A rising England youngster is set to be denied an England call-up through no fault of his own as Gareth Southgate faces agonising decisions over his upcoming squad selection.
After a challenging, condensed autumn period, the Three Lions return to action against San Marino next Thursday before heading to Albania and wrapping up this qualification triple header at home to Poland.
The 2018 World Cup semi-finalists are not only looking to get their road to Qatar off to a smooth start but use March’s fixtures to finetune as this is their last camp before Southgate names his Euros squad.
The former England defender is facing some interesting calls ahead of naming what is expected to be a group of 25-plus players on Thursday afternoon.
Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham, who made his debut in November, was set to be part of the squad but regional Covid-19 regulations in Germany currently look set to scupper that.
The 17-year-old was not selected for the under-21 Euros finals in order to join up with Southgate’s side and on Wednesday the Football Association were still hoping to bring him in, but the midfielder now looks set to stay in Germany.
Dortmund team-mate Jadon Sancho would have been in a similar situation if he was not ruled out with a thigh injury – one of a number of attacking problems impacting the Three Lions.
Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka, James Maddison and Tammy Abraham are doubts, while Danny Ings, Callum Wilson and Harvey Barnes are set to miss out through injury.
Mason Greenwood and Callum Hudson-Odoi are with the under-21s, leaving Southgate with some interesting calls to make.
Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins has been mentioned as an option and Patrick Bamford is in Southgate’s thoughts for a first call-up despite limping off against Chelsea on Saturday.
Asked about his availability for Friday’s match against at Fulham, Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa said: “We think that yes, he will play on Friday.
“He has a knock on his hip that is painful, but we don’t think that it’s going to make him miss the game.”
Jesse Lingard – a veteran of the 2018 World Cup squad – is in line for a recall after making a superb start to life at West Ham having joined from Manchester United on loan in January.
Given the absentees, Southgate may be tempted to look at Leicester veteran Jamie Vardy having said in November that “we’ve always left that door open” to a player who called time on his international career after Russia.
John Stones, another World Cup semi-finalist, is set to earn his first call-up since November 2019 thanks to his impressive resurgence at Manchester City, while Luke Shaw is in line to add to his eight caps.
“With Luke, the door is certainly open,” Southgate said of the Manchester United left-back in October
“I don’t think we’ve ever closed the door on any player – and we certainly wouldn’t on Luke. He’s more than capable of being the best left-back in the country, in my opinion.”
Fikayo Tomori has benefited from his January loan switch after joining AC Milan and could return to the squad, while Aston Villa centre-back Ezri Konsa has been on Southgate’s radar.
Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Joe Gomez are definitely unavailable for England, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is available.
Three Lions skipper Harry Kane is a shoo-in for a squad that Tottenham team-mates Harry Winks, Eric Dier and Dele Alli are pushing to be involved in.
Leeds full-back Luke Ayling has been linked with a call-up – a surprise given Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker and Reece James are available, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Matty Cash also impressing.
Meanwhile, Southgate will be without number one Jordan Pickford after he sustained an injury to his oblique abdominal muscle at the weekend.
Dean Henderson and Nick Pope will be competing to start the World Cup qualifiers, with West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone tipped to win his first call-up.
READ MORE: Bielsa names best Ayling assets amid England talk; major Bamford boost