The famous F365 Euro 2024 England ladder: Kane remains immovable but no Bellingham, no party | OneFootball

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·21 November 2023

The famous F365 Euro 2024 England ladder: Kane remains immovable but no Bellingham, no party

Article image:The famous F365 Euro 2024 England ladder: Kane remains immovable but no Bellingham, no party

Advice in the Mailbox for England over Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane.

England completed an unbeaten 2023 to great acclaim with a heroic 2-0 win over Malta and a battling 1-1 draw against North Macedonia, which is always a difficult place to go. After the bang-bang-bang of these early season international breaks there really is suddenly not a lot of time left when Gareth Southgate will be able to bring his players together and make his final decisions.

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We also now know that it will be 23-man squads rather than 26 in Germany next year, giving Gareth and by extension us some trickier-than-previously decisions to make about those on the bubble. It also lessens the scope for certain injury-collecting full-backs to be carried in a slimmed-down squad that will (if all goes to plan) have seven games to play in a month next summer.

As ever, this list represents our best guess at Gareth Southgate’s current thinking rather than our own personal wishlist. Numbers in brackets are from the last ladder, which can be read here. And with that being only a month old, this one doesn’t feature that many wholesale changes. Which is to say, we’re still depressed about Kalvin Phillips and Jordan Henderson.

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Article image:The famous F365 Euro 2024 England ladder: Kane remains immovable but no Bellingham, no party

1) Harry Kane (1) Came very close to doing one of our occasional performative shuffles down to the number two spot here, but that first hour against North Macedonia showed yet again that Kane’s absence still leaves a hole every bit as vast as Jude Bellingham or pretty much any player England have ever had.

Scored a 62nd goal that didn’t count against Malta, then instantly panicked the Macedonians into conceding an equaliser that we didn’t even have to go to the bother of taking off him because it was done for us. Thanks, UEFA!

Still getting better, still annoying all the right people by refusing to just play up front all the time like a proper striker, still the main man. His case to be regarded as the very best in the world in his position has arguably never been stronger than it is right now. Just don’t do yourself any kind of injury mischief while quietly helping yourself to 50 Bundesliga goals this season, okay fella?

2) Jude Bellingham (2) Almost silly how much England missed him given how relatively recent his ascent to talismanic status has been. Already utterly impossible to imagine a tournament England side without him in it. He’d currently be first choice in about three different positions if we could only get the boffins to pull their fingers out and get the cloning machine up and running.

3) Declan Rice (3) As we noted after the Macedonia game in which Rice was placed under more pressure than might have been expected – by those around him as much as by the opposition, frankly – he has become England’s most reliable and consistent deliverer of baseline 7/10 performances. Utterly integral to this team as he continues to grow as a player, but his importance is magnified significantly by Bellingham’s creep forwards, because the rest of the midfield options suddenly look awful gloomy. Currently it’s Rice plus a rusty bench-warmer, a semi-retired hypocrite, a right-back and a Conor Gallagher.

4) Jordan Pickford (4) Doing almost nothing wrong and under less threat from elsewhere these days than perhaps at any other time in the last five years. As we said last month: ‘That’s absolutely fine; England have much bigger problems elsewhere.’

5) John Stones (6) This was never going to be the most important international break for England, but it’s still not ideal that the players who’ve felt most significant in this break are the ones who weren’t there. England missed Bellingham terribly in both games, looked half-clueless going forward without Kane for an hour in Skopje and have left us in absolutely no doubt – if any lingered – that a fit and available John Stones is another absolute must if dreams are to be realised in Germany next year.

6) Kyle Walker (7) Just a brilliant England player, defying all logic by still being this good and this quick. Now forever in the record books as an England captain. It’s been five years now of Liverpool and Chelsea-led ‘Trent or James?’ debates but when push comes to tournament shove the answer really is still ‘Walker’. James’ decision not to make himself available for this international break is understandable, but only cements Walker’s grip on a starting spot. Given the issues in the rest of the back four, we’re pretty happy not to worry too much about this one.

7) Bukayo Saka (5) Not his most striking week for England but he’s come through it unscathed and that very much feels like the main thing at the moment for a brilliant, vital player who is definitely a little bit knackered. For club and country the quandary is the same: he’s too good to be risked in every single game, but too important to ever leave out. We’re not sure either Southgate or Mikel Arteta have the answer to that impossible puzzle, to be honest.

8) Luke Shaw (8) Another one whose hold on a first-team shirt has only strengthened in his absence. Fikayo Tomori had a horrible hiding-to-nothing of a first half at left-back against Malta. Rico Lewis looked less vexed by playing out of position but it was a display still only in the ‘promising start for a teenager’ category. Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell remain very much England’s starting and back-up left-backs if they can please just remain fit for five minutes at a bastard time, honestly.

9) Phil Foden (11) Very good. There’s an air of ‘damned with faint praise’ about saying he was the game’s best player in the drab 2-0 win over Malta, but also he was very much the game’s best player, heavily involved in both goals as the one player seemingly capable of picking a lock in Bellingham’s absence. We also rather liked his performance against North Macedonia. It wasn’t as eye-catching as against Malta, but again had the air of being beamed in from a different game altogether. Given the B-list nature of England’s starting XI for that one, standing out while also looking vaguely like you don’t belong in such company was probably no bad thing.

10) Marcus Rashford (9) That’s a bad international break. Poor against Malta, and his late cameo in North Macedonia amounted to dribbling one ball straight out of play in an apparent case of controller malfunction and absolutely twatting a free-kick 10 yards wide of the target. England just have too many options in these positions now – inside and outside the current squad – for anyone to get away with too many weeks like this one. Rashford’s England returns mean he retains plenty of credit, but current form for both club and now country has to be a concern.

11) Harry Maguire (10) Oh, bloody hell, Harry. Just when we starting to think that actually Maguire being a nailed-on starter isn’t too horrifying, he comes up with this. Repeatedly scruffy in possession against Malta and alarmingly at sea against North Macedonia. His own gargantuan clumsiness appears to have been the only thing that saved him from conceding what still appears to us a nailed-on penalty in the first half in Skopje as he careened carelessly into Eljif Elmas in the manner of Boris Johnson rugby-tackling a child. Is he still in Gareth’s starting XI? Yes. Are we happy about this? Not really, tbh.

12) Marc Guehi (17) England’s best centre-back in both games this week. May God help us all. He’s fine is Guehi. He’s very solid, very reliable. We wouldn’t mind a peek at a Guehi-Stones pairing in March and will lose no sleep about England going into a major tournament with him in the squad. But with no slight intended on him, he’s not really a player who in an ideal world should look quite so unchallenged as a member of England’s top three centre-backs.

13) Kieran Trippier (19) Left the squad for personal reasons after starting at right-back and finishing at left-back in distinctly Southgatian fashion against Malta. Until anything indicates otherwise, we still have the Newcastle man down as Southgate’s top choice for a right-back to fill in at left-back, and in Garethball that gets you a squad place pretty cosily.

14) Sam Johnstone (14) Had the number 13 shirt for both these qualifiers and we choose to believe Southgate is the sort of organised chap to absolutely go 13 for second-choice keeper and 22 for third. That plus the fact he’s actually playing football lead us to believe he remains very much the current if vulnerable first reserve.

15) Kalvin Phillips (15) Please just go and play some football in January, Kalvin. It honestly doesn’t matter where. Apart from there. We were reminded last week of England’s Croatia-toppling midfield from five years ago, which goes some way to explaining why Gareth appears so sanguine about his current options in the middle of the park. But we do not share that sense of calm. Such are the alternatives that not only is Phillips’ squad place still rock-solid but there’s a space in the starting XI right there for him if he can shake off the understandable rust that currently accompanies his every brief appearance for club and country.

16) Ben Chilwell (13) Now been out for a troublingly long time with a mysterious hamstring problem and still no clear idea at all on when he might return. The latest from Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino offers nothing useful or hopeful: “I cannot tell you. It is difficult to know.” We could all really, really do with the answer being at the very, very least ‘sometime before March’.

17) Jordan Henderson (16) We don’t have to like it – which is just as well, because we really, really don’t – but Southgate’s position is clear and he can be a stubborn so-and-so when he wants to be. Henderson is in a curious way one of the safest of all players in this squad, for he is one of very few players at no risk of playing himself out of contention with a catastrophic run of club form. Because, genuinely, how would you even know?

18) Reece James (12) Gareth Southgate is many things to many people, but one thing he is most assuredly not is a gobshite. Whether you agree with them or not, his words are always thoughtful and carefully chosen. So we listen. Especially when this feature is supposed to be our best guess at what Southgate reckons.

While keen to stress he understood Reece James’ reluctance to join the group for this one as he manages his latest return from injury, there was pointedness from Southgate too. “There is [competition for places] and that’s the risk. He’s only got one more squad before the Euros. So he knows that.” Perhaps more important still was a later point on fitness for back-to-back games as squads shrink back to their pre-Covid size: “So we are all conscious that we want to have a fit Reece James that can play consecutive games, because we can only take 23 to a finals and that physical reliability is going to be really important.”

James may very well be the best long-term option England have at right-back, but one thing about England right-backs is that there are literally millions of them. He’s no longer a certainty.

19) Jack Grealish (18) Increasingly frustrated and grumpy as the North Macedonia game wore on. Snapped a run of 11 appearances off the bench with a starting spot in Skopje and promptly reminded everyone why he isn’t really a starting option for England. Back to the bench, back to getting 10 minutes to try and pull something out of his arse when England have exhausted all other options. Just feels a bit of a waste, really.

20) James Maddison (22) An incredibly irritating break for Maddison to miss with an ankle injury that will keep him out until the new year; Bellingham’s absence really could have given him the chance to show what he’s about in an England shirt. How quickly (and if at all) he regains his pre-injury Tottenham form will be vital, because with Foden impressing in a more central role this week Maddison, brilliant as he is, remains far from a certain member of a slimmed-down squad.

21) Aaron Ramsdale (21) Cannot still be warming Arsenal’s bench in March if Nick Pope’s recent return to decent form continues.

22) Ollie Watkins (26) A quiet, almost invisible, performance against North Macedonia means a missed chance to take a grip on that ‘Kane plus one’ spot in what is now confirmed as a 23-man squad. There might have been room for Kane plus two in a 26-man affair, but Watkins now finds himself on the bubble. It’s really only the doubts over others that puts Watkins in the current 23; the new year could be a fascinating shoot-out between Watkins, Callum Wilson and Ivan Toney for the right to play seven minutes at the end of a 4-0 victory over Albania.

23) Lewis Dunk (25) Missed this pair of games due to injury but with nobody else doing anything to suggest they’ve replaced him as fourth-choice centre-back in Southgate’s eyes he actually moves up a couple of places now we know 23 rather than 26 is the magic number. Southgate surely must take four centre-backs, surely, even if that is so vastly, implausibly and mathematical-logic-defyingly more difficult a puzzle to solve when squeezing them into a group of 23 rather than 26 players.

24) Trent Alexander-Arnold (23) Surely cannot go to a major tournament as a central midfielder after the Macedonia shitshow, but can he get in a 23-man squad as a (mildly versatile) right-back even allowing for Southgate’s love of a right-back who can play other positions to a vaguely passable level of competence? Crazy a notion as it may appear to be, there really could only be room in Southgate’s squad for one of James and TAA. And possibly even neither.

25) Cole Palmer (44) There’s always a bolter, and Palmer is currently bolting.

26) Conor Gallagher (24) Didn’t take his chance against Malta, but we know Gareth likes him and if he continues to improve and develop under Pochettino’s guidance at Chelsea then the paucity of alternative options does him no harm. Might just currently be one of the unlucky ones to miss out as squads return from 26 to 23.

27) Callum Wilson (20) Ollie Watkins didn’t exactly grasp the chance to relegate the injured Wilson from contention, but with a more-serious-than-first-feared hamstring problem potentially keeping him out until the new year he does now have work to do to make the slimmed-down squad at the expense of both the Villa man and the returning Ivan Toney.

28) Nick Pope (29) Neither England’s current second nor third-choice keepers are particularly secure for one reason or another, and Pope’s Newcastle form is encouraging after a wobbly few months. Just playing regularly without conspicuously shitting the bed could be enough to get him to Germany.

29) Ivan Toney (30) Will have seen nothing from either Callum Wilson or Ollie Watkins to make him think he can’t snatch that coveted Kane Understudy role if he can hit the ground running upon his return in January. Especially if he hits that ground after an eye-catching move to one of the big beasts.

30) Levi Colwill (27) The fourth centre-back spot remains very much there to be claimed, and Colwill has if absolutely nothing else confirmed he is a slightly better makeshift left-back than Fikoyo Tomori. Southgate loves lads who can fill in a bit at left-back. And given that Shaw and Chilwell are made of string, England quite often need lads who can fill in a bit at left-back.

31) Mason Mount (28) Currently outside the squad looking in – a frankly unthinkable position not that long ago for a man who started five of England’s seven games at the last Euros and featured in four of the five games (starting twice) at the World Cup a year ago. There are, though, clearly still possibilities for a player capable of splitting the difference between Rice and Bellingham in a three-man midfield. Step one: get back in the United side. A knee injury to Christian Eriksen and a run of 10 games in 35 days presents a window of opportunity.

32) James Ward-Prowse (36) Surely not even Gareth can keep being this stubborn, can he? Trent Alexander-Arnold is not a midfielder. Kalvin Phillips still isn’t playing any football. Jordan Henderson still isn’t playing any meaningful football. Conor Gallagher is still Conor Gallagher. We’re not saying Ward-Prowse is a world-beater, but if his and his rivals’ trajectories remain on their current track into the new year then it’s going to be a feat of wilful obstinance for Southgate to continue merrily on his own preferred course. He will, though, won’t he?

33) Fikayo Tomori (34) The right-footed centre-back is not a left-back. It’s good to discover these things. He’s also currently not in the first-choice 23.

34) Rico Lewis (49) Encouraging debut, and pointedly unfazed by the nonsense penalty decision that went against him for what was actually a textbook bit of full-backery – sniffing out danger and shuffling across to help out the centre-backs. Has at the very least proved he is a right-back capable of doing a perfectly competent job at left-back, and see above for the possible importance of that little nugget.

35) Raheem Sterling (35) We don’t entirely understand it, but Sterling has clearly wronged Southgate in some unknown but very real and significant way.

36) Eberechi Eze (31) Ill-timed injuries and just not enough on the CV to force Southgate’s hand.

37) Jarrod Bowen (32) Ill-timed injuries and just not enough on the CV to force Southgate’s hand.

38) Anthony Gordon (37) Where would he be on a hypothetical Scotland Euro 2024 ladder, though? Eh? Yeah. Food for thought, isn’t it?

39) Eddie Nketiah (33) His England moment really might already have passed. Especially if Ivan Toney becomes a direct rival at club as well as international level.

40) Ezri Konsa (48) In the squad – albeit in extremis – and thus we must conclude in Southgate’s thinking for that all-important fourth centre-back role.

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