MM’s top five players England boss Gareth Southgate should look at ahead of 2018 World Cup in Russia

After England’s 0-0 draw with Germany last night, attention turns to the second of this week’s friendly double-header against Brazil on Tuesday night.

But what did Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate learn about his squad and where can improvements be made? 

Here MM takes a look at five players who Southgate should cast an eye over between now and next summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Think we’ve missed someone? Join in the debate via Twitter – @mm_newsonline.

Nick Pope


Burnley have been a revelation this season and Nick Pope has been a big part of it.

The Clarets are 7th in the league. level on points with Arsenal and Liverpool, having played four of the big six so far this season (Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City) away from home.

Their form has rightly been praised and inevitably Dyche has been touted as the next Everton manager, much to the dismay of the Burnley fans.

Last season, Pope was third in the pecking order behind Tom Heaton and veteran keeper Paul Robinson, but since then Robinson has retired and Heaton dislocated his shoulder meaning Pope has had his opportunity to prove his worth to the club.

And proved it he has, Pope has seized his opportunity remarkably since stepping into the starting 11. He has only conceded seven times in 10 Premier League games this season and was nominated for the Player of the Month award for October.

His form has meant that Tom Heaton, who earned his 1st England cap in May 2016, has not been missed by the Turf Moor faithful as much as anticipated.

Pope is certainly making his own case to Southgate as we prepare for the international friendlies over the next fortnight.

Southgate has been more experimental with his squad this time out,  with the inclusion of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham, but there are again questions over some of his selections.

Pope will feel like he can be a likely replacement for Hart, who has had a turbulent few seasons since his departure from Manchester City. He struggled at Torino and has been part of a West Ham side who are leaking goals at the moment.

Although he has made a handful of decent saves for the Hammers in recent games, his retainment of his England place is questionable.

Damarai Gray


Another player Southgate should be keeping an eye on is Damarai Gray.

Gray is quick and direct and causes great problems for defenders with his ability to run at them. He also has an eye for goal, scoring 5 goals in 15 appearances for the England U21’s and also netting in the Foxes win against Everton in late October.

His most impressive bit of play this season was in that victory against Everton when he went on a dazzling run in which he evaded a series of tackles to then set up Jamie Vardy for the tap in. A goal that was nominated for goal of the month due to the run from the winger.

He has started both of Leicester’s Premier League games since the arrival of Claude Puel and has played well after being out of favour with managers Claudio Ranieri and Craig Shakespeare.

If Gray continues to start and impress for Leicester, Southgate will have no choice but to monitor his situation. Gray will be comforted  that U21 compatriots Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham have been given their chance too.

Sam Clucas


Sam Clucas was undoubtedly a bright spark for Hull in a disappointing season that saw them get relegated from the Premier League.

He only scored 3 goals throughout the season but was still a prevalent attacking threat for the side. This was why Paul Clement decided to bring him to the Liberty Stadium in a £16m pound deal.

Perhaps the most attractive feature of the 27 year old is his versatility. Primarily, Clucas is a midfielder but he can also play as a wing-back and a wide forward, which is how he scored against Arsenal a fortnight ago.

Although Southgate already has Ashley Young and Fabian Delph in similar utility roles, if one of them pick up an injury, Clucas could be a younger and more exciting replacement.


Jonjo Shelvey

Jonjo Shelvey has been capped 6 times for England, once in 2012 and 5 times in 2015.

It would be a risk for Southgate to bring Shelvey back in because of the poor temperament he has shown many times throughout his career. He was shown a red card for stamping on Dele Alli in the opening day of the season and was banned for five games for his racist abuse to Wolves’ Romain Saiss during Newcastle’s Championship winning campaign.

However, what Shelvey adds is leadership and creativity.

It says a lot that an experienced manager in Rafael Benitez would make a then 24 year-old captain of Newcastle United, and it demonstrates the amount of trust he has in the midfielder.

Shelvey is a creative player and can pick a pass out that many players couldn’t. He would also add the much needed leadership skills that the England team is so dearly lacking.

Aside from Kane and Gary Cahill, not one player in the current squad stands out as a leader. Shelvey has captained his club side and his fiery passion is just what England need in the summer.

It is baffling how a player like Jake Livermore, who was granted time off playing by Tony Pulis for ‘mental fatigue’ earlier this season has merited a call-up from Southgate over Shelvey or even Everton’s Tom Davies.


Peter Crouch

Bearing in mind that Kane is out of the next two fixtures for England, the main question is who should be the 2nd and 3rd striker before the plane takes off to Russia.

Tammy Abraham has deserved a call up to the national side after some good performances for the Swans. Jamie Vardy would be the most obvious second choice as he is a reliable goalscorer with an acute turn of pace.

The third striker option is more difficult. If Abraham continues his good season and plays well for England, he may cement his place in the side.

However, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Jermaine Defoe are all lurking in the shadow of the youngster and should one of them find form, it could be a more reliable pick for Southgate to make.

One thing that strikes me about these players is that they all offer a similar style of football – good hold up play and runs in behind.

Peter Crouch offers something different.

Should England be in position where our striking options aren’t working and they are lacking in ideas, just like they were against Iceland. Crouch provides a more direct approach which opponents will find very hard to deal with. History tells us this option works, and Southgate has to make risks in order to facilitate a plan B if plan A isn’t going to plan.

Crouch has been used as a sub in 142 Premier League games and only Jermaine Defoe, Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer and Kanu have scored more off the bench.

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