Every four years, players with the potential of playing at the World Cup begin to turn their thoughts to the world’s must prestigious footballing tournament.
Debates arise over which players should go, what the starting XI’s should be and who will miss out, and this is especially true of countries the size of England, where squad selection is as competitive as they come.
The competition at centre-back is fierce for Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions squad and Everton’s Michael Keane and Leicester City’s Harry Maguire may well find themselves up against each other, fighting for a spot on the plane to Russia.
With John Stones, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling all in contention as well, and each with significantly more experienced than the aforementioned duo, it will be a tough decision for the manager, who will have the age old decision to make of whether he values form over experience.
Maguire was named in the last squad and is now level on caps with Keane, who has perhaps not enjoyed as strong a season as the Leicester ace at Everton this season.
Compared to the teams surrounding them in the table, Everton has conceded far more goals throughout the current campaign, and Keane has been a part of that leaky defence for much of the time. A team’s number of goals conceded is down to a lot more than the efforts of a single centre-half, but at the same time, this cannot be ignored.
Many Toffees fans will state their case for both Keane and Jordan Pickford to be on the plane to Russia but, on the flip side, it is Maguire who has probably enjoyed the better season in terms of form.
Another way to look at it would be that, both aged 25, if they can progress and perhaps earn a move to bigger clubs, it may not be a case of either/or in the future, but instead a potential partnership at the back for England.
Since Maguire’s rise, Manchester United have been rumoured to be interested, with Jose Mourinho supposedly an admirer of the former Hull man, while Keane, who is a United academy graduate, was rumoured to have interested Liverpool, Chelsea and his former club United prior to his move to Everton.
It will be a touch decision for Southgate to make when it comes to it, but the battle between Maguire and Keane for a spot on the plane to Russia feels like one of the more significant ones, with the nation short on quality forwards making it less of a debate nearer the top end of the pitch.
Either way, with only a few fixtures left, there is still plenty to play for.