Southgate’s final England squad of 2021

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Will Jude Bellingham or Mason Greenwood return to the England fold? Could Jadon Sancho miss out and Emile Smith Rowe get a call-up? And which defenders will make the cut?

Gareth Southgate has to weigh up some of his players’ lack of form and game time ahead of naming the squad charged with wrapping up England’s World Cup qualification.

The Three Lions remain unbeaten on the road to Qatar but drawing two of their last three Group I matches means they only have a three-point cushion with two games to go.

England host Albania at Wembley next Friday before rounding off qualification with a trip to minnows San Marino – the lowest ranked side in world football.

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Dominic Calvert-Lewin claims it’s an exciting time for England players and fans with the squad that Gareth Southgate has at his disposal ahead of the next World Cup

Some bookmakers have the Three Lions priced at 1-1,000 to top the group but Southgate is unlikely to gamble too much when he announces his squad on Thursday afternoon at 2pm.

The England boss has not swayed wildly away from the group he lent on during the run to the Euro 2020 final, although returning players may give him some selection headaches.

Reece James, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Harry Maguire and Kalvin Phillips missed last month’s internationals through injury but are back in contention.

Marcus Rashford, whose last England cap came in the Euro 2020 final, is also back playing after shoulder surgery and has shone brighter than some of his Manchester United team-mates.

England winger Jadon Sancho (AP)

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England winger Jadon Sancho has struggled since joining Manchester United in the summer

Jadon Sancho has yet to find his groove since his big-money summer move to Old Trafford from Borussia Dortmund, while Jesse Lingard’s rejuvenation has stunted somewhat.

United team-mates Maguire and Luke Shaw are in poor form, while fellow Euro 2020 stars John Stones and Raheem Sterling continue to struggle for game time at Manchester City.

Stones has made as many international appearances as club ones this season, while Sterling has only started three of City’s opening 10 Premier League games.

Jude Bellingham was targeted with racist discrimination in Budapest

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Jude Bellingham was left out of the England squad in October

Southgate’s decision on young talents Jude Bellingham and Mason Greenwood will be interesting given he overlooked them last month with their long-term development in mind.

There are some exciting players that have been with the England Under-21s, who face an important qualifier against Czech Republic before ending 2021 with a friendly in Georgia.

Among the most interesting names that have been in Lee Carsley’s squad are Conor Gallagher, who is impressing on loan at Crystal Palace, and rising Arsenal midfielder Emile Smith Rowe.

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Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher heap praise on Emile Smith-Rowe following his excellent performance in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Aston Villa

Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White joined the 21-year-old at the Emirates Stadium in the summer and are pushing to be selected. The latter has not been involved since the European Championship.

Strikers Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Patrick Bamford remain out, but Southgate has relatively few injury issues to contend with.

Questions for Southgate

Southgate’s announcement will naturally lead to questions over players who are omitted, with the absence of Liverpool defender Joe Gomez from his October squad prompting a bemused response from Jurgen Klopp.

“Sometimes Gareth reacts if you are not playing for your club you can’t play for the national team. Obviously there is a special thing for Mr Stones,” Klopp said last month.

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Former Premier League goalkeeper Mark Bosnich believes Aaron Ramsdale deserves to be England’s first-choice after a good run of form for Arsenal

Meanwhile, Ramsdale’s form is likely to be another topic, with the goalkeeper shining against Leicester – prompting chants of “England’s No 1” from Arsenal fans on the weekend.

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta said Ramsdale is “dreaming big”, and his potential inclusion by Southgate could lead to questions over whether he will rival Everton’s Jordan Pickford for the No 1 jersey.

Antonio Conte’s name could also crop up, with the Tottenham head coach tasked with reinvigorating England captain Harry Kane, while former regular internationals Dele Alli and Harry Winks will be hoping for a new lease of life under their new boss as well.

Finally, Southgate could be asked about an update on his contract situation, with talks expected with the FA given his current deal with England expires after next year’s World Cup.

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