England moved a step closer to confirming their place at the 2018 World Cup with a routine 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday in Gareth Southgate’s first game in charge as permanent manager at Wembley.
Goalscorers Jermain Defoe and Jamie Vardy reminded critics of Wayne Rooney that there is life after 30, but the England captain has been overlooked by our reporters as Sportsmail looks ahead to next summer in Russia.
Several players are certainties to start should they avoid injury, but there are still question marks over some key areas. Who do you think should start the opening group game? Tell us your starting XI in the comments below.
England’s starting XI for the win over Lithuania is likely to be different come the World Cup
Jermain Defoe did his chances no harm by scoring England’s opener in the 2-0 win at Wembley
Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli has impressed in the No 10 role during the international break
(4-5-1): Butland; Walker, Stones, Cahill, Rose; Dier, Alli, Sterling, Barkley, Lallana; Kane.
Butland, when fit, is the best of England’s goalkeepers, although he needs more game time. Hopefully, once he is reinstated at Stoke that will naturally follow. I like the pace available to Gareth Southgate in attacking areas and this team rotating ‘No 10’s’ in Lallana, Alli and Barkley, who I still have great faith in and believe he can be an England playmaker.
He too believes he can play with Alli. Harry Kane as the spearhead but Jermain Defoe deserves a place on the bench for his fox in the box tendencies displayed at Wembley on Sunday.
Ross Barkley was denied any minutes in the recent international break but has claims to start
(4-4-2): Hart; Walker, Cahill, Stones, Rose; Sterling, Dier, Wilshere, Lallana; Alli, Kane.
It is starting to feel like wishful thinking but I’d still very much like to see a fit, confident Jack Wilshere at the centre of things in the England side. He remains a huge talent.
In Jordan Henderson, Gareth Southgate nevertheless has a more than capable alternative and someone far more likely to start in Russia.
Jordan Henderson missed the international break due to injury but is likely to make the plane
(4-1-3-2): Hart; Walker, Keane, Cahill, Rose; Henderson; Sterling, Alli, Lallana; Kane, Vardy
Would really like to see Harry Kane in tandem with Jamie Vardy as it could work spectacularly. Kane likes to drop deep, allowing Vardy to concentrate in making runs in behind and as a duo they would cause all defences problems.
Jordan Henderson would offer a more energetic midfield presence than Eric Dier once returning to full fitness while Michael Keane has shown composure and adaptability at international level in his first two caps, and by next year will have improved even more.
Joe Hart keeps his No 1 place but should Jack Butland return to form now he has his fitness then the Stoke goalkeeper would make a strong case.
Burnley defender Michael Keane showed just why several clubs are keen on signing him
(4-2-3-1): Butland; Walker, Stones, Cahill, Rose; Dier, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Sterling, Alli, Lallana; Kane
Until injury, Jack Butland has been superb and while, strangely, much has been made of the ‘success’ of Joe Hart’s loan spell in Italy, few have mentioned the clangers that continue to plague his game.
This is a young team, loaded with pace and creativity, with a huge defensive responsibility on Eric Dier’s shoulders. If he can carry that, it has the potential to lift us out of our tournament gloom.
Jack Butland has not played for over a year but hopes his injury nightmare will be behind him
(4-3-3): Butland; Walker, Stones, Cahill, Rose; Alli, Dier, Henderson; Sterling, Rashford; Kane.
I think Rashford already merits a place in the starting line up, instantly giving England a face lift with improved pace and intent when coming off the bench.
If he continues to progress at the same rate he must start in Russia. I would have Vardy available as an impact sub. Luke Shaw could force his way in depending on fitness but Rose is proven and I like him in tandem with Walker.
(4-1-4-1): Hart; Walker, Stones, Keane, Rose; Dier; Sterling, Lallana, Alli, Rashford; Kane
The goalkeeping situation may well come to a head depending on where Joe Hart ends up this summer and there is a potential issue of where Gareth Southgate fits Dele Alli in to unlock the best of him.
Marcus Rashford will hopefully have excelled in his second full season, while Michael Keane should flourish further with a summer move.
Kyle Walker has made the right back berth his own this season for club and for country
(3-5-2): Butland; Keane, Cahill, Stones; Walker, Alli, Dier, Lallana, Rose; Kane, Defoe
Playing three at the back would not only add extra insurance in England’s weakest position – central defence – but would also free up two of our best players in Kyle Walker and Danny Rose to attack from wing-back. The Spurs pair have the energy and intelligence to do the job of both full back and wide midfielder.
Eric Dier would provide the anchoring presence in midfield with Dele Alli and Adam Lallana capable of getting around the park from a central posting, contributing to both defence and attack.
Further forward, why not go with two up front? Let’s face it, 4-2-3-1 or variations of it have hardly worked at major tournaments. Harry Kane would be first choice with either Jermain Defoe or Jamie Vardy buzzing around him and giving opposition defences something new to worry about.
Eric Dier has made the base of England’s midfield his own after starting the last two games
(4-2-3-1): Hart; Walker, Keane, Stones, Rose: Henderson, Barkley; Sterling, Alli, Lallana: Kane
Three at the back was the preferred system for the last couple of games but this is a more orthodox formation. The biggest call, perhaps, is removing Gary Cahill but it is time to look to the future and that is what Michael Keane is: it is inevitable that, 12 months down the line, he will be playing at a higher standard than Burnley too.
Jordan Henderson’s injury should not make people forget about his influence and I would like to see Ross Barkley play alongside him. He is better in possession and has more vision that Eric Dier. The front four picks itself.
Gary Cahill captained England in Germany but faces competition in the centre of defence
Wayne Rooney has been overlooked for Russia 2018 but Harry Kane (right) is tipped to start
(4-1-4-1): Hart; Walker, Stones, Cahill, Shaw; Dier; Sterling, Alli, Lallana, Rashford; Kane
Most positions are pretty stable and obvious at the moment, the players aren’t good enough to compare with France and Germany but the World Cup is knockout football and it’s about getting things right on the day, Shaw is way behind Rose and Bertrand right now but if he plays more next season, he’s a great asset.
Henderson could come in for games against bigger countries but Rashford would start for me in the group.
(4-2-3-1): Hart; Walker, Stones, Keane, Rose; Dier, Henderson; Lallana, Alli, Sterling; Kane
A controversial choice of mine is I prefer Keane to Cahill. That mix of youth at the heart of England’s defence is exciting.
The World Cup is still a year away, and by then Stones and Keane will, hopefully, be even better. I then have Dier and Henderson as protection, before Lallana, Alli and Sterling as my trio. Kane up front all day long.
Gareth Southgate has plenty to ponder in goal and in the back four ahead of the World Cup
(4-2-3-1): Butland; Walker, Stones, Keane, Rose; Dier, Drinkwater; Sterling, Alli, Lallana; Kane
This team depends on many ifs, buts and maybes but it has the making of a high energy, highly skilled outfit that would compete well. It is alarming that we have stopped producing top-drawer central midfielders, a position where we have previously been spoiled for choice.
And what has happened to old-fashioned wingers that hug the touchline, earn half a yard and guarantee quality? How has a generation that grew up worshipping Beckham and copying his haircuts, failed to produce anybody able to replicate his technique?
This team hopes for John Stones to fulfil his potential, Michael Keane to cope well with his inevitable summer transfer, Danny Drinkwater showing the form of recent weeks rather than recent months. Jack Butland is an excellent goalkeeper with a better temperament than Joe Hart and we hope his injuries will be behind him.
John Stones produced a mature performance at the heart of the England defence on Sunday
(4-2-3-1): Butland; Walker, Stones, Cahill, Bertrand; Dier, Wilshere; Sterling, Alli, Lallana; Kane.
England are lacking decent holding midfielders and I do not believe Jack Wilshere should be left out. The national team needs a quicker-witted player alongside Eric Dier. If England lose that core, against stronger teams they will be picked apart.
In goal I’d have Jack Butland over Joe Hart, for me he is the best goalkeeper in the country when fit. Harry Kane is the country’s leading striker by some way and not taking advantage of his psychic link-up with Spurs team-mate Dele Alli, playing just behind, would be foolish. If we want to win anything, Alli has to be the centre point.