It’s the last international break of 2021, and while most fans don’t eagerly wait for a break from club football, the international break brings with a different excitement. The World Cup qualifiers are underway now, and there are plenty of games taking place as teams aim to cement their place in the 2022 World Cup taking place in Qatar. England can take step towards a place at next winter’s World Cup when they host Albania at Wembley Stadium tonight in the World Cup Qualifier.
The 2020 Euro finalists have been in amazing form, amassing 20 points in their first 8 games. A win against Albania would see them go 6 points clear of second-placed Poland. With just one more game against San Marino remaining, it is a relatively easy ending for the English national team. All eyes will be on Friday though, with a chance to wrap up the World Cup qualification at home in Wembley.
3-AT-THE-BACK FOR ENGLAND?
England manager Gareth Southgate came under scrutiny when he started with 3 centre-backs, 2 wing-backs, and 2 holding midfielders when he first took over. He stuck with that formation throughout the 2018 World Cup, and it saw the English team reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1994.
Southgate then continued with a slightly tweaked version of the same formation in the Euro 2020 but stuck with his preferred midfield pairing of two holding midfielders, with Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips occupying the midfield roles. It worked well again for England, as they conceded just 2 goals in the entire tournament, with Rice and Phillips playing an integral part in shielding the backline and helping them out. From the two tournaments Southgate has led England in, it is fairly obvious that the 51-year-old coach likes to set his team up in a cautious way.
In the upcoming qualifiers, a few keys are absent, with the likes of Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford, James Ward-Prowse all dropping out. Another one of the notable absentees is Declan Rice, who pulled out of the squad due to illness. As a result, we could see Southgate revert to a 3-1-4-2 formation against Albania, with only one defensive midfielder in Phillips available fit. With Southgate calling 9 defenders for the two fixtures, we could well see the formation that worked wonders for him in the 2018 World Cup, against Albania on Friday. With these fixtures the last international games for a while, Southgate has a real chance to start preparing for the World Cup and experiment with formations he would like to play in Qatar. An early start to the preparations could give the head coach an idea of the squad that he would like to take to the Middle East as well, with so many talented players in his country.
HARRY KANE DILEMMA FOR SOUTHGATE?
Harry Kane has not been in the best of forms for his club Tottenham Hotspur. After a brilliant Euros, the striker was all set for a move to Manchester City, only to be blocked by Spurs management, forcing the Englishman to stay at the London club for another year. The striker’s comments about leaving the club did not do him any favours with the fans as well, and he had to build relations again, having seemingly burned his bridges with the Spurs faithful.
However, his form took a major hit in the aftermath of this controversial summer. With new manager Nuno Espirito Santo taking charge of the club at the beginning of the season, Kane had a tough time and scored just 1 goal in 10 league games. His form has been worrying for Spurs fans and perhaps Gareth Southgate as well, and the upcoming World Cup qualifiers are the perfect opportunity for Kane to get back his form. With just Tammy Abraham as a backup striker in the squad, Kane will be expected to start both games, but his recent form could play a part. Southgate will want to confirm England’s place in the World Cup with a win against Albania, and could put out a strong starting 11 on Friday. A win on Friday makes the game against San Marino a dead rubber tie, which will give the manager a chance to play some of his fringe players.
The country and Southgate need their star striker and captain in form to score the goals, and with the World Cup coming up soon, Kane will be needed in top form if the Three Lions hope to go deep into the tournament. With Nuno Santo now replaced by Antonio Conte in the Spurs hot seat, there is hope among fans that it will see Kane’s form rejuvenated. The 28-year-old striker has been for a few years now considered as one of the best strikers in the world, with the Englishman delivering goals on a consistent basis. However, he has been in a sort of a slump ever since the Euro 2020 finals loss to Italy and his failed move to Man City.
Harry Kane is very crucial to the England setup, with his ability to create spaces by dropping between the defence. He fits the system that Southgate wants to play very well, and the team will need their leader and arguably the best player to be on top of his game. The 2022 World Cup poses a real chance for the English national team to win the first trophy since the 1966 World Cup, and they will need to be on song, starting with Friday’s game against Albania.
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Sam Johnstone, Aaron Ramsdale.
Defenders: Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Ben Chilwell, Tyrone Mings, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James, Conor Coady.
Midfielders: Jordan Henderson, Kalvin Phillips, Jude Bellingham, Emile Smith Rowe – Mason Mount.
Forwards: Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Tammy Abraham.
Goalkeepers: Etrit Berisha, Thomas Strakosha, Gentian Selmani.
Defenders: Elseid Hysaj, Ermir Lenjani, Frédéric Veseli, Ardian Ismajli, Lorenc Trashi, Kastriot Dermaku, Marash Kumbulla, Albi Doka, Enea Mihaj, Erion Hoxhallari.
Midfielders: Odise Roshi, Keidi Bare, Klaus Gjasula, Ylber Ramadani, Qazim Laçi, Endri Çekiçi, Nedim Bajrami.
Forwards: Bekim Balaj, Sokol Cikalleshi, Myrto Uzuni, Armando Broja.
England predicted XI: Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, John Stones; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kalvin Phillips, Jordan Henderson, Ben Chilwell; Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Jack Grealish.
Albania predicted XI: Etrit Berisha; Ardian Ismajli, Marash Kumbulla, Frederic Veseli; Elseid Hysaj, Ylber Ramadani, Keidi Bare, Lorenc Trashi; Nedim Bajrami; Sokol Cikalleshi, Armando Broja.