It is a World Cup year but you wouldn’t really know it. We’re effectively in December of a ‘normal’ season, seven months out of the biggest tournament in sport.
Usually the anticipation is beginning to ramp up, but we’ve still got a completely different season to start and so that buzz is not quite there yet. The decision to have it in Qatar is what it is and the reasons behind that will continue to be debated. It has all led to a bizarre run-up.
For Gareth Southgate, though, it all feels quite serene. The team is relatively consistent, the group he picks from is much like a club squad. They all look at ease with each other and it is noticeable that players speak of the enjoyment attached to going away with their country now.
Expectations are rising, definitely more than in 2018 given what has happened since, even allowing for favorite draws along the way.
In my era, we expected to win it just because of the caliber of players we had. But we never really proved that we could get close in reality. This team is equipped.
Gareth Southgate should fear no one at the upcoming World Cup with England’s squad depth
The 2022 Qatar World Cup draw was made on Friday in Doha ahead of this winter’s tournament
Iran, the United States and Wales, Scotland or Ukraine represents a comfortable group stage. England should breeze through and will not be scared of anybody. France are the only really menacing opposition. You’d prefer to avoid them and it’s not ideal that a worst-case scenario could see us play them in the quarter-finals. Let’s not think about that.
Who goes? Who is on the plane if it was taking off tomorrow? Interestingly, I’ve seen Southgate suggest over the weekend that he might not take the full 26 if that is voted through. I’m coming in off a long run to pick my squad here and have opted for 24.
With the goalkeepers it’s three from four. I’d take Jordan Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale and then Nick Pope over Dean Henderson. One of Pickford or Pope could suffer relegation this season but I would not have any qualms taking them to Qatar, even if they remained in the Championship. I’ve worked closely with Pope and he’s a top-quality goalkeeper.
Goalkeepers Nick Pope (left) and Dean Henderson could battle it out for the third-choice spot
It’s so tricky to pick a first choice. I’d be tempted to give Ramsdale the gloves – he’s had a terrific season at Arsenal and its distribution is good. But Pickford has never let England down so just edges it.
Harry Maguire has never let England down either and could benefit from England persisting with a back three. I’d go with Kyle Walker on the right of that three personally. It allows us to choose the best trio of right backs as well, with both Reece James and Trent Alexander-Arnold allotted places on Crouch Tours. All three are versatile and there are few better in world football.
That set-up offers a bit of extra protection. Conor Coady – a super professional to have in a dressing room – goes ahead of Tyrone Mings. Ben White is a potential pick but can we get away with only taking three center-backs if we use Walker there? It frees an extra spot further up the pitch. The left backs pick themselves, Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell.
You will find that some players produce for England when you don’t expect it, namely me! Danny Welbeck was the same, as was Owen Hargreaves in 2006.
In this current group, Shaw, Maguire and Raheem Sterling have shown that when suffering poor form for their clubs. A certain player just thrives with the national shirt on.
It would be a huge shock if Jude Bellingham does not prosper. The way it’s going, he probably starts alongside Declan Rice, although that spot is up for grabs as Kalvin Phillips will push hard.
We should not be afraid to nudge Rice further forward as he is so much more than a holder. He can be England’s Steven Gerrard, he’s got enough about him. I rate him so highly, he is top class. We underestimate what he can do.
Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice could be England’s midfield duo for the World Cup
Then the forwards and some hard, tough choices ahead there. The biggest is Harry Kane’s understudy. Tammy Abraham is a shout, a possible wildcard given what he has produced at Roma, as is Ollie Watkins.
You only need one of those guys behind Kane to offer something different to the rest. But Dominic Calvert-Lewin edges this presently as he loves to attack the sort of crosses our wide men whip in.
As we sit here now I would also choose Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, on reputation more than anything and a lack of options beneath them.
Man United duo Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho now find themselves on the peripheries
If Emile Smith Rowe is banging them in at Arsenal next season he goes ahead of them, but beyond that there is not quite the depth.
I don’t see many players forcing their way into Southgate’s plans. James Maddison has a shout, but maybe it’s either him or Jack Grealish. Jacob Ramsey is thriving with Aston Villa and the Under 21s and Liverpool’s Harvey Elliott is another.
But it’s a little too soon for them. It’s going to take something really special to muscle in from here.
PETER CROUCH’S 24-MAN ENGLAND SQUAD
ON THE PLANE
Goalkeepers: Aaron Ramsdale, Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope;
Defenders: Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Conor Coady, Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell;
Midfielders: Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips, Jude Bellingham, Jordan Henderson, Mason Mount;
Forwards: Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho
THE EXTRA TWO
Emile Smith Rowe
Klopp forging a huge legacy at Liverpool
I sat down for an interview with Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool’s new training ground on Friday. It was the first time I’d been and it looks frighteningly good.
Jurgen was telling me it has the best restaurant in the North West – it was a shame I didn’t sample it as I had to be out pretty sharpish.
The manager was great with his time, good company. I asked him about his legacy, because that really struck me when I was there.
His name is prominent among legends on the walls and rightly so, because of what he has built.
What a huge change there has been at Liverpool under him. Think about where they were before his arrival.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is leaving a legacy to be remembered at the Merseyside club
You can’t have different rules for elite clubs
So, the FA Cup winners could earn a Champions League spot in the future? Excellent news, that’s exciting. Oh, only if they are deemed a big club? Absolutely ridiculous. Honestly, that is ridiculous.
It’s based on UEFA coefficients – no snoring at the back, please – so our top six have qualifying as a carrot when playing in the FA Cup, but nobody else. The only way your coefficient can improve is if you play in UEFA competition! This has vibes of the doomed Super League.
I think this demeans the trophy. Arsenal would have sneaked into the Champions League in 2020 but Wigan Athletic wouldn’t have in 2013. You can’t have different rules for different clubs.
UEFA’s latest coefficient rules mean that ‘big clubs’ have an easier chance of qualifying