The international break is upon us and as usual there are debates over who Gareth Southgate should and shouldn’t have picked for his England squad.
The inclusion of longstanding Southgate favourites Kalvin Phillips and Harry Maguire have proven particularly divisive, given where they find themselves in the pecking order at their respective clubs.
It’s often said that the England manager should look purely at form, which got us thinking about a full XI of England players that are playing well right now. We’ve put together this team based purely on performances in the 2023-24 season to date.
GK: Sam Johnstone
We’re expecting Jordan Pickford to get the nod once again, and that last-gasp double-save against Sheffield United shows he’s still capable of the spectacular.
You can make a case for Pickford – or Aaron Ramsdale and Nick Pope – but our 2023-24 shout is Johnstone, who dislodged Vicente Guaita at Crystal Palace and has looked assured and comfortable in their strong start to the season under Roy Hodgson.
Special mention to Sheffield United’s Wes Foderingham, who might be awaiting his first win or clean sheet but has made 20 saves – only Fulham’s Bernd Leno has registered more in Europe’s top five leagues.
RB: Kyle Walker
The Manchester City captain was punished for a sloppy mistake against Sheffield United but he’s otherwise been as solid as ever.
Pep Guardiola’s champions boast the best defensive record in the Premier League and Walker has played his part in that.
CB: Joe Gomez
An unexpected name, perhaps, but one that belongs on merit – particularly with John Stones out with a hip injury.
Liverpool are yet to concede a goal with Gomez on the pitch this season (162 minutes across three appearances). He brought much-needed calm to Jurgen Klopp’s backline after Virgil van Dijk’s sending off against Newcastle and didn’t put a foot wrong in the 3-0 win over Aston Villa.
The 26-year-old hasn’t been capped by England since 2020 and will need a much longer run in the Liverpool team if he’s to make it back into genuine contention. But never say never.
📊 Joe Gomez completed a whopping 72 passes in the first half – the most by anyone on the pitch.
On top of that he made 2 interceptions, 5 recoveries and hardly put a foot wrong.
Very solid display. pic.twitter.com/dEsl7XZnEV
— Bence Bocsák (@BenBocsak) September 3, 2023
CB: Fikayo Tomori
Perhaps a controversial choice, given Tomori was sent off for two yellow cards in his last appearance for Milan.
But we’re still having him just ahead of Dunk, Guehi, Maguire and Colwill.
The Rossoneri have made an excellent start to the season and Tomori has been a major part of that, conceding just one goal in 211 minutes of Serie A football.
LB: Ben Chilwell
Mauricio Pochettino’s Chelsea are yet to convince in 2023-24 but Chilwell has been a very bright spark.
He assisted against Liverpool and was unfortunate to be denied a goal after marginally straying offside.
The Blues are yet to really click in the final third but Chilwell’s bursts down the left wing are often where they’ve looked most dangerous. Admittedly this is with Pochettino perplexingly using him almost as an out-and-out winger.
DM: Declan Rice
James Ward-Prowse has made an exceptional start to life at West Ham, notching two assists and a goal in his first three appearances for David Moyes’ high-flying side. So we can certainly sympathise with the arguments that the set-piece specialist ought to be in Southgate’s squad over Phillips.
But for the starting spot we just can’t look past Rice. The man Ward-Prowse replaced at the London Stadium looks instantly at home at Arsenal and not at all cowed by that club-record £105million fee.
Not only did the 24-year-old score that late match-winner against Manchester United but he was also outstanding in the win at Crystal Palace.
“Declan Rice was the best player on the pitch,” enthused Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football.
“It felt like everything went through him. He was in the centre of the pitch, he was getting the ball, he was switching play – a couple of great 50 to 60-yard passes.”
Having reached this level, Rice ought to nail down his spot as one of the first names on England’s teamsheet for many more years to come.
🥇 Expected assists – 0.23
🥇 Passes completed in the final third – 18
🥈 Passes completed in opposition half – 33
🥇 Passes forward under pressure – 8
🥇 Distance covered – 11.6km
Declan Rice’s numbers vs. Crystal Palace. 👏 pic.twitter.com/XbImpo9bXW
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) August 22, 2023
CM: Jude Bellingham
A footballer born to play on the biggest stages, Bellingham has taken to Real Madrid as if he’s having a kickabout in the parks of Stourbridge.
He only turned 20 earlier this summer and has already had a direct hand in six of Madrid’s eight league goals this season, scoring vital goals in each of his four La Liga appearances to date.
Bellingham might just be the best player in the world. Seriously.
CM: James Maddison
We’re calling it now; Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham are 2023-24’s official ‘breath of fresh air’ team.
After the dour and miserable football of the Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte eras, Spurs have been a joy to watch this season. That’s partly down to Postecoglou revitalising a number of the players he inherited but the club have also made a number of astute signings that have hit the ground running.
None more so than Maddison, who has come in and replaced the No.10-style playmaking contributions of Harry Kane superbly. The signing from Leicester has two goals and two assists in his first four appearances for Tottenham.
FWR: Solly March
The only uncapped player in this XI, March is genuinely giving Southgate something to think about. His Seagulls team-mate Pascal Gross has just received his first call-up for Germany at the age of 32, so why not?
The 29-year-old has racked up 280 appearances for Brighton and just seems to get better and better. Raheem Sterling has looked sharp for Chelsea, but we can’t look past March in 2023-24 so far. He’s been one of Roberto De Zerbi’s standout performers with three goals as Brighton have kicked off the season with three wins from four.
ST: Harry Kane
Three goals and an assist in his first three Bundesliga appearances for Bayern Munich, who have unsurprisingly won all of their matches so far.
A no-brainer as ever.
Harry Kane speaking on his Bundesliga debut and first goal for Bayern
— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) August 19, 2023
FWL: Phil Foden
Bukayo Saka has consistently been one of England’s best players for some time now. He’s scored seven goals in his last nine appearances for the Three Lions, including a hat-trick in his last outing against North Macedonia back in June.
On that basis, it would be daft for Southgate not to pick the Arsenal attacker.
But if we’re talking purely recent form, Foden has had the better start to 2023-24. Saka wasn’t at his best against Manchester United, although he still came up with the match-defining delivery for Rice, while Foden has stepped things up to another level at City in recent weeks.
“I’ve said many times, Phil can play in all the positions up front,” said Pep Guardiola after Foden’s show-stealing performance against Newcastle.
“He has an incredible ability between the lines. The way he turns and attacks the last lines – it is one of the best I have seen.”