Between now and June 18th, when England take to the pitch in Volgograd to battle Tunisia in the Group G opener, Gareth Southgate has four friendlies in which he has to confirm, in his own mind, the 23 men he will take to Russia for the summer spectacular.
The first two of those friendlies take place in the next week or so, with a trip to Amsterdam on Friday night to take on the Netherlands followed by a date with Italy at Wembley next Tuesday.
And Southgate has opened the door to a number of uncapped or unexpected players to gatecrash the party, including Nick Pope, Alfie Mawson, James Tarkowski and Lewis Cook, who will get a chance to impress the manager while on duty.
Intriguingly, Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill and Michael Keane have all been dropped from the squad; are their places on the plane secured, or are they out of favour?
Many of us will have already drawn up our own shortlist as to who we think should represent the Three Lions in the summer, and we can of course put our collective money where our mouths are thanks to the various ‘to make the England World Cup Squad’ markets that many betting firms are offering.
The odds available are generally a good guide as to who will make it – the bookmakers are rarely wrong, after all. A number of players are odds-on to book their place in Russia, while some of those at juicy odds-against prices should perhaps start planning their summer holidays elsewhere.
There is still time for outsiders to force their way into the reckoning, however, and those two upcoming friendlies will be the perfect place to start. So who’s on the plane, and who could yet earn themselves a ticket?
On the Plane
The players listed below are all heavily odds-on with the sportsbooks, and so are no-brainers in the squad assuming they stay free of injury.
The dead certs in goal appear to be Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford, and the will mostly battle it out for the number one jersey.
Southgate has tinkered with his shape in recent games and tried both four and five at the back, so there will be plenty of defenders on the flight to Russia. Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand are set to be among them.
In midfield you can ink in the names of Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard, while in attack Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Jamie Vardy are all but secured – the Leicester man’s price ranging from 1/33 with Bet365 to 1/5 with Unibet.
Assuming all of the above go, that would leave five spaces available for the rest.
Work To Do
One of those spots will be filled by a third goalkeeper, with Joe Hart (8/11) and Nick Pope (7/4) the most likely. Clearly at the prices Pope, who has acquitted himself with aplomb for Burnley this term, holds plenty of appeal.
The ‘definites’ list contains just two centre backs and potentially Eric Dier, and so Southgate will want to add some more faces here. According to the bookies, Phil Jones (4/5), Gary Cahill (5/4) and Joe Gomez (2/1) are the most likely candidates, although there will be plenty of punters steaming into Chris Smalling: as short as Evens in places, BetVictor have him priced at 5/1!
You’d expect one midfielder and an attacker to complete the set, and surely Jack Wilshere (4/6) has done enough this term to convince of his ability and fitness ahead of Jake Livermore (7/2) and Harry Winks (9/2).
Worryingly, the next best priced attacker on the list is Danny Welbeck (3/1), which suggests there is an opportunity there for somebody to force their way into the reckoning.
Is Callum Wilson worthy of an England call-up? Despite a catalogue of injuries he has notched seven league goals this term including strikes against Arsenal and Chelsea, and if he can more to his collection between now and the end of the season his odds of 12/1 to make the squad will look very handsome indeed.
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) November 19, 2017
Monitor how the likes of James Tarkowski (5/1), Alfie Mawson (13/2) and Lewis Cook (8/1) are used in these friendlies; a start could insinuate a place on the plane as Southgate takes a closer look.
Fans of curveballs could do worse than having a flutter on Leon Bailey (16/1). Who? Well, precisely, but the 20-year-old, who plays for Bayer Leverkusen and is very highly rated in the Bundesliga, has refused to pledge his allegiance to Jamaica. With English heritage, he could turn out for the Three Lions….has he the time to convince Southgate of his worth?