Marcus Rashford’s England place is under threat, with Gareth Southgate facing a key decision over whether to drop him and bring in his Manchester United team-mate Jadon Sancho.

Southgate is expected to name a larger-than-usual men’s squad on Thursday, the first of 2022, for games against Switzerland and Ivory Coast as he begins preparations for the winter World Cup in Qatar.

And there is real doubt whether Rashford will be included on the list: he has started just three Premier League games in 2022 and scored just twice since the start of November. He began on the substitutes’ bench for United’s Champions League last-16 tie with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday evening.

By contrast Sancho, who was left out of the last England squad in November, has enjoyed a marked return to form under new manager Ralf Rangnick.

Sancho had started just four Premier League matches before the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but now has six league starts in the last five weeks, scoring twice and contributing three assists in that time.

England fixtures

  • England vs Switzerland – Saturday, March 26, 5.30pm
  • England vs Ivory Coast – Tuesday, March 29, 7.45pm

West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen was widely expected to receive his first England call up until a heel injury halted his excellent season. The 25-year-old is close to a return, though Southgate is unlikely to include him for the first time if he isn’t fully fit. He’s scored 12 goals for the Hammers this season.

The Leicester duo of Harvey Barnes and James Justin will be hoping for recalls, after they both returned to form following lengthy injuries.

Justin in particular has a strong case, with an availability crisis blighting Southgate’s options at left back.

Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell is out for the season, Newcastle’s Kieran Trippier is still two months from a return, and Luke Shaw wasn’t included in United’s Champions League squad to play Atletico Madrid; he has only just returned to training this week after injury, and a bout of Covid.

Bukayo Saka has played left back for England, but his exceptional form this season for Arsenal on the right wing would seemingly rule out that option.

Leicester’s Luke Thomas and Norwich’s Brandon Williams have an outside chance.

Whether Southgate feels Chelsea’s Reece James is fit enough to join up remains to be seen, especially as fellow right backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kyle Walker are on top form, and guaranteed squad members.

Dier to return to the squad?

Eric Dier has been in good form for Tottenham
Eric Dier has been in good form for Tottenham

Southgate has an interesting decision to make in terms of who will be his No 1 going forward, with long-term ‘keeper Jordan Pickford being challenged by Aaron Ramsdale for that spot – and you can read more about their battle here.

However, form is an issue at the heart of England’s defence, with Harry Maguire, John Stones and Tyrone Mings not at their best. The same can’t be said for Conor Coady, who scored a brilliant winner for Wolves at Everton on Sunday. If any of those four were dropped it would be a real surprise, however.

Arguably England’s most in-form centre back, Eric Dier is back on Southgate’s radar. Exiled from the national team since before last summer’s Euros, Southgate is a big admirer of the Tottenham man, and said when he left him out of that landmark squad: “He is a man who I have tremendous respect for, and he has been a key player in our biggest moments.”

A Dier recall is a distinct possibility.

It will be interesting to see whether the two late, first-time call ups from England’s last squad – Crystal Palace’s Connor Gallagher and Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe – get the nod again, or whether Southgate feels they still have more to offer the U21s.

Harry Kane and Emile Smith Rowe celebrate during England's thrashing of San Marino
England may opt to deploy Emile Smith Rowe with the U21s for this international break

Aston Villa midfielder Jacob Ramsey and Crystal Palace defender Marc Guehi are certainly in Southgate’s thoughts, Sky Sports News has been told, but they are both a key part of England’s U21 team, who play two Euros qualifiers during this international break.

There are doubts whether Southgate would want to diminish Lee Carsley’s resources when the U21s face two competitive matches, compared with the senior team who face two friendlies.

World Cup build-up begins

We shouldn’t expect Southgate to experiment too much with this squad selection, or with these games. It is one of only three senior training camps before the winter World Cup, and England’s boss is determined to focus his players’ minds and begin preparations now.

To that end, Southgate will use this camp to discuss directly with his players how they want to approach the issue of human rights abuses in Qatar.

When asked in the past what the squad’s stance would be, he said the matter would be discussed as a group, once the players and staff had been fully informed about the situation.