At the Departure Gate: Who's Currently in Hodgson's 23-Man England Squad?
With the FIFA 2014 World Cup just five months away, Roy Hodgson has some tough decisions to make.
Who will stay and who will go? Which players have booked their tickets to Brazil and look assured of a place, who's on the cusp of the squad and who looks marooned in no man's land?
Our first edition will set the scene, taking stock of who's packing their bags, checking flights or sitting on the outside looking in. From next week onward, we'll give weekly assessments of player stocks and how it affects their chances of booking their spot on the plane.
Pack your bags
Since taking a month out of the Manchester City lineup to get his head straight, Joe Hart has come back into form and impressed us with some typically excellent showings.
Roy Hodgson told the BBC that the former Shrewsbury stopper is his No. 1 before the recent bout of friendlies, instilling faith into a beleagued 'keeper.
Meanwhile, Fraser Forster has been plying his trade well on a consistent basis for Celtic in the Scottish Premier League, and while his club destination isn't clear in the future, his location in the summer is: Brazil.
John Ruddy may not have enjoyed the most spectacular season to date with Norwich, but he's firmly in Hodgson's thoughts. The third goalkeeper spot is essentially his to lose, but Ben Foster will want some of the action too.
With England's three slots essentially decided, Jack Butland will know his situation. As third-choice Stoke City goalkeeper he won't have the chance to impress Roy before the summer swings by.
Pack your bags
Ashley Cole is back in the Chelsea XI and performing well, so any minor issues regarding his playing time may well have evaporated. He temporarily lost his starting spot to Cesar Azpilicueta, but with Branislav Ivanovic out they're both playing now.
Kyle Walker is enjoying a standout season with Tottenham Hotspur, his best yet to be frank, and looks pretty sure of a ticket as it stands.
Normally a regular in the England setup, Glen Johnson has been performing drastically below par in recent weeks for Liverpool. Whether that affects Roy Hodgson's decision or not is another question, but there is no way Johnson should be regarded as a shoo-in.
With left-back booked up, Kieran Gibbs and Luke Shaw are left toiling away without reward. The former made Hodgson's latest squad thanks to good form for Arsenal, but both look serious outside bets at this stage.
At right-back Walker and Johnson have been the go-to guys for years now, with perhaps only Nathaniel Clyne capable of making his own case heard.
Pack your bags
Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill are Roy Hodgson's chosen England centre-back pairing, starting the large majority of games together and looking rather comfortable to boot.
The former is starring in a rock-solid, pass-orientated defence under Roberto Martinez, while the latter has won a permanent place in Chelsea's defence ahead of crowd favourite David Luiz.
Only two centre-backs are really nailed on for Brazil, with most others trading playing time for the bench at random points during the season.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are fighting each other for a spot in both the England and Manchester United setup, with Jones holding the upper hand such is his grasp on the CB spot.
Joleon Lescott, while not playing much at the moment, is always a solid left-sided option who could move this winter.
Michael Dawson has pretty much blown any outside chance of making it given his poor performances this season. Steven Caulker doesn't appear to be in favour this time around, and neither does Steven Taylor.
Pack your bags
Liverpool's reinvented deep-lying playmaker Steven Gerrard is captain of the national team and assured a starting berth. Roy Hodgson's 4-3-3 formation is built around him as a regista-esque talent, and that's not going to change over the course of the next five months.
Michael Carrick has been frozen out in the past but, barring troublesome niggles and injuries, has been a consistent presence under Hodgson. Frank Lampard is an experienced head, and it's difficult to see him not going now he's been entirely separated from Gerrard on the pitch.
Jack Wilshere, although in need of some grooming, appears to be a favourite of Roy's.
Now it gets complicated, as England have plenty of options here and it will likely depend on form in the second half of the season and chemistry with the other selections. This is the area to watch.
Ross Barkley has been in scintillating form and looks the genuine answer to England's midfield issues, Tom Cleverley is continually called up whether or not he's playing well and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could play centrally if asked.
Jordan Henderson's strong form this season has him in contention.
Leon Osman, Fabian Delph, Jack Rodwell and Scott Parker are all very much on the outside looking in.
Pack your bags
Theo Walcott's untimely ACL injury has ended his season and with it his hopes of going to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, opening up serious questions about the wide roles in Roy Hodgson's 4-3-3.
Danny Welbeck looks good for a seat on the plane now his goalscoring form has picked up once again, as the boss stuck with him in a left-forward role throughout his drought.
James Milner, the "steady Eddy" of the group, also looks assured a spot, such is his versatility and willingness to work and track back. That's his forté, sadly.
Walcott leaves a gaping hole at right wing, and while Milner is basically assured a spot, he's by no means assured the starting role. Adam Lallana, Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all vying among themselves to take up the mantle.
Form over the second half of the season will decide the battle.
After a blight of injuries and a severe drop in form, Ashley Young's chances of making the team look marginal. Wilfried Zaha's are even worse considering he can't get a kick and can't go out on loan and Raheem Sterling has A LOT of ground to make up on his rivals before he can be talked about.
Pack your bags
England's star man Wayne Rooney will be the second name on the team sheet after captain Steven Gerrard's, and the Manchester United man is in very encouraging form for his club right now.
Roy Hodgson has also shown an inclination to give Daniel Sturridge every chance to cement his place in the side (and rightly so), but injuries continually knock him off his stride.
Barring unforeseeable events, Rickie Lambert looks set to grab a coveted spot on the plane. His performances for England have been very strong, and donning the national jersey means absolutely everything to him.
With the hybrid nature of several wide men, Hodgson may choose to go with just three recognised forwards—and only start one. If he wants another, Jermain Defoe's move to Toronto could loosen his grip—much to the delight of Jay Rodriguez.
Andy Carroll made his return to West Ham's first team this weekend after missing five months due to injury. He went to Euro 2012 and scored, so if he picks his form up, Lambert could be in trouble.
Here is the current overview of the squad, with sure-fire selections in bold, maybes in normal and long-shots in italics. Please note, this is not a mock 23-man squad, but a summary of the previous slides.
Joe Hart, Fraser Forster, John Ruddy, Ben Foster, Jack Butland.
Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Kyle Walker, Glen Johnson, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Joleon Lescott, Luke Shaw, Nathaniel Clyne, Kieran Gibbs, Steven Caulker, Michael Dawson, Steven Taylor.
Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Tom Cleverley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jordan Henderson Leon Osman, Fabian Delph, Scott Parker, Jack Rodwell.
Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Rickie Lambert, Jermain Defoe, Jay Rodriguez, Andy Carroll.
"Certain" to fly: 13
Seats left: 10