After months of anticipation, in exactly four weeks time England will be playing their opening game at the Qatar World Cup against Iran.
Debates over which players should – and should not – be included in Gareth Southgate’s squad have been inescapable in recent weeks but those discussions will soon be coming to an end.
This week, the England boss handed FIFA a 55-man long list of players who could feature in Qatar, but it will not be published and the individuals concerned have not been told and neither have their clubs.
Will James Maddison be rewarded for his tremendous club form at Leicester? Can Harry Maguire be assured that his position is safe despite limited game-time at Manchester United? And how will Southgate circumnavigate his growing full-back issues?
With near enough everyone being left in the dark over Southgate’s decisions, Sportsmail looks at the most likely candidates to have made the Three Lions’ 55-man provisional squad.
Gareth Southgate has refused to reveal who is on his 55-man provisional World Cup squad
England are just four weeks away from their group stage opener against Iran in Qatar
There’s been plenty of discourse over who deserves England’s starting spot in goal for the opening game against Iran – and which shot-stoppers should be in Qatar at all.
The obvious candidates are Everton’s Jordan Pickford, Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale and Newcastle’s Nick Pope – after all three have put in respectable performances this season.
There’s an outside shout for Nottingham Forest’s Dean Henderson, who was part of England’s Nations League squad for games against Germany and Italy. He was also part of the squad that Southgate took to Euro 2020.
Meanwhile, Crystal Palace’s Sam Johnstone remains the rogue shout – given he’s yet to appear for the Eagles this season. However, he may still be in Southgate’s mind seeing as he was included in the squad for the World Cup qualifiers last season.
SPORTSMAIL’S PREDICTION: Nick Pope (Newcastle), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal), Dean Henderson (Nottingham Forest), Sam Johnstone (Crystal Palace)
Jordan Pickford has been Gareth Southgate’s go-to goalkeeper for previous tournaments
Nick Pope (left) and Aaron Ramsdale will contend for a starting position against Pickford
Decisions over the back-line have troubled Southgate in the build-up to the competition – with a number of his guaranteed picks getting injured recently.
It’s left only a few names as definite inclusions for England’s World Cup squad. John Stones, Eric Dier, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Kieran Trippier, Ben Chilwell and Trent Alexander-Arnold can all rest assured that their positions are secure.
But England will need to bring depth in the centre-back position – with Southgate favouring a three-at-the-back system – so it’s likely a combination out of Fikayo Tomori, Joe Gomez, Conor Coady and Ben White will also be included.
The injury concerns for Southgate lie in full-back duo Kyle Walker and Reece James. Both players have sustained serious injuries in recent weeks and have been cast as doubts for the World Cup.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (L) and Harry Maguire are likely to be featured in the provisional squad
Kyle Walker (L) and Reece James are both injury doubts for the World Cup given their injuries
But with their return dates scheduled in the middle of the tournament, there is still a chance that Southgate will take them in case they’re available for the latter stages.
There’s a number of defenders who stand an outside chance of making the 55-man long-list such as James Tarkowski, Tyrone Mings, Marc Guehi, Ryan Sessegnon and Trevoh Chalobah. However, the latter two have never made a first-team England appearance.
There’s even a possibility that former Man United star Chris Smalling gets included – despite the fact he’s not been capped since 2017. Recently, his Roma boss Jose Mourinho said: ‘If I were the coach of a national team, I would do anything to have someone like him’.
SPORTSMAIL’S PREDICTION: John Stones (Man City), Kyle Walker (Man City), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Man United), Reece James (Chelsea), Luke Shaw (Man United), Eric Dier (Spurs), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Conor Coady (Everton), Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Ben White (Arsenal), James Justin (Leicester), Tyrick Mitchell (Crystal Palace), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Trevoh Chalobah (Chelsea), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Ryan Sessegnon (Spurs), James Tarkowski (Everton), Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa), Dan Burn (Newcastle) and Chris Smalling (Roma).
Everton’s James Tarkowski has featured in every game for the Tofffees so far this season
Trevoh Chalobah is an outside shout given his impressive performances for Chelsea
Perhaps the area on the pitch that will provide Southgate with the fewest selection dilemmas ahead of the game at the Khalifa International stadium.
The usual stars, such as Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson, Jude Bellingham, Mason Mount and James Ward-Prowse, will all be expecting to be on the plane to Qatar next month.
Unfortunately, Rice’s typical partner in midfielder – Kalvin Phillips – faces a race to be fit in time for the competition having sustained a shoulder injury in August. Should his recovery time line up with the tournament’s ongoing, he could be on the plane.
Creative trio Conor Gallagher, James Maddison and Eberechi Eze have all been in terrific club form and will more than likely be included in the provisional list.
Declan Rice (R) may be without midfield partner Kalvin Phillips when the World Cup starts
Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze looks set to finally earn his senior England call-up in Qatar
A number of youngsters will also be hopeful they’re names are on the 55-man list including Liverpool duo Harvey Elliot and Curtis Jones. The two starlets have been thrown into the first-team mix at club level and could soon repeat that for England.
Some of England’s other youth products being tipped for a spot are Jacob Ramsey, Anthony Gordon and Carney Chukwuemeka – though the latter’s chances seem slighter than the rest.
There’ve also been calls for Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek to feature in the provisional squad given his run in the Blues’ starting eleven in recent weeks.
SPORTSMAIL’S PREDICTION: Declan Rice (West Ham), Jude Bellingham (Dortmund), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Kalvin Phillips (Man City), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Harvey Elliott (Liverpool), Ebere Eze (Crystal Palace), Anthony Gordon (Everton), James Maddison (Leicester), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Jacob Ramsey (Aston Villa), Curtis Jones (Liverpool).
James Maddison will likely be included given his impressive form form Leicester this season
With a number of England’s attackers knowing their place in Qatar is guaranteed, the final third has proved to be the most stable aspect of the Three Lions squad.
The likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish have proved themselves un-droppable and will know that their places are safe.
Kane, Foden and Saka have been tremendous for their respective clubs this season while Sterling and Grealish will provide some much needed experience at the tournament.
West Ham winger Jarrod Bowen, who only made his international debut in June, will also be expected to be part of the provisional squad.
Strikers Ivan Toney, Tammy Abraham, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Callum Wilson will all be vying for the understudy role to captain Kane and will presumably all be included in the 55-man long-list.
Harry Kane will be looking to collect his second World Cup golden boot at the tournament
Tammy Abraham (L) and Ivan Toney will be battling it out for a spot in England’s squad
Following their recent run in good form, there have also been calls for Man United duo Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho to be reinstated into the squad.
The pair infamously missed consecutive penalties in England’s Euro 2020 final shootout with Italy and given the fact they were both omitted from the recent Nations League squad, their hopes are dwindling.
In terms of the more rogue shouts, Brighton’s Danny Welbeck and Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah – who lie on opposite ends of the age spectrum – have both been suggested to feature on Southgate’s 55-man list.
SPORTSMAIL’S PREDICTION: Harry Kane (Spurs), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Phil Foden (Man City), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Jack Grealish (Man City), Tammy Abraham (Roma), Jarrod Bowen (West Ham), Ivan Toney (Brentford), Marcus Rashford (Man United), Jadon Sancho (Man United), Callum Wilson (Newcastle), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Danny Welbeck (Brighton)
Man United duo Jadon Sancho (L) and Marcus Rashford could feature on the 55-man long-list
SPORTSMAIL’S 55-MAN PROVISIONAL SQUAD PREDICTION
17. Marc Guehi
18. Ben White
19. James Justin
20. Tyrick Mitchell
21. Tyrone Mings
22. Trevoh Chalobah
23. Joe Gomez
24. Ryan Sessegnon
25. James Tarkowski
26. Ezri Konsa
27. Dan Burn
28. Chris Smalling
29. Declan Rice
30. Jude Bellingham
31. Mason Mount
32. Jordan Henderson
33. Kalvin Phillips
34. James Ward-Prowse
35. Conor Gallagher
36. Harvey Elliott
37. Ebere Eze
38. Anthony Gordon
39. James Maddison
40. Ruben Loftus-Cheek
41. Jacob Ramsey
42. Curtis Jones
43. Harry Kane
44. Raheem Sterling
45. Phil Foden
46. Bukayo Saka
47. Jack Grealish
48. Tammy Abraham
49. Jarrod Bowen
50. Ivan Toney
51. Marcus Rashford
52. Jadon Sancho
53. Callum Wilson
54. Dominic Calvert-Lewin
55. Danny Welbeck