Despite a few stuttering performances of late, England have marched comfortably enough to the brink of qualification for the World Cup in Russia next summer. It’s very rarely pretty when England are playing, and it’s rarely easy either, but victories over Malta and Slovakia this past week have left the Three Lions needing just two points from their matches against Slovenia and Lithuania to confirm their place in the footballing extravaganza next year.
Premature as it may be, attention has already turned in betting circles as to who might make up the 23-man squad that will board the plane to Russia.
Will there be any surprises? Possibly: Marcus Rashford had played just 18 times for Manchester United when selected for Euro 2016, while Theo Walcott was barely out of nappies when called up for World Cup 2006.
So who could spring a surprise and earn their place on the plane?
Fraser Forster (15/8)
Presumably, England will take three goalkeepers on the plane to Russia. One of those will surely be Joe Hart, who despite a colossal loss of form in the past 12 months or so has been confirmed by Gareth Southgate as his number one. A logical guess would suggest that Everton’s excellent young shot stopper Jordan Pickford will be the second.
So a straight dogfight between Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton beckons for the third spot, and the Southampton net-tender has more of a chance than his odds of 15/8 imply.
The Saints will presumably finish above Burnley this term, and while Heaton has more caps to his name than Forster that is partly due to the long-term injury that the latter suffered in 2016/17.
This is a value bet, pure and simple. If the Forster vs Heaton battle is a 50/50 battle, then this 15/8 price is great value for punters.
Chris Smalling (3/1)
He may have fallen down the pecking order at Manchester United, but with injury-prone Phil Jones in front of him it surely won’t be long before Smalling is restored to Jose Mourinho’s starting eleven.
From there he will have every chance to impress Gareth Southgate in a United side that has started the new season in great form, and presuming that they can maintain that, to a certain extent, over the coming six months then Smalling looks extremely good value here.
Punters should note that he is as short as 1/2 with BetVictor to represent the Three Lions next summer, but SkyBet have him at the greatly inflated 3/1.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (8/1)
It was confirmed this week that Nathaniel Clyne faces another three months on the sidelines at Liverpool, and that means that Trent Alexander-Arnold will get plenty of game time for the Reds this term.
The 18-year-old has already impressed for Jurgen Klopp’s side with a series of mature displays, and is now his side’s recognised free kick taker after his brilliant strike against Hoffenheim.
Using our narrative he would be in a straight shootout with Kieran Trippier to be back-up right back behind Kyle Walker, and with little to choose between the pair Alexander-Arnold’s price of 8/1 is huge value.
Tammy Abraham (10/1)
Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy….England aren’t blessed with what we might term ‘out and out strikers’. We can add Daniel Sturridge to the list but banking on his fitness is a gamble not worth taking, while Jermain Defoe surely won’t slip into the white shirt of England again at the age of 35.
A position is vacant then, and a young talent like Tammy Abraham might just take advantage. He was prolific while out on loan at Bristol City last term, and having joined Swansea in the summer has every chance to establish himself as a Premier League frontman with the Swans having shipped out Fernando Llorente to Tottenham.
Next, all he needs to do is contribute a weight of goals to force his way into the reckoning. Abraham opened his Swansea account in the 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, and as a natural finisher he will be hoping to be on the end of more chances in the weeks and months to come.
Patrick Roberts (33/1)
There is always one curveball that forces their way into contention for selection, and while legitimate concerns over the standard of football in Scotland have often blocked the path of players plying their trade north of the border, Patrick Roberts could yet force his way into the mix.
England are not blessed with an abundance of left footed attacking players, and so Roberts could offer a niche option in a squad packed of one-dimensional individuals.
Yes, he will play for Celtic in 2017/18, but he will benefit from plenty of game time this season – something that the likes of Theo Walcott and Marcus Rashford might not be able to boast, and he will also feature in a minimum of six Champions Leagues games; important big game experience.
In September it might sound fanciful for Patrick Roberts to be in England’s World Cup squad, but come April/May next year it might make plenty of sense.