Gareth Southgate’s side beat minnows Andorra 5-0 but faltered against Hungary at Wembley, failing to win a home qualifier for the first time in nine years.
With Albania and San Marino left to play, the beaten Euro 2020 finalists are still favoured to top Group I and secure their spot at the finals.
Who Southgate would pick as part of his 23-man squad is far less certain, however. Who can already be confident of a place, so long as England get there? Who is in contention? Who has work to do and who are the ones to watch?
As the October international break comes to a close, The Independent runs through the candidates…
On the plane
Kane’s wait for a Premier League goal could last all year for his England place to come under any sort of threat. Even then, Southgate would almost certainly stand by his captain, given how consistent he has been at international level.
Sterling’s opportunities continue to be limited by Pep Guardiola’s rotation policy at Manchester City but that was also the case at the end of last season. Southgate kept faith in him then, was repaid with match-winning displays and will keep standing by him.
Missed October’s camp through injury. Maguire would be the first to admit that his recent form for United has been mixed at best but a quietly excellent campaign last year was followed by an impressive Euros. Still England’s best centre-half by a distance.
One of England’s best performers during the summer. Pickford’s place had previously been called into question, only for Southgate to correctly point out that he has never let his country down. Now, he is the indisputable first choice.
Still only 22-years-old, Rice is among the first names on the team sheet but may come as part of a pair. Struggled to control Hungary’s counter-attacks as a lone holding player and missed the support of his partner in crime Phillips.
Southgate’s first-choice at left back. Shaw has enjoyed a remarkable turn of fortunes at international level over the last year and has demonstrated he has the mental fortitude to recover from the costly mistake to give away a penalty for Hungary’s goal.
Arguably the most naturally gifted of England’s millennium generation but yet to nail down a specific role in Southgate’s set-up. Foden is destined to be a mainstay in this side, though when and where that regular spot comes is unclear.
Mount is a regular under Southgate and has played practically every time he has been available this year but has rarely been deployed in the wide position he has excelled in under Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea. Another who needs to nail down a role.
Converted the equaliser against Hungary and clearly one of England’s two first-choice centre-halves but it is concerning that all four of his appearances so far this season have come at international rather than club level.
Walker is no longer the marauding attacking wing back of old but far more reserved, often playing as a third centre-back whatever Southgate’s system. His recovery pace is invaluable, allowing England to play with more adventure.
Promoted to the first-choice starting line-up since the summer, Grealish still needs to fully cement his place. Hauled off against Hungary despite being one of the few bright sparks. Minutes at Manchester City may be harder to come by over the next few months.
One of the winners of the October camp despite watching from home. Without him alongside Rice against Hungary, England were opened up far too easily. Likely to drop straight back into the starting line-up on his return.
Second only to Grealish as a favourite of the Wembley crowd, Saka seems to have become the first player Southgate turns to when he wants to turn a game his way. Will not let his decisive penalty miss against Italy define his international career.
Overlooked against Hungary in favour of the Foden-Mount experiment. After dropping to the bench during the summer, was this another indication of his waning influence? Either way, still effectively England’s vice-captain and an important squad member.
Skippered against Andorra in absence of Kane and Henderson. Trippier’s leadership, versatility, set-piece ability and experience as part of this group are all highly-valued by Southgate, and may be enough to fend off rivals for a place in Qatar.
First reserve at centre back, Mings has never let England down when called upon. Unlikely to dislodge either Maguire or Stones but his left-footedness helps him stay ahead of the other rivals for a place at the back.
After a difficult start to life at United, Sancho’s place in this squad was publicly questioned by Southgate. Two assists and an impressive display against Andorra will have provided a much-needed boost but it was just Andorra and there is fierce competition in his positions.
Surprisingly left at home in order to manage his workload this time around, but Bellingham looks set for a leading role in the centre of England’s midfield so long as his development at Borussia Dortmund remains on track.
Missed out on this October camp through injury. James may be the ‘Goldilocks option’ among Southgate’s many choices at right-back but Walker and Trippier were preferred during the summer and remain out in front.
Again, missed October’s camp due to injury, but on the mend after successful surgery on a long-standing shoulder problem. Still, faces a fight at both club and international level to push his way past the many talented players in his position.
Another who sat this one out with an injury. Last month’s experiment in central midfield against Andorra did not exactly go to plan, either. One of England’s most creative talents in possession, questions over his defensive ability still hold him back under Southgate.
Chilwell failed to play a single minute during the summer then lost out to Marcos Alonso at club level but there are early signs of a revival. Back in the rotation at Chelsea, his first international goal against Andorra could be the start of an England comeback.
Returned to the squad since the summer despite limited opportunities at Manchester United. Southgate clearly believes Lingard can have a role to play though regular minutes at club level will be needed to retain his place.
According to assistant Steve Holland, England’s player of the tournament despite not taking to the pitch for a single minute. Coady’s importance around the camp cannot be understated though whether that will be enough to make a 23-man cut remains to be seen.
Still Kane’s primary cover and backup, despite injury affecting his start to the season and preventing him from joining up on this camp. Calvert-Lewin will hope to return quickly, given the queue of rivals hoping to take his spot.
Playing regularly again at Roma and back in the international fold as a result, Abraham will be pleased to have marked his return with a goal against Andorra. A consistent year in Serie A could easily see him overtake his Premier League-based rivals for a squad place.
Earned a start against Andorra, like in September, and picked up an assist to boot. Competition will come from Ramsdale, Pope and perhaps Henderson too but, as it stands, Johnstone looks like Southgate’s second-choice goalkeeper.
Work to do
After receiving his first call-up last month, injury prevented a second. Failed to make the most of his debut against Andorra at Wembley and faces stiff competition for a place but now part of the race to provide cover for Kane, at least.
Like Bellingham, left at home to manage his workload, though Greenwood has not been seen at an England camp of any sort since being disciplined for breaking Covid protocols in Iceland. Eligible to switch allegiances and represent Jamaica.
Like White and Gomez, another who could make England’s relative lack of options at centre-half a thing of the past. Unlucky to miss out on a place in the provisional Euros squad, Tomori’s adaptation to life in Milan has genuinely impressed Southgate.
Only missed out on a place in the September squad through injury and has looked bright for Aston Villa since recovering. Calvert-Lewin and Abraham seem to be ahead of Watkins in the pecking order, though another solid goal-scoring campaign could change that quickly.
Fourth-choice goalkeeper promoted to third-choice after Henderson’s withdrawal during the summer, Ramsdale could be Pickford’s deputy by the time of Qatar given his profile as Arsenal’s new No 1.
Surprisingly left out of the October squad despite playing regularly with Burnley, Southgate believes Pope still needs time to recover from the summer’s knee injury. Future squads will reveal whether he has truly fallen out of favour.
After Arsenal’s difficult start to the new campaign, White has played his part in their recovery and could take advantage of a lack of defensive depth to force his way into Southgate’s thinking. A calm, composed presence in possession but questions over his aerial ability.
Included in October’s squad as a late replacement for the injured Phillips. Missed a penalty against Andorra but scored on the rebound. Set-piece ability is not in doubt though may be squeezed out in the final analysis, as happened with the Euros this summer.
Henderson has endured a difficult few months, first dropping out of the Euros squad through injury, then testing positive for Covid and falling behind David de Gea in the United pecking order as a result. Too good a goalkeeper to remain on the sidelines for long, though.
Working his way back into the Liverpool set-up after recovering from the serious knee injury picked up on international duty last year. If he can win his place back off Joel Matip, stands a good chance of returning.
In a crowded field of centre-forwards, Ings’s age and injury record count against him. If he can replicate his 2019-20 Southampton form, then he could force his way past Villa team-mate Watkins and back into the conversation.
Part of an Everton defence that has started the season with promise, even if his individual performances have sometimes fallen below par. Last call-up was nearly a year ago for the Nations League and needs a string of strong performances to win his spot back.
Leicester’s indifferent start to the new season has not helped Barnes’s cause. Still finding his way back after the knee injury which ruled him out of contention for the Euros. If he can find a greater level of consistency, he will emerge as a contender.
Hudson-Odoi has “huge possibilities” ahead of him, according to Southgate, but needs regular minutes at Chelsea. Decided against representing the Under-21s in September in order to focus on winning his place back under Tuchel.
Dier was left out of the provisional Euros squad in favour of less-established names and has not immediately returned. International experience is on his side but will need to impress as part of Tottenham’s backline to force Southgate into a rethink.
Another player struggling for momentum in a stuttering Leicester side, Maddison has not compelled Southgate into selecting him with his performances since the turn of the year. Still sat on one cap, which came against Montenegro two years ago.
Like Ings, Wilson’s scoring record is solid but his injury history and age are not in his favour. Perhaps a starring role at a newly-monied Newcastle United will help him rebuild his international career, though Southgate has several younger options to call on.
Named in the provisional Euros squad after an impressive debut year at Goodison Park, Godfrey has switched from centre-back to right-back since Rafael Benitez’s arrival and Southgate is already well-stocked in that position.
Earned his first call-up after moving to United two years ago but reservations over his attacking play and elements of his defensive game mean Southgate’s many other right-backs are ahead of him in the queue. Eligible to switch to DR Congo.
Despite having all the requisite ability, things are still not quite clicking for Dele, even under management. Though he looked like a centrepiece of Southgate’s England only a few years ago, there is plenty of work to do to force his way back into contention.
Only an hour of league minutes to his name under Nuno Espirito Santo tells its own story. Winks was once a regular starter under Southgate but times have changed and the Tottenham midfielder needs a fresh start.
Ones to watch
Southgate has been watching Toney’s adaptation to the top-flight with interest and admitted to being “impressed” when asked about the Brentford striker’s chances of a future call-up. The competition is fierce but the ability is there.
Started the season brightly as part of Patrick Vieira’s new-look Crystal Palace. Gallagher is emerging as a central figure under new Under-21s manager Lee Carsley but a senior call-up may not be far off if he continues to impress.
More production needed when compared to some of his rivals in the same age bracket but a bit like club team-mate Ramsdale, Arsenal’s No 10 can use his elevated profile to stake a senior call-up claim over the course of this season.
Another key member of the Under-21s set-up. Set to be handed more minutes and opportunities to impress with Liverpool this season. If Jones impresses under Jurgen Klopp, he will become increasingly hard to ignore.