factor in poor displays.

Jarrod Bowen

Started with a bright performance in Hungary on debut but ended with a poor showing in reverse fixture and was dragged at half-time. May not have done enough in competitive area of pitch but deserves another crack.

Jack Grealish

Best performance came off bench in Germany as he sparked England’s most threatening passage of entire fortnight. Best use in Qatar may be as impact sub - and there is no shame in that.

Raheem Sterling

Another of Southgate’s trusted lieutenants, though he, too, failed to live up to recent high standards in England shirt. Has credit in the bank from last summer, though, and will start in Qatar.

Tammy Abraham

Fluffed his lines against Italy but should really have been given more playing time. Remains in the box seat to be Kane understudy but vulnerable.

Harry Kane

His 50th England goal was the only moment of cheer across four matches. May have to wait until Qatar to break Wayne Rooney’s record now and if these games are anything to go by, will have to go some way past it if England are to lift World Cup.

Ben White likely benefited from not being involved. (The FA via Getty Images)
Ben White likely benefited from not being involved. (The FA via Getty Images)

The rest

Sam Johnstone and Dean Henderson could both be on the move this summer and may put pressure on Pope for third ‘keeper spot if starting the season well with new clubs.

At least one and maybe both of Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell will surely go to the World Cup if fit. The fact that Southgate did not turn to Tyrick Mitchell in their absences this month suggests he is unlikely to make the cut.

Ben White withdrew through injury after initially being picked. His ability to play through the lines could come into effect should he feature in September’s games, though his chances of going to Qatar may depend on the size and balance of squad. Tyrone Mings has fallen out of favour, with Eric Dier a more reliable option should Southgate need to look beyond those originally named in this squad. Joe Gomez has the potential to contend but cannot get a game in his preferred position at Liverpool.

Jordan Henderson was rested for these matches and will return in September, with his leadership having been missed. Emile Smith Rowe impressed dropping back to the U21s and may be worth a recall if starting the season well with Arsenal, though he is another who needs injuries to make the cut. It appears too late in the day for James Maddison, who Southgate clearly does not fancy.

The England boss says Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho “have a lot to do” to make the plane, though it is not hard to see either being reborn under Ten Hag and their rivals did not streak clear during this break.

Up front, any one of a handful of strikers - Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ollie Watkins, even Callum Wilson - will feel they still have a chance of playing second fiddle to Kane should they hit the ground running in August.