Gareth Southgate announces his latest England squad on Thursday and has hinted he may name more players than usual with the current injury crisis. Quite how he will do that with less players to choose from does defy logic, somewhat.
First-choice names Harry Kane, Danny Rose, Wayne Rooney (captain), Jordan Henderson (vice-captain), Jack Butland and Daniel Sturridge are all out injured and with the likes of Luke Shaw, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck all suffering from a lack of game time, Southgate could struggle to pad out that squad.
But with a friendly against Germany on March 22 followed by the World Cup qualifier at home to Lithuania to come, is it time for the manager to start looking at the next generation?
England are sitting pretty at the top of their World Cup qualifying group and look a fairly safe bet to make Russia 2018 – but with the national team’s recent history of turning in steamers on the big stage, the tried and trusted have failed.
The old guard is dead – long live the new guard.
So who should Southgate name? There are five players at the moment who are fit and undroppable: Kyle Walker, Joe Hart, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli. Get them in.
But there are five who need to be jettisoned for good and not called upon again: Jack Wilshere, Rooney, Phil Jagielka, Theo Walcott and Andros Townsend have had their day at international level and are either too injury prone or too inconsistent to cut it.
Players like Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Sturridge, Henderson and Kieran Gibbs are all jobbing players who trade on big name clubs rather than form. There are other players out there who could do the same who are younger and less affected by the culture of failure.
So here are a few names to mull over…
Sunderland keeper Jordan Pickford has been a lush oasis in a barren wasteland of misery for the Black Cats. If and when they go down, it is hard to see him plying his trade in the second tier.
He must be worth a place.
And looking at centre backs, the likes of Steve Cook (Bournemouth), Michael Keane (Burnley), Ben Gibson (Middlesbrough), Harry Maguire (Hull City) and Alfie Mawson (Swansea) are all impressing for struggling teams in the Premier League.
There might not be a place for all five of them but Keane and Cook look the real deal at the moment.
Then there’s the midfield where England are currently blessed with some great prospects: Everton duo Tom Davies and Ross Barkley, Leicester’s Demarai Gray, James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), the rejuvenated Tom Carroll (Swansea) and Michail Antonio (West Ham).
There is power and pace there – and goals – to rival anything Townsend, Walcott and Henderson can offer as well as a freshness and new direction.
Harry Winks of Tottenham could be brought in to train with the squad too.
With Rooney out of form (and injured), Kane out and so much uncertainty over the fitness of Sturridge and Welbeck, it’s time to try a few things out up front too.
Marcus Rashford must NOW be considered the long-term future while Jamie Vardy is also starting to run into good form at the right time. Their pace alone will frighten many defenders.
But a few other names to contemplate: Burnley’s Andre Gray is scoring goals for a struggling team, Nathan Redmond of Southampton might blow hot and cold but is a genuine talent while the likes of Troy Deeney (Watford) and Andy Carroll (West Ham) are centre forwards who love the physical aspect of the game and offer a plan B if you need to mix it up.
A fully-fit Carroll is a terrifying opponent while Deeney has earned the right to at least train with the squad regardless of doubts over his international “quality” – they are both happy going in where it hurts.
It’s time for change on the pitch – does Southgate have the appetite for it?
It all boils down to these players to provide the basis of England’s brave new world… and before you start frothing at the mouth with fury, just think about Iceland 2 England 1 and what the ‘old guard’ have actually achieved in the past eight years.
Jordan Pickford (Sunderland)
Steve Cook, Adam Smith (Bournemouth), Michael Keane (Burnley), Harry Maguire (Hull), Luke Shaw (Man United), Ben Gibson (Middlesbrough), Alfie Mawson (Swansea) and Aaron Cresswell (West Ham).
Tom Davies, Ross Barkley (Everton), Demari Gray (Leicester), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Tom Carroll (Swansea), Michail Antonio (West Ham).
Andre Gray (Burnley), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Nathan Redmond (Southampton), Troy Deeney (Watford), Andy Carroll (West Ham).