World Cup 2018: Selection headaches for England as World Cup looms large

England will ramp up their preparations for the 2018 World Cup in Russia with two high-profile friendly games at the end of March.

The Three Lions travel to face Netherlands on Friday, March 23, before meeting Italy at Wembley the following Tuesday.

Both nations surprisingly missed out on this summer’s tournament and will undoubtedly be eager to make a point against Gareth Southgate’s side.

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With just over three months to go before England’s opening World Cup game against Tunisia there are a number of issues for Southgate to contend with.

Some of England’s key players have been struggling for game time with their clubs, placing even greater importance on the matches against Netherlands and Italy.

Perhaps Southgate’s most pressing problem is in goal with Joe Hart, who started England’s last competitive fixture against Slovenia in October, not playing in the league since November.

With West Ham out of the FA Cup Hart is unlikely to play for the first team unless Adrian gets injured and his lack of match sharpness could be a major problem at the World Cup.

Southgate’s plans to play a three-man defence in Russia have also been complicated, with Gary Cahill no longer first choice at Chelsea and Manchester United’s Phil Jones struggling with injury.

John Stones’ form and injury issues at Manchester City are also a concern, meaning Southgate may have to revise his thinking on his formation.

Danny Rose’s injury troubles at Tottenham Hotspur are an added worry for the England boss, with the left-back yet to regain his place in the first team after a long spell on the sidelines.

Spurs’ midfielder Harry Winks is also struggling for playing time after injury, while Adam Lallana has missed much of the season for Liverpool with a thigh problem.

There have been calls for Jack Wilshere to be brought back into the squad and with Ruben Loftus-Cheek possibly ruled out for the season Southgate may be forced to pick the Arsenal man.

One ray of light for England is the form of their forwards, with the likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jamie Vardy continuing to impress for their respective clubs.

Southgate will hopefully have a better handle on things after the two upcoming friendlies, although the measure of the task they face shouldn’t be underestimated.

England have beaten Netherlands just once in their last 13 meetings and Italy just twice in 13 games, but two strong performances would be an excellent boost ahead of the World Cup.

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