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 step up his recovery from a knee injury which he suffered midway through October and came with a recovery period of around eight weeks. The 22-year-old is understood to have made good progress.
Southgate has never been scared to take unfit players to tournaments, notably including Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson in recent years, and sources have confirmed to 90min that he is prepared to take James if he continues to exceed expectations in his recovery.
While James will not be ready for the tournament opener – England face Iran on 21 November before meetings with the United States and Wales over the following eight days – there is a confidence that he could be ready for the knockout stages.
Sources with knowledge of the situation have told 90min that Southgate has made it clear to James there is a spot in his final 26-man squad waiting as long as medical staff believe he could be back on the field for the latter stages.
The round of 16 kicks off on 3 December, when the runners-up of England’s group will be in action. Should they win the group, the Three Lions would have an extra day to rest.
Southgate is also prepared to make similar calls with Manchester City duo Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips. Walker underwent groin surgery in early October, while Phillips has been battling a shoulder problem since his summer move from Leeds, and neither player has returned to competitive action at this point.
City boss Pep Guardiola has revealed it is ‘likely’ that both players will be fit enough to go to the World Cup and 90min understands Southgate is prepared to pick the pair even if they have not proven their fitness at club level.
Now permitted to name 26 players in his squad instead of the usual 23, Southgate feels comfortable taking some gambles with selections and James, Walker and Phillips could be the beneficiaries.