England's "Next" XI: Will Demarai Gray, Tom Davies live up to the rising hype?
Young English talent has perhaps its best chance of breaking into and succeeding with the senior side for some time, given the identity of the current manager. Gareth Southgate was in charge of the U-21s side for three years, winning the Toulon Tournament last summer, and is perhaps uniquely positioned to see the potential of the young players coming through for contention in the senior side.
So who are the players who Southgate could call upon in the immediate future? Here are 11 of them:
Jordan Pickford | Goalkeeper | 23 | Sunderland
Already part of the England setup but firmly behind the established Joe Hart and Fraser Forster, Jordan Pickford has been one of the few bright spots in an unrelentingly grim season for Sunderland. While many of the players on this list have a number of more senior options ahead of them, what's interesting about Pickford is that his chance might well come soon: Forster has had a poor season for Southampton; Jack Butland is injured; and Hart has shown moments of increasing instability for both club and country. Perhaps he needs another season in the top flight, for a better team, but Pickford might well be the England goalkeeper before too long.
Trent Alexander-Arnold | Right-back | 18 | Liverpool
Part of a crop of fine youngsters working their way through the Liverpool system, Trent Alexander-Arnold is a right-back who's only just 18 but clearly boasts plenty of poise for someone so young. For a start, his full Premier League debut came against Manchester United at Old Trafford: Admittedly, Liverpool had an injury crisis at the time, but Jurgen Klopp would not have thrown the youngster into such a cauldron if he didn't think he was up to it. "What a boy he is," said Klopp after that game. "The right full-back side is in good hands." Alexander-Arnold has set his sights on a first-team spot next season, and if he establishes himself for his club, he might do so for his country too.
Jack Stephens | Centre-back | 22 | Southampton
When the teamsheets for Southampton's EFL Cup semifinal against Liverpool were announced and Virgil van Dijk was absent, Saints fans might have been forgiven for quietly making alternative plans on the day of the final. As it turned out, they would get their day at Wembley, and it was in large part thanks to a terrific performance by their young centre-back Jack Stephens, playing in just his sixth first-team game. From a club that has produced any number of fine talents (four of the past England squad, for a start), as well as the likes of Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott, the centre-back who has hitherto gained most of his experience on loan in the Football League might be the next one to graduate.
Ben Gibson | Centre-back | 24 | Middlesbrough
Despite being the same age, Michael Keane is arguably more advanced in his career than Ben Gibson, hence the Middlesbrough man's inclusion here. But Gibson is certainly one to keep an eye on. While Boro's season so far has been relatively miserable, one of the bright points of it has been their defence; it was strong in the Championship last term, and this time around, it's the reason they're not in even deeper trouble. Gibson was part of Gareth Southgate's England U-21 team, and with talk of a move to one of the Premier League's big clubs gathering pace, we might all get to know him better soon too.
Ryan Sessegnon | Left-back | 16 | Fulham
Ryan Sessegnon has made 24 appearances for his club side this year. That might not sound especially impressive, even in a Fulham side that has surprised many by going close to the Championship playoffs, but then you remember that Sessegnon is still only 16 and hasn't even signed a professional contract yet. As one of those speedy full-backs who is arguably better dashing forwards than defending, Sessegnon already has six goals to his name this season, albeit with the attitude and maturity of a player much older. "He is a quiet lad, but his mind is clear," Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic said recently. "He is focused on improving and being ready for the games in front of us."
Harry Winks | Central Midfield | 21 | Tottenham
You can tell Mauricio Pochettino thinks he has a special player on his hands in Harry Winks simply because he's still at Tottenham. Pochettino doesn't like to loan out the young talent in his squad that he truly rates, preferring to keep them around so he can fully mould them into his sort of player. Winks is a passer, a midfielder with a clear sense of the pitch around him and a keen eye for the right ball; his talents are obvious to anyone who watches him even for a few minutes. But he's also becoming more and more of a "Pochettino" player, which is to say he's becoming more and more physical. His fitness is also improving, as is true of anyone who works under the Tottenham boss. All of this work could end up benefitting England, as well as Tottenham.
Tom Davies | Central Midfield | 18 | Everton
Sometimes the best footballers to watch are those that don't look like footballers -- or at least ones that don't look like modern footballers, over-coached and with that same body shape, slicked hair and abundant muscle. Tom Davies doesn't look like any of his contemporaries: He's skinny, playing with socks rolled down and with curly hair flapping around behind him. Part of a generation of youngsters populating the Everton team at the moment, Davies has that combination of relentless running and brilliant passing that has resulted in some rather lofty comparisons. "He reminds me of a young Bryan Robson," Everton's director of football Steve Walsh said recently. If he turns out to be half as good, England will be delighted.
Demarai Gray | 20 | Winger | Leicester City
Sometimes you worry that a stiff breeze will blow Demarai Gray over. Whippet-thin but similarly quick, Gray was one of the few signings Leicester made last season as they careened toward their remarkable title win; and while his initial forays into the first team suggested a raw talent who wasn't quite yet ready for the top level, the talent is clearly there. While many of the calls for him to play more for Leicester as they have struggled this season are an inevitable consequence of those struggles, you get a sense that easing him in gently is the way to go.
Nathan Redmond | 23 | Attacking midfield | Southampton
It feels like Nathan Redmond has been around for much longer than his age suggests, but the Southampton man is just establishing himself on the fringes of the England team. He could be much closer to Southgate's side than that before too long if his form for the Saints continues. When Claude Puel decided at the start of the season that wingers wouldn't be a prominent part of his team in 2016-17, there was a fear that Redmond would be marginalised by the narrowness of Puel's side. But in fact, Redmond has flourished as a forward or No.10, earning the call into the England senior squad for the games against Germany and Lithuania. He will need to improve his goal scoring record (he has just five in the league this season), but if that happens, he'll be a fine option for the national team.
Ademola Lookman | 19 | Winger | Everton
In theory, a place in the England senior side might be a little way off for Ademola Lookman. But then again, when Everton signed him from Charlton in January, the prospect of a regular place in their starting XI seemed similarly theoretical. But injuries have presented Lookman with that chance, and he took it immediately by scoring on his debut against Manchester City. Inevitably, his performances will fluctuate as he gets used to life in the top flight, but if you listen to anyone talk about him, they will tell you what an impressive young man he is. "He is the future of the club," Ronald Koeman said recently.
Tammy Abraham | 19 | Striker | Chelsea (on loan at Bristol City)
Much is made of the many, many players Chelsea have out on loan at various clubs across the globe, but arguably, the best of the lot is performing in the lower reaches of the Championship. Tammy Abraham's 22 goals in all competitions would be impressive enough, but when one considers he has done it for a team currently a point off the relegation zone, it's even more so. When his loan at Bristol ends in the summer, it would be a surprise to see him slot into the Chelsea first-team picture, but his quality is surely made for a higher level. Perhaps next season could see him step up for both club and country.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.