Euro 2020 qualifiers: 3 questions that could be answered in England's matches
Gareth Southgate’s exciting young England team are back in action over the next few days, as they face off with Bulgaria at Wembley tomorrow night followed by a match with Kosovo at Southampton’s St. Mary’s Stadium on Tuesday, both games being part of the qualifying campaign for Euro 2020.
While their last two qualifiers couldn’t have gone much better – they thumped the Czech Republic 5-0 and then defeated Montenegro 1-5 back in March – their loss to the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the inaugural UEFA Nations League in the summer showed that despite a lot of progress under Southgate, the Three Lions remain a work in progress.
We could see some of that progress in the upcoming two games, as Southgate has taken the opportunity to introduce some new faces – and bring back some old ones – into his squad, which could mean changes are once again afoot for his team.
Here are 3 questions surrounding England that could be answered in the upcoming games against Bulgaria and Kosovo.
#1 Who is Southgate’s first-choice right-back?
After some bleak years that saw them struggle for talent, England now seem blessed with at least two or three great players in every position across the pitch. The position they’re arguably the most talent-loaded though is at right-back. And with Southgate now seemingly settled on a 4-3-3 system rather than the 3-5-2 that took the Three Lions to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, there can be room for only one.
For the upcoming games against Bulgaria and Kosovo, Southgate initially selected three right-backs – Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool, Aaron Wan-Bissaka of Manchester United and Kieran Trippier of Atletico Madrid – while surprisingly leaving Manchester City’s Kyle Walker, usually his first choice, at home.
Southgate was at pains to ensure that fans understood that Walker hadn’t been “dropped” per se – he just wanted an opportunity to try out different players in the role – but is that really the case?
Walker has been on strong form at City, but he was one of a handful of players who notably struggled against the Netherlands in the summer. And it’s hard to shake the feeling that at 29 years old, Walker’s best years are probably behind him now, and more to the point, Alexander-Arnold appears to have overtaken him when it comes to the all-round ability needed to be England’s first-choice right-back.
Wan-Bissaka – who has since withdrawn from the current squad with a back injury – is more unproven of course as he has yet to earn his first senior cap, but judging by last season, his defensive skills appear to be at least equal to Walker’s even if he doesn’t quite offer the same kind of threat going forward.
And while Trippier had a poor season for Tottenham, he’s shown flashes of his 2018 form since joining Atletico and still has excellent delivery when it comes to set-pieces and crosses.
The likelihood for the two upcoming games is that – without Wan-Bissaka – Alexander-Arnold will start one and Trippier will start the other. Wan-Bissaka will likely be given his chance in either October or November’s internationals – but whether Walker returns or not remains a question mark and could well depend on the performances of his rivals in these two games.