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There is still the small matter of actually securing World Cup qualification for England -- four points against Albania and San Marino will do the trick -- but it is never too early to speculate about who Gareth Southgate might have in mind for next year's trip to Qatar. After all England will surely travel to the tournament among its favorites. Semifinalists three years ago in Russia, they went one better at Euro 2020 with a more youthful squad.

Defeat to Italy on penalties felt more like the start of a journey than its ending, so it will be interesting to see who Southgate entrusts to take the great leap forward. We've broken down the squad into the near-certain travelers, those most likely to join them and the long shots, wrapping it up with the predicted squad, at this moment, below:

On the plane

Jordan Pickford, Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Luke Shaw, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips, Mason Mount, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish

England had one of the youngest squads at Euro 2020 yet went further than anyone except Italy. The turnaround between last summer's delayed European Championships and the winter World Cup is more than six months tighter than usual. For those reasons alone, it should be no surprise that almost half of the squad for Qatar feels like it is set in stone, barring injury.

Even that might not be enough to stop Southgate from turning to some of these players; Maguire was not fit enough to feature at the Euros until the final group game but he made the squad. His form at Manchester United may have fallen off a cliff edge but until that consistently seeps into the international stage, where he is routinely excellent, it is unlikely to keep him from resuming his partnership with John Stones. There is frightening depth at full back but Walker and Shaw are constants for club and country who will surely get the call.

Up front, the only thing that can stop the Manchester City trio of Foden, Grealish and Sterling from getting called up is each other. These are particularly competitive spots, but one suspects it would still take a profound slip in Guardiola's affections for any to seriously find their England place in doubt. Sterling has struggled for club form for a while now but delivered when his country needed him, Kane was not always as consistent at Euro 2020 but Southgate is invariably fulsome in the backing of his captain, predicting a "fresh start" for him at Tottenham under Antonio Conte.

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Mount and Phillips are two more who deliver on the international stage while one might contend that there is no one as crucial to England as Rice. Excelling in the Premier League with West Ham, he can be the link man between defense and midfield, his passing catching up to the progressive runs that can carve out spaces for others. Whatever role Southgate needs him to play -- anchorman, dynamo, playmaker -- Rice is showing signs he can deliver.

In the departure lounge

Jordan Henderson, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka

No longer a guaranteed starter, one suspects that all that is keeping vice-captain Henderson from a space in the squad is whether he is prepared to potentially warm the bench now that the Rice-Phillips tandem seems to be Southgate's preferred midfield pairing. The indications so far are that that is no issue and indeed such is the value of having Liverpool's Premier League and Champions League winning captain in the squad, one could make an argument for taking him even if he were not fully fit.

Bellingham, meanwhile, earned his spurs at Euro 2020 and is showing no signs of diminishing with Borussia Dortmund, adding further dynamism and goal threat to his game. A guaranteed starter for a Champions League side at just 18 years of age, it is enticing to think how much better he might be a year from now in Qatar. The same could be said of Saka. For all the talent available to Southgate in wide areas, the Arsenal forward is the man in possession of the jersey; so long as he continues to deliver, it would take something remarkable to snatch his spot from him.

At check-in

Aaron Ramsdale, Dean Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James, Tyrone Mings, Conor Coady, Kieran Trippier, Ben Chilwell,  Marcus Rashford, Dominic Calvert-Lewin

The upbeat assessment of this might be that Southgate has competition across the wider squad and that can be nothing but a good thing. Even positions that once looked like weak links seem to be growing in strength; it seems eminently possible that Ramsdale and Henderson will be starting for Arsenal and Manchester United in a year's time, offering quite the challenge for Pickford.

At right back, three into perhaps just one simply does not go. Trippier is the steady head who offers an option on the opposite flank, James perhaps the most solid defensively and Alexander-Arnold the talent play whose front-footedness is perhaps not as well suited to teams that aren't built to fill his needs. Chilwell feels a lock if Southgate takes two left backs, but Mings and Coady must surely be looking nervously over their shoulders, particularly the former as he struggles for form, despite getting the nod for these qualifiers.

The same might be said of Rashford, though if he recovers the form he showed before his shoulder issues he ought to be fine, while Calvert-Lewin is the second-best natural striker.

Running late for the flight

Sam Johnstone, Fikayo Tomori, Ben White, Joe Gomez, James Ward Prowse, Jesse Lingard, Emile Smith Rowe, Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho, Tammy Abraham

Perhaps the most intriguing spots that may be most open to the vagaries of form are the center backs who join Stones and Maguire. Mings, who has the advantage of being comfortable on the left side of defense, was a steady presence at Euro 2020, but while he is struggling with Villa, Tomori and White are performing exceptionally since securing big-money transfers. Both have the pace and composure on the ball to thrive on the international stage and the latter was a fringe player at the Euros. Then there is Gomez, who might have been a first choice for his country had he not injured his knee over a year ago. While he struggles for game time at Liverpool, he is still held in great esteem by Southgate and is likely to be a fringe option for England.

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Smith Rowe, Lingard, Greenwood and Sancho could all find themselves on the plane to Qatar. For the three at Manchester United, the question is whether they can get the game time they will need to find form and convince Southgate. On his current trajectory, it would be a brave man who ruled out Smith Rowe but the harsh reality might just be that. If he consistently plays on the left for Arsenal, he will find himself measured against Grealish, Sterling, Foden and Rashford. It is a wealth of talent for him to overhaul.

Making other plans

Nick Pope, Michael Keane, Ben Godfrey, Harvey Barnes, Callum Hudson-Odoi, James Maddison, Callum Wilson, Danny Ings, Conor Gallagher, Jarrod Bowen

There's plenty of talent in this section of the squad alone, transport a player such as Barnes 20 years back in time and he might be the answer for England's left side issues. Similarly, Godfrey may yet prove this assessment wrong, he certainly has all the raw ingredients. Hudson-Odoi's versatility might be a blessing but his reluctance to join up with the Under-21s may cost him in Southgate's eyes.

If there is a potential bolter who comes from nowhere, it could come from London. Both Gallagher and Bowen have excelled this season but are not yet in the conversation -- continue on their current trajectory and they surely will be sooner or later.

Predicted squad

Goalkeepers: Pickford, Ramsdale, Henderson
Defenders: Walker, Alexander-Arnold, Maguire, Stones, Gomez, White, Shaw, Chilwell
Midfielders: Rice, Henderson, Phillips, Bellingham, Mount
Forwards: Kane, Sterling, Foden, Grealish, Saka, Rashford, Calvert-Lewin