Gareth Southgate has still got so many unresolved issues ahead of the Euros – but six have their starting places nailed down.
Southgate will now see Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire, Declan Rice, Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane as guaranteed for the first game against Croatia on June 13.
They have all seen their positions strengthened in the final competitive England games before Southgate names his squad for the Euros – and Pickford did not even play.
Burnley keeper Nick Pope is clearly a very good deputy but his kicking remains an issue and is why Everton No1 Pickford will reclaim his spot when he returns to fitness.
West Ham star Rice has emerged as an absolute mainstay and first pick in midfield as he has proved beyond any doubt that he is not just a good shield but can drive forward and use the ball to great effect.
Chelsea midfielder Mount started all three World Cup qualifiers, is so adaptable and can play as one of the two deeper midfielders, wide and as a No10.
Maguire is the defensive kingpin and, while John Stones is favourite to start alongside him, it is the Manchester United centre half who is absolutely guaranteed.
England captain Kane and Manchester City forward Sterling are not even up for debate but the third and final forward place is wide open with Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden all in the mix.
Suddenly, Southgate has an embarrassment of riches, there will be tough decisions all over the pitch and the England boss admits he is not even set on his formation for the tournament and it may depend on personnel as to whether he goes with a back three or flat back four.
Rice was voted man of the match against both Albania and Poland and his progression now means that it is Jordan Henderson (if fit in time), Kalvin Phillips and the rest vying for a place alongside him.
His progress has been a huge boost for Southgate. “It’s remarkable, he’s been a very important player for us since game one, really,” said Southgate. “We’re really pleased that we’ve also found Kalvin as well in that area of the pitch.
“The top teams has those players who can break the game up but can use the ball well and those two are in that category. Very often when we’ve been without Hendo we’ve looked short of that type of player and now we’ve got a couple that give us that depth.
“I think Declan’s tactical maturity has been outstanding. His reading of danger, the number of times where he’s come across at the right moment, intercepted play, come away with the ball and then used the ball well across both of the matches he’s played.
“He’s really maturing and we know at the moment he’s not had those big matches, those latter stages of big cups, European ties so a lot of his development in that area has been with us. But of course that will change with West Ham’s Champions League run next year!”
Southgate was smiling about West Ham’s European push but Rice has been at the heart of David Moyes’ remarkable season and has really stepped up to the plate.
Rice looks a top class performer on the biggest stage and yet that is still difficult to imagine this summer because the Euros may be played with limited fans but it is impossible to believe stadiums will be full.
Southgate said he expects to only take a maximum of eight defenders, planning work has already been done and the lesson of winning under pressure after nearly letting it slip against Poland is perfect preparation ahead of a tournament.
Southgate added: “We are well down the line with a lot of that planning, but of course everything is constantly changing with the covid protocol and what we might be allowed to do. So it’s a massive operation ahead of a major tournament.
“At the moment we’re happy with what we’ve got, we just know that we’re going to have to adapt to changes of rules and everything else over the coming weeks.”
Here are how Mirror Football’s Chief Football Writer John Cross and Chief Sports Writer Andy Dunn reckon the squad is currently shaping up…
On the bus
Goalkeepers: Pickford, Pope, D Henderson
Defenders: Walker, Maguire, Stones, Keane, Coady, Shaw, Chilwell
Midfielders: Rice, Mount, Grealish, Saka
Attackers: Sancho, Foden, Rashford, Sterling, Kane, Calvert-Lewin
At the bus stop
J Henderson (depends on his fitness)
Bellingham (the star of the future pick)
Ward-Prowse (Gareth’s go-to man)
Phillips (Next off the rank)
Alexander-Arnold (Should be in the squad)
Lingard (Making a late push)
Mings (Must finish season well)
James (Fierce competition)
In the back garden
Maddison (Too many No10s)
Dier (Out of form)
Trippier (So many right backs)
Winks (Should be in, but Jose killing him)
HAD BOTH JABS
Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, Dean Henderson, Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell, Jordan Henderson, Declan Rice, Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho
HAD ONE JAB
Kieran Trippier, Tyrone Mings, Reece James, Jack Grealish, James Ward-Prowse, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Eric Dier, Kalvin Phillips
WAITING FOR FIRST JAB
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Michael Keane, Bukayo Saka, James Maddison, Conor Coady, Jude Bellingham, Jesse Lingard, Ollie Watkins.