Amid the current blizzard of domestic and European football it is easy to forget the World Cup is only 30 days away.
With the injuries that have sidelined Reece James and Diogo Jota, and threaten to foil the dreams of the likes of Leroy Sane and Richarlison, you can bet the players hoping to realise their dreams in Qatar next month have not forgotten what’s looming on the horizon.
But aside from avoiding the injury bug, there are those destined or hoping to be on the flight taking Gareth Southgate’s England squad to the Middle East who have plenty to prove as the games continue to come thick and fast between now and the big kick-off on November 20.
A stalwart for England since the 2018 World Cup, Jordan Pickford would have to do something very daft to work his way out of Southgate’s affections, but we are talking about Jordan Pickford so doing something very daft remains absolutely in play.
The Everton goalkeeper was at fault for Tottenham’s opening goal in last Saturday’s 2-0 defeat and a drip-drip of errors would leave the door ajar for Nick Pope, whose reputation seems to have been enhanced by his move to Newcastle, even if his form was as good in his Burnley days.
Chelsea star James was in pole position for the right-back slot before an agonising knee injury ended his World Cup hopes, while Russia 2018 veteran Kyle Walker could also miss the tournament.
That leaves a solid November between Trent Alexander-Arnold and international redemption, although Kieran Trippier may be the safe pair of hands for which Southgate is longing.
In the centre things are equally uncertain. Harry Maguire retains Southgate’s unswerving loyalty, if not his club’s, but a shaky outing against Germany last month showed the danger of the big stopper landing in Qatar with rust in his boots.
Maguire really needs games and with Manchester United having Europa League and League Cup commitments before the season stops on November 13, there should be ample opportunity even if he is not first-choice.
Trouble is, he suffered his own injury setback during the last international break. The 29-year-old should be back in full training soon and will be desperate to find form as well as fitness.
Conor Coady’s loan move to Everton has revived his chances and a relatively gentle run of fixtures over the coming weeks should see him trending upwards.
Tyrone Mings and Aston Villa also have some winnable games ahead but there remains an air of unease at Villa Park and Mings’ 50-pence header in Sunday’s defeat to Chelsea was symptomatic of a difficult season.
At left-back, Maguire’s club-mate Luke Shaw admits he deserved to be dropped by Manchester United but the Euro 2020 final goalscorer is now back in favour and will be desperate to stay there, holding off the challenge of Ben Chilwell.
The evidence suggests James Maddison is not a Southgate man but five goals and two assists in nine games for a struggling Leicester team are hard to ignore, particularly with Mason Mount, England’s incumbent at No.10, starting the campaign slowly.
But with Southgate watching Maddison was unable to press his claims in last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace, while 24 hours later Mount scored twice in Chelsea’s win at Aston Villa.
Kalvin Phillips has a face that fits at international level but a dislocated shoulder means he has played just one minute of Premier League football since his summer move to Manchester City. A strong showing in last month’s internationals means Jude Bellingham looks to have supplanted Phillips as Declan Rice’s midfield running mate but the former Leeds man just needs to focus on getting himself fit to challenge for a place.
Pep Guardiola said last week the 26-year-old is ‘improving a lot’ and City still have seven games to play before Qatar. If Phillips doesn’t feature, Mount’s Chelsea team-mate Conor Gallagher could come into play.
Harry Kane’s importance to England and potted history with injuries makes it somewhat unfathomable that the striker’s prospective understudies didn’t make it off the bench against Italy or Germany last month.
Ivan Toney being called up for the first time but left uncapped raised the prospect that the Brentford frontman had entered the Maddison zone but then Roma’s Tammy Abraham didn’t add to his 11 appearances either, so who knows how Southgate views his alternatives?
Whatever their prospects of playing there must be room for at least one more out-and-out striker on the plane and with Callum Wilson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin making timely returns from injury it looks like a four-man shoot-out to make the departure gate.
Toney, who has responded to his disappointment with three goals in his last two games, could yet be given his opportunity to impress.
Out wide Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and old City team-mate Raheem Sterling are locked in but across Manchester Jadon Sancho needs a stellar four weeks to breathe any life into his hopes. United team-mate Marcus Rashford looks more likely to sneak in if he can avoid any more injuries.