The Nations League is back once more with England facing Belgium on Sunday evening and an inevitable sense of lethargy has hit fans while waiting for club football to return on October 17.
Manager Gareth Southgate went into full friendly mode on Thursday evening with a experimental line-up against Wales. Although the glorified B team played well against the nation missing their best player (Gareth Bale), the reality is most - if not all - of them will not play in England's first Euro 2020 group match against Croatia on June 13.
Southgate appears to enjoy giving himself "selection headaches" at a time when picking your best XI to win England their first ever European Championship has to be the mission. Wishy-washy displays against Iceland and Denmark in September have done little to help his cause, either.
Kane worry for Tottenham as he limps off injured against Everton
Since Southgate took charge of the Three Lions in 2016, 15 players have been given just one England cap. What benefit is that to the England senior team? Or to say Dominic Solanke other than a nice trip to St George's Park and a 25-minute runaround in a friendly? Not much.
With eight months to go until the first ball is kicked at Euro 2020, it is time to stop handing out caps like they are sweets. Club football is for developing players - not the national team.
Southgate has thankfully vowed to call upon his key players for their Nations League clash against Belgium on Sunday - the nation ranked number one in the world.
Southgate: Rashford's MBE a 'phenomenal achievement'
The conundrum Southgate has created poses two questions: 1) Are any of the players who featured in the Wales game genuinely in contention to start against Croatia in June? And 2) Who should start for England if the Euros started tomorrow?
We here at Eurosport aim to answer those....
Pope, Calvert-Lewin, Ings in genuine contention
Because international football is sporadic - and plenty of it meaningless - it is not too great a stretch to suggest those who start for England at the Euros should be selected based on their success at club level.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Danny Ings will deserve to be in the squad not based off a one-off friendly against Wales but because of their domestic form, if it continues through to next summer.
Calvert-Lewin and Ings have scored 15 goals each since the start of 2020 in all competitions. That is far more than England regulars Marcus Rashford (8) - although Rashford does play out wide for Manchester United - and Tammy Abraham (6).
Saka (L), Calvert-Lewin (C), Ings (R)
Image credit: Getty Images
Nick Pope looks a shoo-in to start for England at the Euros with Jordan Pickford's domestic form being far from impressive and Dean Henderson not playing for Manchester United.
Aston Villa's Jack Grealish and Arsenal's Bukayo Saka have also impressed for their clubs this year, but few would select either in the first team ahead of two-time Premier League winner Raheem Sterling on the left wing or Chelsea's £50m left-back Ben Chilwell.
Calvert-Lewin and Ings' Premier League form have made for compelling cases to play them instead of or alongside England stalwart Harry Kane, while Saka and Grealish would likely get squad places.
How should England line up against Croatia if the game was tomorrow?
James Kilpatrick - (4-4-2): Pope; Alexander-Arnold, Mings, Gomez, Chilwell; Foden, Barkley, Sterling, Sancho; Kane, Calvert-Lewin
The reliable Nick Pope simply has to start in goal ahead of blunder-prone Pickford and game-shy Henderson, while Harry Maguire's embarrassing displays for Manchester United is off-putting so in-form Tyrone Mings gets the nod alongside Premier League winner Joe Gomez. I want an all-action central midfield pairing which I believe Chelsea loanee Ross Barkley and Man City's rising star Phil Foden offers, while Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho providing the swashbuckling pace on the flanks necessary to match the results-driven business of tournament football. Calvert-Lewin as the poacher with Harry Kane playing as a support striker role could also work well.
Tom Adams - (4-3-3): Pope; Alexander-Arnold, Maguire, Gomez, Chilwell; Rice, Henderson, Foden; Sancho, Kane, Sterling
I’m moving away from a back three because I don’t think it does England any favours and Nick Pope edges out the erratic Jordan Pickford in goal. Joe Gomez faces a lot of competition but his class should prevail. The midfield has a lot of unknowns but I’m utilising the experience of Henderson, the solidity offered by Rice and the ingenuity of Foden. Up top the front three picks itself even if there are plenty of options pushing for inclusion. Mason Greenwood and Jack Grealish could be amongst those who make Southgate’s decision a tricky one.
Pete Sharland - (3-4-2-1): Henderson; Coady, Gomez, Chilwell; Alexander-Arnold, Rice, Henderson, Grealish; Sancho, Sterling, Kane
Why not try something different if we believe Gareth Southgate is unsure himself. I’ve gone for a Borussia Dortmund style 3-4-2-1 that is partly born out of necessity because we have no decent centre-halves, barring Joe Gomez. Plus this formation/personnel benefits from being easily swapped to 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or even 4-4-2. Dean Henderson starts in goal because whilst he isn’t playing Jordan Pickford is an absolute liability. Nick Pope is very tempting but I still believe Henderson is fundamentally the best goalkeeper England possess.
Yes it’s a big ask for Coady but the thing about England is that all these players, bar Sancho, play against the same opposition every week. By and large Coady and Gomez look like the two best central options. Who cares that Coady doesn’t play for an established big six team? You do lose a bit of Chilwell’s attacking verve by playing him as a LCB but he can do it and he is useful if you want to switch formations.
This is if the Euros start tomorrow so Grealish should definitely start given how good he has been so far this season. Jordan Henderson has struggled a bit but he brings some experience and in this formation less is expected offensively of the two central midfielders. Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling behind Harry Kane seems logical even if this is a bit harsh on Marcus Rashford.
The joy of this formation is that if the situation needs you can quickly adjust to a four and drop Alexander-Arnold deeper but having team-mate Henderson in the team will provide crucial support on the right if he does start bombing on when you’re in a three. International football is about being difficult to defend against and this England team would certainly be that, and they’d be a lot more fun to watch.
Ben Snowball - (3-4-3): Pope; Gomez, Maguire, Mings; Alexander-Arnold, Dier, Foden, Chilwell; Sterling, Kane, Rashford.
Not remotely convinced… but I would rather England have three mediocre centre-backs guarding the goal than two. For all the hype around Trent Alexander-Arnold, he’s never actually been that good in an England shirt. So why not tweak the system to get him, and Ben Chilwell, further up the pitch?
Phil Foden has awful amount of responsibility for a 20-year-old – protecting a questionable defence and being England’s sole creative outlet in the middle – but he’s that good, so let him crack on. Eric Dier will have another year of Jose Mourinho tutelage under his belt, although he is still not a centre-back hence his redeployment in midfield, while Marcus Rashford gets the nod over Jadon Sancho given the Borussia Dortmund man has yet to show his undoubted quality on the international stage. It's coming home...
‘I’d be a bloody hypocrite’ - Southgate on England squad transfer speculation
Kane to Man Utd less likely, Bayern confident on Haaland – Paper Round