England can confirm their place at Euro 2020 next summer with a win over the Czech Republic in Prague on Friday.
Gareth Southgate’s side have comfortably navigated their way through Group A so far, accumulating a maximum 12 points from their four games.
Wins over Bulgaria and Kosovo during the last international break has left Southgate and his men six points ahead of the Czechs in second place, meaning a victory would seal England’s qualification to the tournament’s finals.
The last time the two sides met, on Matchday 1, a Raheem Sterling hat-trick helped England to a comfortable 5-0 victory at Wembley. Harry Kane also netted a penalty before an own goal from former Chelsea defender Tomas Kalas sealed proceedings.
CZECHS SOLID ON HOME SOIL
Jaroslav Silhavy’s side have a one-point lead over Kosovo in third place going into this set of international fixtures but have found consistency a problem in Group A, winning three and losing two of their five games.
The Czechs do have a solid record at home when it comes to European qualifiers however, winning six out of their last eight games at home and their last defeat coming against Turkey in 2015.
They also have an affinity with this competition, having qualified for the final at Euro 1996 and reaching the semi-finals in 2004, losing out to eventual winners Greece.
Forward Patrick Schick will be the one to watch should the Czechs have any hopes of causing a shock in Prague. The RB Leipzig striker, on loan from AS Roma, has bagged four goals in five games during Euro qualifying and represents the host’s biggest threat.
NO CASE FOR THE DEFENCE FOR THREE LIONS
Surprisingly, Gareth Southgate finds himself with a number of questions and potential positional issues to sort out ahead of this summer’s finals, for a team that has a 100% record in qualifying.
A brilliant attacking display in the 5-3 win over Kosovo last time out in Southampton perhaps masked some of the defensive issues that the team are facing.
Harry Maguire and Michael Keane of Manchester United and Everton respectively, lined up at centre-half against Kosovo but both players find themselves in the midst of problems at club level currently.
Joe Gomez, who could perhaps consider himself a first team start this time last season, has only four appearances for Liverpool this season due to the form of Joel Matip and may not be an obvious replacement due to potential rustiness.
Southgate has called up Chelsea’s Fikayo Tomori to the senior squad for the first team and it will certainly be interesting to see whether the England manager throws him in for a debut in a game where qualification is still on the line.
In reality, England should qualify from this group with ease, but the underlying issue will be when the team come up against a team of a higher quality, which means the defensive problem is one that needs solving quickly.
MOUNT TO SOLVE MIDFIELD CONUNDRUM?
Another point of interest in Southgate’s selection on Friday, and then the following game against Bulgaria on Monday, will be what the former Aston Villa defender decides to do in midfield.
Chelsea’s Ross Barkley has managed to keep his place in recent line-ups to the surprise of the majority, but there is clearly a desire from the manager to have a player who can drive forward from midfield and add a creative spark to the team.
Barkley’s place might be under threat following the inclusions of club teammate Mason Mount and Leicester City’s James Maddison in this recent squad.
Maddison has had to pull out of the two upcoming games due to illness which is disappointing for the 22-year-old but his time in the squad will come.
This represents a huge opportunity for Mount however, and it really will be intriguing to see if Southgate trusts him in Prague.
Mount, 20, has flourished in the Chelsea starting line-up this season after being trusted by club manager Frank Lampard, finding the net four times in his eight appearances so far in the 2019/20 campaign.
His form has deserved a call-up to the national side and Lampard may have handed Southgate the gift of finally solving England’s lack of creativity at long last.
Prague on Friday awaits. Qualification in sight for the Three Lions.
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