You would have thought that March’s friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy would have confirmed to Gareth Southgate the shortlist of names he wants to take to Russia for the World Cup this summer.
But there are still four weeks of the domestic campaign to go, and you just know that there is still plenty of opportunity for a few surprises and shock names to force their way into the reckoning.
The bookmakers have set their odds live for the ‘to make England squad’ market, and while a number of certainties can already pack their bags for Russia – Raheem Sterling is as short as 1/33, for example – there are still some outsiders at juicy prices that punters might just feel are worth backing.
Here are five such examples:
Nick Pope (2/1)
He might not be considered an ‘outsider’, but at 2/1 Nick Pope represents outstanding value.
By the laws of elimination, we know that England will take three goalkeepers to the World Cup. Jordan Pickford will be one and Jack Butland will be another, which leaves one space spare. Pope and Joe Hart will battle it out for the last seat on the plane.
It would be fair to say that Hart doesn’t have the same lofty reputation as he used to; indeed, he appears to be a liability at times for West Ham.
Pope, on the other hand, has enjoyed a fantastic breakthrough campaign at Burnley, and Southgate watched on as the keeper produced a man-of-the-match performance for the Clarets against Leicester last time out.
He looks to be a dead cert, barring injury.
Jonjo Shelvey (3/1)
He’s an enigma, is Jonjo Shelvey. In the past his lack of discipline on the field has resulted in numerous early baths and cemented the belief that he simply cannot be trusted in an England squad at a big tournament when so much is on the line.
But the midfielder has stuck to his guns and been an integral part in Newcastle’s revival: their haul of 17 points from their last eight Premier League games is bettered by just five teams.
Shelvey is on record thanking Rafa Benitez and a sports psychologist for his upturn in fortunes, and if the mental aspect of his game is on point that is eye-catching indeed, because his physical game – including that sublime rage of passing – cannot be denied.
There are doubts over the fitness of Adam Lallana and Jack Wilshere, while the likes of Lewis Cook and Jake Livermore are arguably less convincing than the Newcastle man. You could place lots of worse bets and many at lower odds than 3/1, put it that way.
Chris Smalling (5/1)
Manchester United have the second best defensive record in the Premier League, and Chris Smalling has been an integral part of that backline.
With Gareth Southgate seeming to favour a system that incorporates three central defenders, Smalling should really be in the mix ahead of some others – such as Gary Cahill – who have endured below-par campaigns.
The manager continues to favour those who can play out from the back, which is a noble sentiment it has to be said.
Ultimately, though, defenders defend and you wonder if Smalling’s big match experience might be preferable to the likes of James Tarkowski; supremely talented, but naïve on the big stage.
Ryan Sessegnon (12/1)
The way England set up against the Netherlands last month, you can see that Southgate wants pace in his side.
The likes of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford look likely to be on the plane because they can induce a change of pace in an instant; key to the manager’s modern concept out on the pitch.
He may be plying his trade in the Championship for Fulham, but Ryan Sessegnon is cut from a similar cloth, and his natural left-footedness could give Southgate a different option.
He’s contributed 14 goals and six assists for the Cottagers this term, and his versatility – Sessegnon can play on the left in attack or at wing back – will surely appeal.
Yes he’s green, and yes he’s inexperienced, but that didn’t stop a number of Southgate’s predecessors picking youngsters in their squads; Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott turned out to be half decent, didn’t they!
James Ward-Prowse (12/1)
Southgate called up Lewis Cook for the Italy friendly last month, but only gave the Bournemouth man 20 minutes at the end to try and assert himself on the game.
Perhaps the manager isn’t wholly convinced, and if that is the case then surely he would be better placed to select a midfield option that offers something different.
James Ward-Prowse shines in a poor Southampton side, and while he would struggle to force is way into the starting eleven he would still be an appealing option off the bench for the Three Lions; his set piece delivery is exceptional, and if we are chasing a game then he would be a canny addition.
Southgate handed Ward-Prowse his first under-21s cap, and made him captain for the successful Toulon Tournament campaign in 2016. These two have previous….