You should never take anything for granted in sport but, with England needing only a maximum of four points from their final two World Cup qualifiers against Albania and San Marino, it’s safe to say Garth Southgate’s men have one foot in Qatar.
Next year’s World Cup is something of an unknown quantity as it will be played in November and December, which is going to mess with fans’ heads and could potentially be unsettling for players. And yet, after reaching the semi-finals in Russia in 2018 and the final of Euro 2020 under Southgate, England fans have high expectations.
The manager likes continuity – six players who played in England semi-final at Russia 2018 started England’s first match at Euro 2020 – but there is always room for players to burst into the squad, as the likes of Mason Mount and Bukayo Saka have shown.
Ramsdale poised to push Pickford for no.1 jersey
Arsenal’s upturn in fortunes has coincided with Aaron Ramsdale becoming Mikel Arteta’s first choice between the sticks and now the 23-year-old could challenge Jordan Pickford to be England’s number one.
Pickford is 4/11 favourite but Ramsdale has shortened to 5/2 to be in goal for England’s first match in Qatar. Pickford is a Southgate favourite and the England manager stuck with the Everton stopper when his form dipped and many called for him to be dropped from the national team.
That faith was rewarded at Euro 2020, not least when Pickford made an incredible penalty shootout save from Jorginho in the final that was overshadowed by England’s misses. Pickford is a tournament player but Ramsdale is growing in stature and looks set to push him hard.
Smith Rowe and Gallagher can challenge for midfield berths
England’s defence looks fairly settled even if John Stones 4/9 is struggling for game time at Manchester City and Harry Maguire 2/5 is under-performing for Manchester United.
In midfield, there is more potential for players to break into the squad and stake their claim for a starting position. Declan Rice 1/2 has been central to West Ham’s success and was hailed this week as the best in the world in his position, by John Terry.
Mount 4/7 is a short price to keep his place but competition is on the horizon.
Jude Bellingham is enjoying a fantastic season for Borussia Dortmund and is 11/10 to start in England’s opener at the finals.
Arsenal midfielder Emile Smith Rowe has been called up to the squad for the first time for the matches again Albania and San Marino.
The 21-year-old, who has scored four goals and two assists in the Premier League this season, is 3/1 to start for England in Qatar in just over one year.
Conor Gallagher has also got four goals this season, while on loan from Chelsea at Crystal Palace. Last season, he impressed while on loan at Swansea, gaining the kind of gritty experience that Southgate thinks can help a player. Gallagher is 9/1.
Finally, Dele Alli is 25/1 to come in from the cold and figure in Southgate’s starting 11. Still only 25, Alli started for England in Russia three years ago. His form has since dropped off but, in Antonio Conte, he has a new manager at Spurs with a track record of getting the best from wayward talents.