England manager Gareth Southgate is expected to name Reece James in his final World Cup squad if the Chelsea right-back can feature in the knockout stages of the tournament.
James is currently in Dubai to speed up his recovery from a knee injury he suffered in mid-October that has come with a recovery time of around eight weeks. Clearly, the 22-year-old has made good progress.
Southgate has never been afraid to take unfit players to tournaments, notably Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson in recent years, and sources confirmed within 90 minutes that he is open to taking James if he continues to exceed expectations in his recovery.
While James will not be ready for the tournament opener – England face Iran on November 21 before meeting the United States and Wales in the following eight days – there is some certainty he could be ready for the knockout stages.
Sources familiar with the situation told 90min that Southgate has made it clear to James that there is a place in his final 26-man squad pending until medical staff believe he could be back on the pitch in the final stages.
The round of 16 begins on December 3, when the runners-up from the English group will be in action. If they won the group, the Three Lions would have an extra day to rest.
Southgate is also ready to hold similar talks with Manchester City duo Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips. Walker underwent groin surgery at the start of October, while Phillips has struggled with a shoulder problem since his summer move from Leeds, and neither player has returned to competitive action at the moment.
City boss Pep Guardiola has revealed it is “likely” that both players will be fit enough to take part in the World Cup, and Southgate is ready to select the pair even if they have not proven their fitness at club level.
Now allowed to name 26 players in his squad instead of the usual 23, Southgate feels comfortable betting with selection and James, Walker and Phillips could be the beneficiaries.