Despite his polite, mild-mannered character, Gareth Southgate sent a warning to his England players last November – improve your club form or I’ll go with the youngsters.
Chris Smalling, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were among a group of players overlooked for the friendlies against Germany and Brazil, replaced by players who have impressed at youth level.
England went on to draw both games against top-class opposition, leading to optimism from some fans. But have the young players done enough to be part of the next squad that is announced on Thursday? Here, Anton Toloui, who is part of the team covering England for Sky Sports News this summer, takes a look…
Abraham impressed on his debut against Germany, leading the line with pace, strength and enthusiasm. His maturity and confidence off the field also made a mark and could help him be a big part of the culture shift Southgate is trying to spearhead under his stewardship.
His form since his two caps in November, however, has taken a dip. He has not scored in the Premier League for Swansea since October and his last league start was in December.
England would love Abraham to be the young, physical replacement for Harry Kane but he is going to have to enjoy a sparkling end to the season to move ahead of Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford in the pecking order.
Solanke was a star at last year’s U20 World Cup, bringing home the golden boot as well as a winner’s medal.
His success in the young England side led to Solanke coming off the bench for Vardy against Brazil but he is suffering from similar problems to Abraham.
He has not scored for Liverpool this season and has found starts difficult to come by. His pace and presence would add an extra element to the England squad but his form means he is likely to drop back into the U21s.
The on-loan Crystal Palace midfielder signified everything positive about England’s future after his debut against Germany.
Playing in the No 10 role, the 22-year old showed the kind of technique and composure we are used to seeing from players from Spain and France.
He would be a certainty to be called up this time around, especially as he can cover Dele Alli or play in a deeper role, but he has only just returned to training after fracturing his ankle in December.
Gareth Southgate has admitted to being a huge fan of the Liverpool defender and his switch to three-at-the-back means there may be at least one more central defender on the plane to Russia than in previous squads.
Southgate sees Gomez as a centre-back, despite the majority of his club starts being at right-back, but the England staff are delighted to see him get more game time.
Gomez helped keep Leroy Sane and Neymar quiet during his first two senior matches and his leadership qualities mean he still has a chance of being called up this time around, despite Chris Smalling’s return to form.
Cook is starting to show the promise many in the England set-up have believed he is capable of for some time.
Now a first-team regular at Bournemouth, the 21-year old is competing against the likes of Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to play alongside Eric Dier in the centre of England’s midfield.
He captained England’s U20s to success in South Korea last summer, was an unused substitute against Brazil in November and plays in a passing and combative style loved by England’s backroom staff.
A massive wildcard to be part of the World Cup squad but with Joe Hart’s troubles at West Ham, the England U21 ‘keeper can’t be ignored.
Gunn is another player identified as having a role in England’s future and his loan spell as Norwich’s No 1 has only enhanced his reputation.
The 22-year old is quietly competing with Nick Pope to become England’s third goalkeeper if Southgate drops Hart and the experience of going to a major tournament will not harm the Manchester City man’s development.
England’s squad to face Netherlands and Italy will be announced at 2pm on Thursday by Gareth Southgate. Follow it live on Sky Sports News.