Euro 2020 is approaching rapidly and England manager Gareth Southgate has got some big decisions to make.
After a near glorious World Cup 2018, the Three Lions are no longer plucky underdogs, they’re chock full of talent and big things are being hoped for across a nation eager for an uplifting summer.
Three years ago in Russia, England fans fell back in love with a team which had cause so much frustration and heartbreak.
Captain Harry Kane is now one of the best centre-forwards the world has to offer, building on his Golden Boot in 2018 in both the white of Tottenham and his nation.
Across the team a number of superstars have also emerged to nudge the heroes of three years ago aside with Declan Rice, Mason Mount, Ben Chilwell, Phil Foden, and Jack Grealish among them.
But who are the nailed on stars, who are clinging on to their place, and who are fighting to prove they deserve to wear the Three Lions with pride in June – and hopefully July?
It’s a huge two weeks for England’s backup shot-stoppers.
We have three games without current no.1 Jordan Pickford and so one of Dean Henderson, Nick Pope, and Sam Johnstone could emerge as both the confirmed no.2 and also the main rival for the Everton star.
Errors in the Premier League have dented 30-cap ace Pickford’s reputation, but Southgate keeps backing his main man as the mistakes aren’t happening on the international stage, plus he’s probably still in his debt after the Colombia penalty shootout.
If we take a look at some Premier League stats, it’s Pope who comes out on top of this gang of four.
He’s kept the most clean sheets this season with nine, while Pickford (6) and Sam Johnstone (5) trail – but it should be noted Henderson has a higher percentage of shutouts, with four in just six league games for Manchester United.
Looking at things with a slightly more advanced metric, Pope is also coming out on top.
Using the post-shot expected goals metric, the Burnley ace has only conceded 32 goals despite data suggesting he might have let 37.1 slip by him, which is better than his rivals.
But Southgate does have to take into account the style of play he’s using and way his side defends, with Pope helped out by Burnley’s defensive solidity, while Pickford’s excellent distribution is a huge plus.
talkSPORT’s selection – Nick Pope, Jordan Pickford, Dean Henderson
This is the most settled area of Southgate’s squad but the re-emergence of John Stones this season has changed things slightly.
At right-back, only Reece James has come in to rival Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier, but Walker is also being used on the right in a back-three on international duty, but the decision to not call on either Aaron Wan-Bissaka or Trent Alexander-Arnold has surprised many.
Atletico Madrid ace Trippier, with his experience and his deadball delivery, appears to be the man keeping Alexander-Arnold out, while Wan-Bissaka may be considered not good enough in the final third for tournament football, despite being the best defender of the lot.
Left-back is another intriguing area with Luke Shaw in exceptional form and Ben Chilwell also doing well for Chelsea, and also able to play as a wing-back.
The duo, though, haven’t completed the full 90 minutes of an England match since 2015 and 2019, respectively. But they are currently the best choices for the job, while Matt Targett is someone who should at least be in the conversation.
When it comes to centre-back, once again some eyebrows were raised with the out-of-from Eric Dier picked ahead of Ezri Konsa, Lewis Dunk and James Tarkowski.
All three are having better seasons than Dier who has now been dropped by Jose Mourinho at Tottenham and was a member of the team who crashed out of the Europa League against Dinamo Zagreb.
But the core of Harry Maguire, Tyrone Mings, and Conor Coady seems smart, offering aerial ability, and decent skills with the ball on the deck, while the latter is perfect to slot into a back-three and act as a deep playmaker.
This leaves the Three Lions adaptable to their opponents and dangerous at attacking set-pieces.
talkSPORT’s selection – Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, Reece James, Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell, Harry Maguire, Tyrone Mings, and Conor Coady
Unlike the defence, Southgate’s midfield is set to be totally different with Jordan Henderson a possible injury worry, Dier now a defender, and Dele Alli not featuring for Spurs.
In qualifying for the tournament, Rice has nailed down his spot in the side. Chelsea’s Mount is also a clear favourite under Southgate, while Kalvin Phillips is challenging, along with James Ward-Prowse and Phil Foden. Jesse Lingard is certainly pushing hard for a late inclusion given his recent resurgence too.
Jude Bellingham’s precocious talents have been clearly noted, while Grealish and James Maddison are currently absent through injury.
Henderson, if fit, should be automatically selected given his role as a leader in the ranks, let alone his abilities, and versatility when it comes to midfield duties.
At a major tournament, you’re going to need to create chances, and three of the best in the division right now are Grealish, Mount, and Maddison,
The former creates 6.1 shots per 90 in the Premier League, while Mount (4.96) and Maddison (4.53) aren’t too far behind, but Foden only creates 3.56, however when it comes to creating goals, it’s Grealish and Foden who are the key players with the Villa man the best in the Premier League.
The former makes 0.91 goal creating actions per 90, while City ace Foden (0.81) isn’t far behind, with Maddison (0.61) and Mount (0.4) trailing, but the latter can be forgiven with his high work rate and the profligacy of Chelsea’s strikers.
Lingard certainly has a chance of being picked too but given the small sample size and the fact his burst back onto the scene has been so recent, he might be best left at home for the time being.
talkSPORT’s selection – Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips, Jordan Henderson, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Mason Mount
It would only be an injury that would keep England captain Kane out of the squad. His place – and start – is assured.
Raheem Sterling hasn’t had a vintage year in terms of goals or assists but his quality is undoubted and he remains key for Southgate, even as only a squad player, while Marcus Rashford is a shoo-in too.
This doesn’t leave much room in the 23-man squad, especially with Dominic Calvert-Lewin also looking likely to be Kane’s deputy up top.
That means just two more spaces with Jadon Sancho only missing out on this current group due to injury, he’s a big contender, along with Bukayo Saka who is now a right-wing regular for the improving Arsenal.
Ollie Watkins deservedly has his shot to impress across the next three matches, and also provides versatility having played wide and through the middle, but might find it hard to break into the 23 at this late stage.
talkSPORT’s selection – Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Bukayo Saka
You can hear England’s World Cup qualifiers with San Marino (Thursday) and Albania (Sunday) live on talkSPORT