With club football coming every night of the week these days, the thought of an international break is, for once, actually quite refreshing.
The same cannot be said for players, who are likely to drop like flies due to injuries and COVID-19 restrictions upon their return to their clubs following the break, but it adds to the fun of the beautiful game, if nothing else.
England kick off their qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup at home to San Marino. Having won on all six occasions that the two nations have met, the result feels like a forgone conclusion, without being disrespectful to an opposition who always give it their all.
The fixture is the perfect chance to dust off the cobwebs and build some confidence for Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions. Given that there are bigger tests against Albania and Poland approaching, it would not be surprising to see a more experimental lineup at Wembley.
Here’s how Southgate could set up his side.
Dean Henderson (GK) – With Jordan Pickford out injured and Nick Pope likely to start in the more challenging games ahead, this break is a real chance for Henderson to stake his claim before the Euros in the summer – although he’s unlikely to be tested.
Reece James (RB) – The Chelsea man has some work to do in order to push for minutes in summer, but with Trent Alexander-Arnold left out of the squad, this is his chance. James must show why he can be a better option than Kieran Trippier.
Tyrone Mings (CB) – Mings gets his eighth cap with Southgate keeping his side a little rotated and experimental. John Stones will likely be called upon at a later, more urgent point.
Conor Coady (CB) – With bigger fish to fry this international break, it may be a good time to rest Harry Maguire and give Wolves’ Coady some minutes.
Luke Shaw (LB) – A welcome return to the England squad for Shaw who has been vastly improved this season. He gets a cap for the first time since 2018.
Kalvin Phillips (DM) – Favourable opposition gives Southgate the chance to explore the possibility of a back four. Phillips sits at the base of midfield as another layer of defensive protection.
Jude Bellingham (CM) – The 17-year-old has been cleared to play following some uncertainty surrounding travel restrictions, and heads straight into the starting XI.
Jesse Lingard (CM) – Injuries to the likes of Jack Grealish and James Maddison may have played a part, but with the form he’s in, Lingard being back in an England shirt is a huge boost for the squad.
Bukayo Saka (RW) – Saka’s versatility and ability to excel in such a variety of positions is seriously impressive. It’s a trait that will no doubt be attractive to Southgate heading into the Euros, too.
Ollie Watkins (ST) – The Aston Villa forward must show why the manager has entrusted him over Patrick Bamford, and deserves the chance to do so against San Marino. Harry Kane should be rested with bigger tests against Albania and Poland to come.
Phil Foden (LW) – A lack of options in the wide areas means Southgate may be forced to use Foden on the left flank here, but the youngster is more than up to the task.