With the final international break before the summer looming, Gareth Southgate has plenty of big decisions to make. The England boss will be weighing up whether to use the three World Cup qualifiers later this month against San Marino, Albania and Poland as opportunities to take a look at some new faces.
Southgate is missing a number of attacking players, with Harvey Barnes, James Maddison, Danny Ings, Tammy Abraham and Jack Grealish all injured. As well as dealing with that challenge, he will also have a chance to experiment at the back. Harry Maguire and a resurgent John Stones are shoo-ins for the squad. According to our rankings, they are the standout pair of centre-backs available to Southgate, with Maguire earning a rating of 7.05 this season and Stones top of the pile on 7.18.
However, the rest of Southgate’s defensive options are not sitting so comfortably. Conor Coady has impressed with England this season but less so with Wolves, while Eric Dier has been omitted from Tottenham’s starting XI in each of their last four league matches. With Southgate likely to play a back three, he will probably pick at least five centre-backs in his squad for the summer, and Kyle Walker may be included in that number. That would leave two or three spots up for grabs. So, who is in the running? Here are eight options.
It’s been a disappointing season for Wolves so far and Conor Coady has been one of many players at the club whose performance levels in the league have not stacked up to the previous campaign. Only five teams have kept fewer clean sheets in the Premier League (Crystal Palace, Everton, Newcastle, West Brom and Sheffield United) than Wolves. Coady has been marshalling a defence that has conceded 38 goals in 29 league games this season – more than Fulham, who are in the bottom three, and just two fewer than Wolves conceded in the entirety of last season. Rating: 6.51
Ben White has been a near ever present in his first season of top-flight football at Brighton but, unsurprisingly, he has failed to hit the heights he enjoyed last season while on loan at Leeds in the Championship. That being said, he remains on the radar of some of the top clubs in the country. His tackle success rate of just over 60% is on the low side, however, and this summer’s tournament will likely come too soon for the 23-year-old. Rating: 6.60
After a solid first half of the season, Eric Dier’s form has dipped since the turn of the year leading to his recent omission from José Mourinho’s starting lineups. The fact that being dropped coincided with an upturn in results, albeit against modest opposition, does not bode particularly well for a swift return to favour either. England have other centre-backs who playing for their clubs and in good form, so Dier is surely skating on thin ice. Rating: 6.71
Ben Godfrey will not be picked by Southgate later this week for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers as he was included in England’s squad for the group stages of the re-jigged U21 European Championship. The Everton defender’s versatility has been particularly impressive this season, however, and his composure in possession is something Southgate values highly. Rating: 6.74
The covering defender in an impressive partnership at Aston Villa, Ezri Konsa stands out for making defending look easy. Konsa has a chance to join his club partner Tyrone Mings in the squad, with the 23-year-old’s understated but extremely effective performances drawing more and more attention. He does not dive into tackles or rush into interceptions but rather forces the attacker to make the first move and invariably times the rare challenges he does have to make to perfection. That is highlighted by the fact that he has been dribbled past just three times all season and has committed just a single foul when attempting to tackle. Rating: 6.81
Fikayo Tomori’s high rating comes with a significant caveat. He has only played seven league games this season: one for Chelsea and six for Milan in Serie A. He has made a strong start to life on loan in Italy. Like Konsa, the 23-year-old displays near impeccable timing in the tackle and is adept at playing out from the back, though he is somewhat suspect in aerial duels, winning just 55% since the start of last season. Rating: 6.85
Tyron Mings is the more involved of the two Villa centre-backs on this list and his leadership qualities have really come to the fore this season. He is the organiser in a defence that has kept the third most clean sheets in the league (only Manchester City and Chelsea have kept more) and he is commanding in the air. The fact that the 28-year-old is left footed could prove decisive given the lack of natural balance on that side of the back three – although he is less comfortable with the ball at his feet than most of his competitors. Rating: 6.89
Michael Keane has a near identical rating to Mings this season and the two are very similar in a number of areas, boasting identical figures for both tackles and aerial duels won per game (2.9). Both pose a threat in the opposition box too – Keane has scored three league goals this season to Mings’ two – and Keane perhaps has the edge when playing out from the back. So, if the two of them were competing for one spot, Southgate would likely be choosing between Keane’s composure and the balance Mings’ left foot can offer. Rating: 6.90