In the plane? England underdogs


For the first time since Italia ’90, England are heading to a third consecutive major tournament under the same manager. As such, we largely know what to expect from Gareth Southgate – meaning we can largely predict how his 2022 World Cup squad will shape up.

But with FIFA increasing the authorized squad size from 23 to 26 for the tournament, there are a few more places up for grabs than usual. A good dozen players are waiting in the proverbial departure lounge with well-founded hopes of getting a seat on the plane to Qatar; we’ve picked out five of the most intriguing potential inclusions, with Southgate set to announce their provisional squad on Thursday.


Ben White

England’s supply of right-backs is nearly inexhaustible – people have faked a whole 11, for god’s sake – and even when injuries start to mount there’s no danger of a full-backs full-back crisis as a new right-back just spawns. Enter Ben White, whose seamless conversion from a highly adept ball-playing centre-half to a more-or-less outright right-back has been the cornerstone of Arsenal’s blistering start to the season. With Takehiro Tomiyasu out injured, White – who has won four England caps so far – has started the campaign as a right-back and has lined up there in all 10 of the Gunners’ Premier League games so far. as well as during his only outing in the Europa League.

Key to White’s chances of going to the World Cup could be his versatility: with Kyle Walker facing a race against time to be fit for the tournament and Reece James all but ruled out, White is the most effectively adaptable side currently available in England. defensive options (John Stones box play right-back, but the whites a lot Is now). Southgate have ruled the 25-year-old out of their last squad but they can’t continue to ignore one of the Premier League’s best performers so far this season – can they? Well, history tells us he can, to be fair.

All white right?

White’s great confidence on the ball makes him an ideal candidate for England’s slow game. The former Brighton man has been able to show his possession ability to even greater effect since moving to right-back: by expected assists – on which he averages 1.02/ 90 – he’s the sixth most creative defender in the Premier League this season* – and four of the five players who rank above him are free-kick and/or corner takers (Leicester’s Timothy Castagne being the exception).

*Among defenders to play more than 450 minutes


James Ward-Prowse

Right-back injuries mean the much-maligned Trent Alexander-Arnold should be taken to the World Cup – but there could be room in the squad for another supreme set-piece specialist: James Ward -Prowse, who missed the cut for Euro 2020 but has been a regular in the squad ever since. The 27-year-old appears to be highly regarded by Southgate, who praised him after the 0-0 Nations League draw with European champions Italy, in which Ward-Prowse played the full 90 minutes .

While Southampton labored for a 15th place in the league in 2021-22, Ward-Prowse excelled (indeed, without his contributions from midfield, Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side would likely have found themselves in the heart of the relegation battle rather than on the periphery). The Saints captain was so influential that he was shortlisted for the Premier League Player of the Season award.

Before the thrilling 3-3 Nations League draw with Germany last month – the last game before the World Cup – England had gone five games without scoring in open play, their longest streak since the start of the century ; if they struggle to break up teams in Qatar, Ward-Prowse could be an asset. In 30 years of the Premier League, only David Beckham has scored more goals directly from free-kicks (18) than Ward-Prowse, who – while solid but unremarkable in other respects – is one of the best free-kick takers on the planet, no two ways about it (Pep Guardiola called it the biggest he’s ever seen); he’s cowered or – as was the case at Wolves last season – outrageously hit in eight free-kicks in the past two campaigns, twice as many as the next player on the list: James Maddison.

Objectives of the JWP
The direct free kick maestro

James Madison

James Maddison barely covered himself in glory last Saturday, dipping into the book with an embarrassing attempt to win a penalty in the dying embers of Leicester’s largely dismal 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace. It was already the 25-year-old’s fifth yellow card of the campaign, meaning he is banned for the visit to Leeds on Thursday night. The incident compounded a poor performance from Maddison, who has otherwise shone this season for a Foxes side that made one of the worst starts in Premier League history – picking up five points from the top 30 on offer.

Club boss Brendan Rodgers and the ex-pros have banged the drum for Maddison to be recalled to the national team – which he hasn’t been included in since November 2019, when he got his only senior cap so far. Speaking after Leicester’s recent 4-0 win over Nottingham Forest – in which Maddison bagged a brace including a terrific free-kick – Rodgers lamented that Southgate continues to ignore Maddison. “It’s such a shame,” he said, pointing to his number 10’s excellent goalscoring record since the start of last season (17 goals, 10 assists).

And Rodgers was right to draw attention to this stat: Harry Kane is the only England player to have been involved in more Premier League goals (26 scored, 10 assists) since the start of 2021-22. One of England’s most natural fits for the role of 10 (should Southgate ever opt for a formation that incorporates him), Maddison is in a frustrating position of being a great option in a system for which the national team rarely opts.


Jarrod Bowen

In Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka, England have two elite left-footed wide attacking options – but Jarrod Bowen’s high-intensity franchise offers a different dimension that is potentially worth having available to him. West Ham’s resident Duracell bunny has been named in the last two squads. League matches that month.

Bowen enjoyed the campaign of his career last season, scoring 18 goals in all competitions as West Ham finished seventh in the league and reached the Europa League semi-finals. He was one of six players to reach double Premier League assists in 2021-22, with only Mo Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold providing more than his 10. He was also one of only three to post the double figures for both goals (12) and assists, alongside Salah and England team-mate Mason Mount. Since the start of last season, only nine players have more Premier League goals to their name than Bowen.

Barring injuries, Bowen isn’t going to dislodge Foden or Saka – but the fact that these two are at the top of their game at the moment could actually work to his advantage: Southgate can choose to start with Foden and Saka ahead of three with Kane, perhaps leaving Bowen as the only left-footed attacking option off the bench. Bowen is also one of the most skilled corner takers in the Premier League: since the start of 2020-21, 27% of his corners in the box have found a team-mate; only two players to have delivered at least 100 such corners during this period (Pascall Groß and Trent Alexander-Arnold) were more accurate.

Bowen 10+ door
Bowen: keep going

Ivan Toney

He didn’t make it onto the pitch after his first call-up for last month’s Nations League fixtures, but Ivan Toney’s form would have to fall off the steepest cliffs for him not to be included in the squad. England squad for the World Cup. Only Erling Haaland (15) and Harry Kane (9) have scored more Premier League goals than the Brentford striker’s eight in 2022-23. In Europe’s top five leagues, only Lille’s Haaland, Kane, Robert Lewandowski (9), Neymar (9) and Jonathan David (9) have been on target more times.

After winning the Championship Golden Boot with 31 goals in his first second-tier campaign of 2020-21 – having joined Brentford from League One Peterborough United – Toney has made the step to the top flight perfectly, scoring 12 times. Since the start of last season, only one England striker – Jamie Vardy, who retired from international football after the 2018 World Cup – has exceeded his expected goals by a bigger margin (3.21) than Toney ( 1.78). The 26-year-old has produced some pretty special finishes during that time, including a heeled nutmeg against Brighton last Friday night and a goalkeeping free-kick against Leeds earlier this season. And then there’s his in-place ability.

Toney’s penalty in Brentford’s 2-0 win over Brighton was the 20th he’s taken for the Bees – and, remarkably, the 20th he’s converted – all with his look-walk-then technique -annoying blow (but obviously very successful). Throughout his career (excluding shootouts), he went from place 26 times – and missed once. He also sent six out of seven kicks in shootouts (which we mention for no particular reason). In the age of the five subs, Toney is surely a vital weapon to have on your bench at a World Cup.

Toney xG

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