Aaron Ramsdale can push his claim to usurp Jordan Pickford as No 1, under-pressure Tyrone Mings needs a performance and Conor Gallagher could make his senior bow… the England stars looking to impress Gareth Southgate tonight
- England face San Marino needing just a point to make the 2022 World Cup
- Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions side sit three points clear at the top of Group I
- Harry Kane is expected to be one of four players to keep their places on Monday
- So which squad stars will be looking to impress the England boss in Serravalle?
England end their World Cup qualifying campaign on Monday knowing they will seal their place in Qatar if they avoid defeat in San Marino.
Gareth Southgate’s men sit three points clear at the top of Group I following Friday’s thrashing of Albania at Wembley, which saw captain Harry Kane claim his fifth hat-trick for his country.
But the Three Lions skipper is set to be only one of four players to retain his place against San Marino, with Southgate set to ring the changes after the likes of Jack Grealish, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling withdrew from the squad.
England end their World Cup qualifying campaign away at San Marino on Monday evening
Gareth Southgate’s men sit three points clear at the top of Group I and will qualify with a point
It will be their final chance to impress the 51-year-old England boss this calendar year, with places still very much up for grabs ahead of the winter World Cup in 2022.
So which players could boost their chances of forcing their way into Southgate’s long-term plans with a solid display in Serravalle?
Here, Sportsmail picks out six names who could – and in some cases must – make an impression on the Three Lions manager as another qualifying campaign for a major tournament draws to a close.
The Arsenal goalkeeper has made a barnstorming start to his career at the Emirates Stadium and has yet to lose a game for his new club since arriving for £24million from Sheffield United in the summer.
The 23-year-old has kept five clean sheets and conceded just four goals in eight Premier League games for Mikel Arteta’s men, and has put in a number of impressive displays, most notably at Leicester last month with a stunning save from James Maddison.
Ramsdale became the club’s No 1 goalkeeper after the first international break of the season, usurping Germany stopper Bernd Leno in the process. But as yet, success has been limited to the club stage.
However, despite having yet to make a senior appearance for the Three Lions, he has already set himself a target of becoming the No 1 goalkeeper in Qatar.
Aaron Ramsdale has been in impressive form for Arsenal this season following his move
He did not come on to the pitch at Euro 2020 despite being called into the squad after Dean Henderson withdrew with injury, but said last month about the Euros: ‘I keep saying it was a great lad’s holiday!
‘That’s just the team spirit we had, and we were just a few kicks away from achieving something great.
‘It’s just added momentum and hunger to do well in the World Cup and hopefully I can be a part of that again and hopefully that’ll be to do with a starting role.’
To do that, Ramsdale must usurp another goalkeeper in Jordan Pickford, who made his 42nd England appearance against Albania on Friday and pulled off a smart one-on-one save from Myrto Uzuni at 1-0.
There are some among the Everton fanbase who believe Pickford’s performances for England are undervalued, particularly in the face of Ramsdale’s form so far this season.
But the 27-year-old is relishing the challenge that is being posed to him by his Arsenal counterpart.
Jordan Pickford remains England No 1, making his 42 appearance in the Albania win
‘I’m delighted that he’s flying. I see the games and he’s making worldies against Leicester! But that’s what you want. He’s your team-mate, he’s your friend,’ the Everton star said in an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, via 90min.
‘We get on really well, we train really hard and we push each other in training. And it just brings out the best of us.
‘If we play or we don’t play we’re going back to our clubs having a successful week with England and being in the right frame of mind when we’re at our clubs.’
Their respective form for Arsenal and Everton for the remainder of the season will no doubt hold some weight as to who starts as No 1 for England in their opening World Cup group game.
But ultimately Ramsdale must show he is up for the fight on the international stage, and while tougher tests than San Marino will come for him, he must begin to lay the foundations for a successful Three Lions career on Monday night.
‘Tyrone has probably not been playing at the top of his game,’ was the assessment made by former Aston Villa boss Dean Smith after he was hauled off after 38 minutes in the 4-1 defeat by West Ham last month.
Mings had been heavily criticised for his display in the defeat at Arsenal and then was taken off, reportedly fuming, before the first half was even up against the Hammers.
That game proved to be Smith’s last home game in charge at Villa before he was sacked, with a 1-0 defeat away at Southampton – in which Mings played the full 90 minutes – his last game at the helm.
New Villa boss Steven Gerrard could be the man to revive Mings’ fortunes after a sub-par start to the season, but first he must take matters on the international stage into his own hands.
Tyrone Mings has underperformed for Aston Villa and needs to put in a good performance
The 28-year-old played three matches at Euro 2020 and was last involved in the 1-1 draw with Hungary last month. But there are plenty of players who could be knocking on the door to replace him in the squad sooner rather than later.
Ben White continues to impress in Arsenal’s back four, while Fikayo Tomori has also been in good form with AC Milan and was called up for last month’s international break.
Mings therefore requires a good performance – even if right now he appears to have Southgate’s backing – given that it is unlikely the 51-year-old boss will be able to resist calls to recall White and Tomori if their form continues.
Ben White (left) and Fikayo Tomori (right) could be knocking on the door for his place soon
The Wolves defender has spoken admirably in the last few weeks about several issues off the field.
Preceding the San Marino fixture, the 28-year-old insisted England stars will consider protesting against Qatar’s poor human right record, and championed LGBT rights earlier this month when he said ‘being gay will be part of everyday life in football.’
Bukayo Saka and assistant manager Steve Holland were also keen to highlight the impact he has had on the squad at Euro 2020 and since the tournament, with the former lauding him for ensuring that ‘standards are high’.
Conor Coady has taken the lead on off-field issues but must also impress on the field too
But while he is a player well aware of issues off the pitch, he must now continue to address matters on it too.
Coady remains at the heart of the defence of a Wolves side currently sat in eighth in the Premier League, and after making his international debut last year, has made seven England appearances.
But like Mings, his position in the squad may come under threat if White and Tomori – playing at more high-profile clubs than Coady – continue to impress and add defensive steel along with the ability to play the ball out from the back.
Emile Smith Rowe
The Arsenal star got his first taste of senior international football after being introduced as a second-half substitute for Raheem Sterling in the thrashing of Albania.
The 21-year-old managed to show glimpses of what he has become known for at Arsenal already at such a young age, driving swiftly at a tiring Albania defence at Wembley.
He received a first senior call-up to the England senior squad after the likes of Marcus Rashford and Mason Mount withdrew, but more importantly due to some stunning club form for the Gunners.
He has scored four Premier League goals and laid on two assists in 11 top-flight appearances so far for Mikel Arteta’s men, including the winner in their 1-0 win against Watford just before the international hiatus.
Emile Smith Rowe made his England debut as a substitute against Albania on Friday evening
He will be competing with the likes of Jack Grealish to play for his county and head to Qatar
If he manages to keep such a rich vein of form going, Smith Rowe will undoubtedly be handed more chances to impress under Southgate’s tutelage if his stock – as expected – continues to rise in the long term.
But should he want a seat on the plane to Qatar next year, the Arsenal midfielder has to grab his opportunity against San Marino, with competition for places in his position already high even before he was called up.
Mount has credit in the bank and will undoubtedly figure at the 2022 World Cup having played major parts for England at Euro 2020 and in the current qualifying campaign.
Manchester City trio Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling have all played wide on the left for their club this season, while the first two also occupy more central roles on occasion too.
Grealish in particular has struggled to make an impact at City, but having proved his worth at Euro 2020 and Sterling a permanent fixture under Southgate, it will be hard for Smith Rowe to displace either of the duo on club form alone.
Another young midfielder who has been called up following several withdrawals at the weekend, many were surprised Conor Gallagher wasn’t originally selected by Southgate following his stunning form for Crystal Palace.
The Chelsea loanee has thrived in the freedom given to him by Patrick Vieira at Selhurst Park, scoring four goals and laying on two assists in 10 Premier League games so far this season.
While that freedom has allowed him to venture forwards on several occasions throughout games for his club, Gallagher has often been deployed on the right-hand side of a midfield three at Palace.
It makes his return in terms of goals and assists all the more impressive and how he fits in to England’s system all the more fascinating, especially given Southgate’s more conservative approach to games generally.
Conor Gallagher was called up at the weekend following his fine Crystal Palace performances
But Southgate insists Gallagher ‘deserves’ his first England call-up after he was promoted from the Under-21 squad.
‘We’ve been very impressed with him,’ Southgate said of the 21-year-old, who has yet to make his senior debut for Chelsea.
‘We’ve tracked him for a very long time in his loan spells at Charlton, Swansea – we knew the staff there very well – at West Brom and now at Crystal Palace so in each loan he has done extremely well.
‘He was already Covid tested and going from one to the other was straightforward. That’s not to say he is only there because of that – he is here because he deserves to be here – but it was an easy transition for us to make.
‘He has started the season very well with Palace. We talked about him when we named the original squad as somebody we were keen to keep an eye on and I suppose it’s one of the benefits of being with the Under-21s because it was an easy transition for us to bring him across.’
How realistic his chances of going to the 2022 World Cup are remains to be seen, but he certainly provides an alternative to the likes of Kalvin Phillips and Jordan Henderson in that area in particular.
The former Chelsea striker earned an England call-up for the first time since November 2019 last month, after scoring four goals in 10 games for Roma.
However, a dip in form for the Serie A giants has commensurately affected Abraham’s form, with just one goal in his last eight games.
In that sense, the 24-year-old can consider himself fortunate to have retained his place, especially with the likes of Jarrod Bowen – who has two goals and three assists in his last five West Ham appearances – missing out.
Abraham said earlier this week that he believes Roma boss Jose Mourinho has turned him into a ‘monster’ and a more aggressive player.
Asked what Mourinho had taught him at the Stadio Olimpico so far, Abraham replied: ‘Just be a monster really!
Tammy Abraham came on against Albania but his form has dipped at Roma in the last month
‘I think one of the things he said was I was too much of a nice player and that you have to show that aggressiveness as you’re getting older as a striker.
‘It’s not always about being nice on the pitch. You need that character, you need that presence to frighten defenders and I think that’s something I’m learning and getting better at.’
It is time therefore for Abraham to put Mourinho’s guidance into practice on the international stage and add to his two goals from nine caps, the latest of which came as Harry Kane’s replacement against Albania.
Abraham believes he can become the alternative to Kane for his country, stating: ‘I’m always someone who backs myself and believes in myself and you have to be ready because anything can happen in football.
‘For me it’s about always trying to be ready. Of course players go through injury and bad spells etc but as a player you have to be ready and that’s something you have to be ready for, whenever the call is and the opportunities come.’
A chance is likely to arrive at some stage against San Marino, even though Kane has urged Southgate to start him, and Abraham must seize it.
The former Chelsea striker believes, however, he is the perfect alternative to Harry Kane (left)
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