By George Ankers
On Monday, one day after the end of the Premier League season, Roy Hodgson will name his provisional 30-man England squad for World Cup 2014.
The wait is nearly over to find out the results of all the jockeying for position that we have seen over the season, with a friendly at Wembley against Peru on May 30 to help the Three Lions boss narrow down his selection to a final party of 23 before heading to Miami for some warm-weather training.
Having followed the progress of the England hopefuls throughout the campaign, Goal takes a last look at who is in pole position to go to Brazil and predicts the makeup of Hodgson's final 23-man squad.
|ON THE PLANE
|Joe Hart (Manchester City)
Glen Johnson (Liverpool)
Phil Jagielka (Everton)
Gary Cahill (Chelsea)
Leighton Baines (Everton)
Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Danny Welbeck (Manchester United)
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
UP: Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
UP: James Milner (Manchester City)
UP: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)
UP: Adam Lallana (Southampton)
UP: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
OUT: Andros Townsend (Tottenham)
As ever, Joe Hart is the clear No.1 in goal, his awkward form of 2013 forgotten since he regained his place at Manchester City. In front of him, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka will be the two first-choice centre-backs, with the Everton captain having recovered from injury just in time.
At full-back, Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson are certainties, with Kyle Walker's pelvic problem only further ensuring that the latter will go for his experience at right-back despite Liverpool’s issues in defence.
In midfield, the picture has become far clearer. Jordan Henderson's huge improvement this season and work alongside club-and-country captain Steven Gerrard saw him rewarded with a start against Denmark, showing how big a part of Hodgson's plans the ex-Sunderland star is these days.
The England manager has been in constant contact with Arsene Wenger to make sure that Arsenal are handling Jack Wilshere carefully, with the 22-year-old sure to be included if fit, while there is no sign of a surprise omission for Frank Lampard from what will surely be his last major international tournament.
James Milner, a Hodgson favourite, has remained solid enough for City and his ability to cover at right-back in a pinch as well as all across midfield makes him a huge asset. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another of whom the boss thinks highly and, though the youngster has been struggling with a groin problem, Hodgson has been encouraged by Wenger's feedback.
The big excitement in the attacking midfield positions will be provided by Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana, who have both maintained superb form to give themselves a real chance of starting in Brazil. Sterling did just that against Denmark, while the Southampton captain made a difference off the bench, providing the game-winning assist.
Three of England's forwards have been nailed on for quite some time, meanwhile, with no reason to suspect that any of Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck will be shockingly discarded. All three have big roles to play in Brazil.
|DOWN: Kyle Walker (Tottenham)
DOWN: Michael Carrick (Manchester United)
John Ruddy (Norwich City)
Fraser Forster (Celtic)
Phil Jones (Manchester United)
Chris Smalling (Manchester United)
Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
Luke Shaw (Southampton)
Rickie Lambert (Southampton)
UP: Ben Foster (West Brom)
UP: Ross Barkley (Everton)
OUT: Jay Rodriguez (Southampton)
He has a key choice to make over Kyle Walker – the Spurs man has long been England's backup right-back but has not played a game since March and would be a gamble even if passed fit for the World Cup. In all likelihood, he will miss out. An eighth defender in a 23-man squad is typically not used at all and, between Milner and his most likely second-tier centre-backs, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, Hodgson should have enough cover for Johnson to get by.
The only thing that might change that balance again could be Jones's fitness – the United youngster was taken to hospital with a damaged shoulder on Tuesday night. The Three Lions will be monitoring his situation with interest.
In goal, England must pick two from Ben Foster, Fraser Forster and John Ruddy. There is not a great deal to choose between them on ability but the latter's struggles behind a leaky Norwich City defence this season could see him miss out.
One major selection dilemma presents itself at left-back, with a straight choice between the old guard and the new. Luke Shaw was voted into the PFA Team of the Year after a fine season which saw him deservedly capped against Denmark but Ashley Cole has enjoyed an extended run back in the Chelsea first team of late and Hodgson's more conservative instincts can be expected to win out. Shaw's time will come, perhaps as early as September.
Michael Carrick has been in and around England's first team for some time but has been among the several serious disappointments of Manchester United's traumatic season and, if Hodgson is to make room for Everton tyro Ross Barkley, it would surely be the 32-year-old who is sacrificed. On form in 2013-14, there is only one sensible choice.
The decisions up front have become slightly less of a headache for Hodgson as a result of Jay Rodriguez's injury heartbreak. The 24-year-old had been in scintillating form in the games leading up to his anterior cruciate ligament rupture but will not get his chance yet.
It looks like boiling down to a straight choice between Rickie Lambert and Andy Carroll but Hodgson's indication that he will separate players by their form over a period of months should favour the Southampton hero.
Since returning to action in January, Carroll has scored just twice in 15 games for West Ham, while Lambert has six in 17 over the same time and 15 goals for the whole season – not to mention 10 Premier League assists, equal with Rooney and joint-third-best in the division.
|DOWN: Tom Cleverley (Manchester United)
DOWN: Jermain Defoe (Tottenham)
Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton)
Steven Caulker (Cardiff City)
Gareth Barry (Everton)
Ashley Young (Manchester United)
Adam Johnson (Sunderland)
Andy Carroll (West Ham)
NEW ENTRY: John Stones (Everton)
NEW ENTRY: Jon Flanagan (Liverpool)
NEW ENTRY: Connor Wickham (Sunderland)
As exclusively revealed by Goal in April, Everton youngster John Stones has impressed Hodgson so much that the 19-year-old is in line for inclusion in his 30-man provisional squad, though only a bad prognosis for Jones could be expected to open up a place on the plane.
Similarly, while Steven Caulker was called up ahead of the Denmark game, the Cardiff City centre-back is fifth choice at best.
If Hodgson decides that he absolutely must have a second specialist right-back in Walker's place, he would likely turn to Liverpool starlet Jon Flanagan. The youngster has been excellent while filling in at left-back and could well make the provisional squad, though Southampton's Nathaniel Clyne may hold out hope on the outside after some improved displays recently.
Tom Cleverley has made plenty of appearances under Hodgson and may yet be worthy of another opportunity one day but consistently unspectacular form for a conspicuously unspectacular United have seen him drop below the likes of Henderson in the pecking order. He may make the 30 but surely not the 23.
Everton loanee Gareth Barry was specifically namechecked by the England boss in March as being unlucky to miss out of the squad to face Denmark but, despite outperforming the likes of Lampard over 2013-14, will still most likely not find a place this summer without a late withdrawal or two.
On the wings, Adam Johnson has not continued at quite the same blistering pace as his February form set and should be expected to miss out again, as well as Ashley Young.
Andy Carroll will be a part of the 30-man squad, even if not the 23, while a cut from the final squad is surely also the fate awaiting Jermain Defoe. The veteran's three goals in four Major League Soccer games since leaving Tottenham for Toronto FC is respectable but his inclusion over either Lambert or Carroll would rob Hodgson of some options.
Finally, though Connor Wickham's run of five goals in three huge April games has at least put him into the conversation, there is no serious threat of him dislodging a more established name.
|PREDICTED 23-MAN SQUAD
|GOALKEEPERS: Forster, Foster, Hart
DEFENDERS: Baines, Cahill, Cole, Jagielka, Johnson, Jones, Smalling
MIDFIELDERS: Barkley, Gerrard, Henderson, Lallana, Lampard, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sterling, Wilshere
FORWARDS: Lambert, Rooney, Sturridge, Welbeck
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