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John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

Rooney, Luiz, Sturridge among players fighting for World Cup places

The FC panel delve into their 2017-18 Premier League title predictions.
Alejandro Moreno responds to Jose Mourinho's belief that Man United will be able to compete with Europe's best in two years.

World Cup 2018 is just 10 months away, and that adds an extra dimension to the coming Premier League season. For these Premier League players currently out of favour with their respective national teams, the fight is on to win a place at the World Cup in Russia.

Juan Mata (Manchester United, Spain)

Mata was absent from Spain's Euro 2016 squad after suffering a drop in form under Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford. Last season, Mata returned to effectiveness under Jose Mourinho, the manager who previously sold him at Chelsea, and was called up against England last November. Yet he's missed out since current coach Julen Lopetegui took over.

Danilo (Manchester City, Brazil)

The evergreen Dani Alves appears to be an immovable object in the right-back position for Brazil, which leaves Danilo -- City's summer purchase from Real Madrid -- facing a significant struggle to make it on the proverbial plane to Russia.

Danilo last started a match for his country in September 2015, against Costa Rica. To win the eye of Brazil coach Tite (who has yet to select him) he will first have to supplant Kyle Walker at City, and then jump ahead of the likes of Corinthians' Fagner to challenge Alves.

David Luiz (Chelsea, Brazil)

Luiz hasn't played for his country for nearly 18 months, with Tite preferring to keep him away from the Selecao despite his excellent performances last season after returning to Chelsea. Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Miranda are Tite's currently favoured central defenders.

"I'm playing regularly and trying to do my best to come back," said Luiz in March. "Have I been told why I wasn't picked? No."

Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City, Germany)

The midfielder's place in Joachim Low's squad probably relies on his fitness, as back and knee problems have curbed his appearances for Borussia Dortmund and City while also affecting his international career. He has yet to make a finals appearance for Germany; he was an unused reserve at Euro 2012.

Low selected him for last November's Italy friendly before a cruciate injury ruined his first season in England.

Wayne Rooney (Everton, England)

When Rooney announced last September he would not retire from England duty after Russia 2018, he couldn't have foreseen that the season would end with him being surplus to requirements at Manchester United and dropped by England coach Gareth Southgate.

Back then, Sam Allardyce was in the role but Southgate has been firm in dropping the former skipper while never quite closing the door. A move back to his boyhood club allows Rooney chance to play more regularly. If he returns to his barnstorming best, he may still be welcomed back by the national team, too.

Rooney's return to Everton isn't just about proving himself but about getting back into the England picture.

Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea, Spain)

Lopetegui's overhaul of Vicente del Bosque's old guard has included dropping 110-cap and 11-year veteran Fabregas, who started just 13 Premier League matches last season for Antonio Conte's Premier League champions. The sale of Nemanja Matic may open up starting opportunities at Chelsea but Fabregas has not been selected for Spain since they exited Euro 2016 in the last 16, beaten by Italy, with the likes of Thiago, Koke and Isco now ahead of him in the queue.

Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool, England)

After a late-season flurry at Liverpool, a fresh hip problem was untimely for Sturridge ahead of England's 2-2 qualifying draw in June as well as the 3-2 friendly loss in France that followed. Jamie Vardy, selected by Southgate for England's March matches, was also missing and a chance to steal a march on the Leicester striker was lost.

Both players are now way behind Harry Kane in the reckoning to be England's top striker but Sturridge's inability to win Jurgen Klopp's full approval might ruin his chances of being in Russia.

James Ward-Prowse (Southampton, England)

When England reached the semifinals of this summer's Under-21 Championships, a couple of players stood out as having a genuine chance to step up next summer. Southgate, previously U-21 coach, is already a confirmed fan of Nathaniel Chalobah, whose move to Watford from Chelsea gives him much-needed first-team football.

Meanwhile, Ward-Prowse's excellence with the dead ball and maturity in midfield may yet win him a place in England's 23. Southgate has already called him up for the senior side, giving him eight minutes against Germany in March.

Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal, France)

The hefty £46.5 million (plus add-ons) that Arsenal paid Lyon for Lacazette has been doubted in some quarters, with one of the marks against his name being his lack of proficiency for France. He was won just 11 caps at the age of 26 and has scored just a single goal, which came against Denmark in March 2015.

He faces serious competition to win a place in Didier Deschamps' squad with the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud around, as well as the surge of once-in-a-generation talent that Kylian Mbappe currently appears to be. Lacazette was an unused sub against England in June.

Phil Jones/Chris Smalling (Manchester United, England)

There is serious competition for a centre-back place in Southgate's squad these days but with Gary Cahill named captain, one place appears nailed down. A younger generation is coming to the fore, too, with John Stones and Michael Keane aged just 23 and 24 respectively.

Neither Jones nor Smalling are definite starters for Jose Mourinho at the club level, as he seems to favour a pairing of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof for the coming season. Southgate has spoken of selecting players who command club starting places, and it may even come down to deciding between the United pair come next summer.

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.

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