In just 214 days time, the 17th edition of the UEFA European Championships will kick off in Munich.
Including hosts Germany, nine teams have already booked their tickets to the tournament, with 12 more set to join during this international break, before the last three spots are up for grabs in March’s play-offs.
England secure their place by beating Italy at Wembley last month, and conclude their qualification campaign with games against Malta at home and then North Macedonia in Skopje.
Victory in both fixtures will ensure the Three Lions’ are top seeds in the final tournament draw, scheduled for 2 December, thereby avoiding Germany, France, Portugal and other big-hitters in the group phase.
Gareth Southgate’s team will be in action just six times before their bid to win the Euros for the very first time gets underway in earnest, with Wembley friendlies against Brazil and Belgium scheduled for the new year.
With such little preparation time remaining, Southgate faces some tough decisions with, approximately, 53 players all in contention for a place in the squad.
This has not yet been confirmed, but for the purpose of this exercise, we’re assuming 26-man squads will be permitted, as was the case at Euro 2020 and the World Cup in Qatar.
As has been the case since his international debut in November 2017, Jordan Pickford remains England’s undisputed number one, taking his tally to 56 caps during this six-year period.
Ahead of the World Cup, there was some debate about this, given how well Aaron Ramsdale was playing for Arsenal, but he’s now bench-warming for his club, losing his place to David Raya.
After Sam Johnstone started England’s most-recently friendly, the 1-0 win over Australia, he also appears to have leapt above Ramsdale in the pecking order as number two.
That was the Crystal Palace’s shot-stoppers fourth appearances at international level and he’s yet to concede a goal, also enjoying clean sheets against Romania and Andorra twice.
As things stand, this trio appear set to be heading to Germany, with Nick Pope, despite his continued impressive form at Newcastle, not having been in camp since the World Cup.
Prediction: Jordan Pickford, Sam Johnstone & Aaron Ramsdale.
Ever since Jamie Carragher famously said “no one wants to grow up and be a Gary Neville” on Monday Night Football, England have produced all the full-backs, making this one of the most competitive areas of the squad.
Starting on the left, the two outstanding players are Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell, both of whom have long-term injuries.
Rico Henry, who was knocking on the door of the squad, is also out for the rest of the season, while Tyrick Mitchell hasn’t been called up since his debut against Switzerland in March 2022.
Levi Colwill made his debut at left-back against the Socceroos, having been deployed there by Mauricio Pochettino at club level, so will also feel he’s in contention.
Nevertheless, with no out-and-out left-backs in this squad, Kieran Trippier will start there, as he did last month, spilling over from the surplus of right-footed full-backs.
Candidates on the other side are Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James, who’s pulled out of this squad to focus on his fitness, which is fair enough given that he’s started just three times this season.
In his place, Rico Lewis has been called up for the first time, hoping to debut just before his 19th birthday.
Lewis has been ultra-impressive for Manchester City this season, but faces a real uphill battle to get in this squad, although the fact that many of those ahead of him in the queue are injury-prone could help his cause.
Walker and Trippier appear to be Southgate’s first-choice pairing for now, the latter a safer, more-reliably option on the left, with the expanded squad size likely to lead to an array of full-backs being chosen.
Prediction: Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier, Reece James, Ben Chilwell & Luke Shaw.
Centre-back is, almost inarguably, the weakest part of England’s squad, but this simply means places are up for grabs.
Fitness permitting, Harry Maguire and John Stones will be Southgate’s go-to partnership although Stones’ injury means someone else will get an opportunity in this camp.
Lewis Dunk has also withdrawn due to injury so the candidates are Marc Guéhi, Fikayo Tomori, the aforementioned Levi Colwill and Ezri Konsa, who’s been called up for the first time.
Guéhi is very much at the front of this queue, having started both September internationals, away to Ukraine and Scotland, before coming on for Stones on the hour mark during the victory over Italy.
Despite having won a Scudetto and played in a Champions League semi-final since moving to A.C. Milan, Fikayo Tomori has never really been given an opportunity by Southgate, currently on only four caps.
Thus, rightly or wrongly, he’s the most-obvious candidate to be cut from the squad, assuming everyone is fit come June.
Prediction: John Stones, Harry Maguire, Marc Guéhi, Levi Colwill & Lewis Dunk.
This is certainly the most contentious area of the England team, but let’s start with the positives shall we?
Jude Bellingham was been sensational since joining Real Madrid this summer, scoring 13 goals in 14 appearances, including a brace in el Clásico and a stoppage time winner.
For England, he was on target at Hampden in September, before oozing class and quality against Italy in October, he is a pleasure to witness, although a shoulder injury will prevent him from playing any part this month.
Meanwhile, Declan Rice has slotted in effortlessly at Arsenal since his own big-money move, making himself and Bellingham locks in the XI, with one spot up for grabs.
Kalvin Phillips is very much a Southgate favourite, chosen once again for the victory over Italy despite only ever seeing 808 minutes of action in a Man City shirt, his sole start this season coming in the EFL Cup.
Even more controversially is Jordan Henderson still getting picked, evidentially rewarded for his performances with Al-Ettifaq who are *quickly googles* seventh in the highly-prestigious Saudi Pro League.
Henderson was booed by the Wembley crowd when substituted against Australia, which was actually reassuring, emphasising how clued-up and socially conscious football supporters are becoming.
The former Liverpool captain is a hypocrite - after years of championing LGBTQ+ rights he decided to take Saudi money and he has to live with this choice - so should no longer be picked to represent his country.
The biggest loser of this situation is James Ward-Prowse, who hasn’t featured for the Three Lions since June 2022, despite being excellent for West Ham, and possessing the best set-piece delivery around.
Having been left out of the squad again, Ward-Prowse said he is “playing regularly” and “at a high level”, which felt like little digs at Phillips and Henderson, or perhaps I’m just reading into it too much, it’s impossible to know.
Conor Gallagher has been included in the current squad, so will be hoping for an opportunity to prove his worth.
Prediction: Jude Bellingham, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips & Jordan Henderson.
Attacking midfielders & wide-forward
This part of the England squad is absolutely stacked, with the Three Lions able to rival anyone in the world when it comes to attacking talent.
Jude Bellingham was deployed as the number 10 against Italy, and that should be his shirt from now until about Euro 2048, meaning everyone else is battling for the winger positions.
Bukayo Saka also seems a likely starter on the right, after bagging a sensational first international hat-trick when North Macedonia visited Old Trafford over the summer.
Although, Phil Foden isn’t a bad back-up, showing his class against Italy last time out.
On the other side, Marcus Rashford scored in that game, despite his underwhelming club form, while Jack Grealish and James Maddison (currently injured), have also been deployed there in recent fixtures.
All five of those players, fitness permitting, will be in the squad come next summer, but there’s still plenty of high-class options in contention.
Jarrod Bowen and Cole Palmer, who’s been called up for the first time, are in the current squad, while Eberechi Eze debuted in Malta in June.
Meanwhile, Mason Mount was an absolute dead-cert to be included not so long ago, but actually hasn’t featured since the World Cup quarter-final, with his move to Manchester United not going to plan so far.
Lastly, and most interestingly, Raheem Sterling hasn’t been called up since the World Cup either, which is a mystery.
Not so long ago, he was in first name on the team-sheet territory for Southgate, having scored 20 international goals, but continues to be emitted, despite being in impressive form for Chelsea.
There must be more to this than meets the eye, but we’re forecasting that Sterling will be able to force his way back into Southgate’s plans, even if he is firmly out of them right now.
Prediction: Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, James Maddison & Raheem Sterling.
If you’ve been keeping count, we’ve used up 24 of the 26 spots in our predicted squad, leaving just one place for a centre-forward not called Harry Kane.
We all knew Kane was good at Tottenham, but the 30-year-old has taken his game to another level at Bayern Munich, scoring 21 goals in 15 starts for the Bavarian giants, including a hat-trick in the recent Klassiker.
Earlier in 2023, he became England’s all-time top-scorer, breaking Wayne Rooney’s record by converting a penalty in Naples, subsequently scoring seven more times for his country.
So he will captain the Three Lions in Germany next summer, but the race to be the other striker chosen is very much on.
The candidates include: Ollie Watkins, Callum Wilson, Eddie Nketiah, Ivan Toney (all of whom have been capped in 2023), while Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Tammy Abraham are more long-shots at this point.
Right now, Watkins is in pole position, currently in the squad, having been on fire for Aston Villa this season, netting 11 times, whilst also bagging his third England goal against the Socceroos.
Nketiah, who’s still being courted by Ghana, made his debut in that friendly, while Wilson hasn’t been called up since the win in Malta, a match in which he actually scored, after he was the one chosen for the World Cup.
The real wildcard is Ivan Toney, who earned his first cap against Ukraine in March, before being banned for eight-months soon after for breaching FA betting regulations; he can return to action on 20 January.
If Toney hits the ground running with Brentford and is absolutely on fire, he may do enough to force his way into the squad.
Prediction: Harry Kane & Ollie Watkins.