Football Features

Five predictions for England’s penultimate pre-Euros international break

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 11:48, 22 March 2021

The penultimate international break before Euro 2020 is upon us, and England are looking forward to it.

Gareth Southgate has picked his squad and the reaction to certain selections were shall we say, lively? Still, The Three Lions will be looking to build some momentum and give themselves a great start in their qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

England face home games against San Marino and Poland, with a trip to Albania sandwiched in between. But what will happen during this fortnight of international activity? We’ve had a look and come up with five predictions for this international break.

Euro 2020 winner odds (via William Hill): 

  • Belgium: 5/1
  • England: 5/1
  • France: 11/2
  • Germany: 15/2
  • Netherlands: 8/1
  • Spain: 8/1
  • Portugal: 10/1

All odds in this article are accurate at time of publication (10:30, 22/03/21). You can find more William Hill football markets here. 18+ only. BeGambleAware.

1. Phil Foden to stake his claim

The hype around Phil Foden has been somewhat ridiculous over the last few years as he was thrust into the limelight as a teenager. However Pep Guardiola held him back, allowing him to learn the game and develop away from the spotlight.

Then this season he has been, for lack of a better word, unleashed. Foden has been sensational for Man City and has more than warranted his call-up, and with Marcus Rashford heading into this break lacking for fitness the potential for Foden to start in attack with team-mate Raheem Sterling either side of Harry Kane is quite high. Such is Foden’s versatility he could even play in midfield.

Wherever he does play, this should be the international break where Foden marks himself down as an established England international. The youngster is simply dripping with quality and confidence right now and surely it’s going to transmit itself into excellent showings for England.

2. Two different formations

With three games against three opponents with varying levels of quality, you can expect to see Southgate tweak things slightly. Sure, you’d imagine that the 3-4-2-1 will come back for the big clash against Poland but Albania and San Marino will probably see a different formation. Something more akin to 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.

The thing is with England’s versatility they are more than capable of playing any of these systems and the squad Southgate has selected could switch between the two fairly easily. Kyle Walker slots into a back three as he did at the World Cup and then Kieran Trippier and Luke Shaw are wing-backs. But equally you could drop Walker and put Trippier and Shaw as ordinary full-backs, using that extra slot to bring Foden, Jude Bellingham or the recently resurrected Jesse Lingard into the picture.

What’s certain is that Southgate will use at least two different formations as he tests his squad out.

3. Trent regret

Speaking of testing the squad, Southgate’s omission of Trent Alexander-Arnold has the potential to end up looking foolish. The manager’s reasoning, that Alexander-Arnold has played poorly this season, doesn’t square with Trent’s recent form (which has been good) nor the selection of Eric Dier (who has been struggling). The same goes for both Trippier and Walker, who has lost his place in the Manchester City starting XI.

And that’s what we expect to happen; Walker will underperform (especially against Robert Lewandowski in the key clash with Poland), and then in the trickier ties away to Albania and home to Poland, Trippier will be good but not great and England’s fans will be left to lament the fact that they don’t have Alexander-Arnold to come off the bench.

4. England’s new No. 1

Jordan Pickford is injured so three hopefuls will vie to take his spot: Dean Henderson, Nick Pope and Sam Johnstone. Pope should be the incumbent given his has the experience of playing for England, but Dean Henderson is the man in form having started 12 games for Manchester United in 2021 and kept a clean sheet in eight of them (only Milan, Man City, Liverpool and Leicester have scored against him).

One thing is for certain: we will see England’s new no. 1 emerge from these three. Pickford has been a great servant but has very clearly fall off, no longer being the same kind of emphatic presence he was back in 2018. As a result he should be replaced and it’s likely between Pope and Henderson who gets the jersey. Both are expected to have the chance to impress over the next week or so, which will take their moment?

5. Three good wins

Despite all the talking, the long and short of this international break is that England are going to win all three games. Well, San Marino is basically a given considering the gulf in standards between the two nations. And while Albania are in a decent bit of form the last time they played an elite international side France beat them 0-2.

Poland will be the big threat with Lewandowski aiming to give Poland a great chance to make the World Cup, but their team is still a bit of a work in progress and should really be no match for The Three Lions, especially at Wembley. So the end result is likely to be that England start their World Cup qualification campaign with a perfect three wins from three.