England kick off their European Championship qualifying campaign when they face Czech Republic at Wembley on Friday.
After a monumental 2018 which saw the Three Lions reach a first World Cup semi-final since 1990 and qualify for the inaugural Uefa Nations League semi-finals – which are to be played in June – attention now turns to 2019 as Gareth Southgate looks to build on his burgeoning reputation.
And Southgate’s first squad of 2019 is packed full of the star talent that flourished last year, with the likes of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling retaining their places, while there is a smattering of exciting youngsters among the ranks thanks with Jadon Sancho keeping his spot and a first inclusion for Declan Rice after he swapped the Republic of Ireland for England, as well as Chelsea talent Callum Hudson-Odoi.
In the Czech Republic, the Three Lions take on a very unfamiliar foe, having only faced off with them twice before, in 1998 and 2008. This will be the first competitive meeting between the two sides and England will have to be on their guard with the Czech’s pulling off back-to-back victories over Poland and Slovakia at the end of last year without conceding a goal.
Read on for England v Czech Republic TV channel info, predicted XIs, team news and stats.
When is England vs Czech Republic?
Competition: Uefa Euro 2020 qualifying
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Date: Friday, 22 March
Kick-off: 8:45 pm GMT
Where can I watch the match live?
England vs Czech Republic will be televised for free on ITV, while viewers can also live stream the match online for free via the ITV Hub.
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Why has Southgate only selected 22 players?
Southgate’s original squad announcement included Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Fabian Delph, Luke Shaw, Trent Alexander-Arnold and John Stones but the Three Lions boss had to reshuffle his pack with the addition of Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse and Hudson-Odoi replacing the now-injured clutch, meaning England will only have a 22-man squad despite being allowed 25.
Ward-Prowse’s only senior cap to date came against Germany back in 2017, but despite his lack of experience and the fact that he’s lost three important squad members, Southgate has expressed his pleasure at having the 24-year-old around.
“We know there are some players just on the fringes that we wouldn’t hesitate to call in, both in terms of their ability, but also in the case of a player like James Ward-Prowse and his character,” he said. “He’s absolutely the sort of character you want around the squad.”
Hudson-Odoi, meanwhile, has been directly involved in seven goals in all competitions for Chelsea this season, despite starting just six games for the Blues. With Rashford only fit to play against Montenegro, this call-up could give him another chance to prove to Maurizio Sarri that he should be a regular starter.
Where could Declan Rice fit in?
Having switched allegiance from Republic of Ireland to England last month – despite picking up three senior caps for the former – much of the talk surrounding Southgate’s latest squad has been about Rice.
At 20-years-old and with just 64 senior appearances to his name for West Ham, Rice is right at the start of his career but the skill-set he could offer to the England engine room is vast.
Since switching to a 4-3-3 following the 2018 World Cup, England have become a far more fluid attacking outfit but one criticism that still remains is the lack of an all-rounder.
Eric Dier is a solid tackler but lacks a real passing range and ambition with the ball, while Jordan Henderson doesn’t match up with the Spurs man without possession, but far exceeds him in terms of passing.
In Rice, England now have an ultimately versatile midfield pivot who can recycle possession with simple passes, spark attacks with ambitious forward balls and also protect his back four with excellent tackling abilities picked up during his time as a centre-back.
For West Ham this season, no player has completed more successful passes (1103) than Rice, who also boasts a passing accuracy of 85.64% – only one player to have played over 10 games for the club betters that statistic – while in the Premier League this season, only Wilfred Ndidi (258) has made more recoveries than Rice (249).
What are Czech Republic’s strengths and weaknesses?
England will face a Czech Republic side on Friday that will try to stay compact and hold no particular interest in having possession. In fact, during their nine games in 2018, they failed to have 50% possession or above and appeared happy to sit in their 4-5-1 shape and soak up pressure.
When they do go forward, Czech Republic’s main ploy is to use the strength of Roma forward and lone striker, Patrick Schick, who uses his physicality and close control to hold up the ball while the likes of Matej Vydra and Borek Dockal get forward to support.
This was a tactic that yielded just seven goals in nine games last year, though, while a distinct lack of pace at the back makes them susceptible to balls in behind.
If England can keep the ball, stay patient in possession and draw that deep line out, the likes of Sterling and Sancho should profit greatly, especially if Kane drops deep to pull centre-backs out of position as he did during England’s impressive 3-2 win in Spain last year.
Friday’s game will be the first time England have faced Czech Republic in a competitive match and just the third meeting between the two teams overall.
England are unbeaten in their previous two meetings, with the last encounter in 2008 running out a 2-2 draw thanks to goals from Wes Brown and Joe Cole.
England wins: 1 Draws: 1 Czech Republic wins: 0
Southampton midfielder Ward-Prowse and Chelsea’s Hudson-Odoi have been drafted into the squad, with Alexander-Arnold, Shaw, Stones, Loftus-Cheek and Delph all pulling out with injury.
Henderson missed Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Fulham on Sunday with an ankle injury but has been cleared for international duty by Jurgen Klopp, while there is a first call-up for West Ham’s Rice.
However, Southgate will be without Rashford for the Czech Republic game, with the United forward still nursing an ankle injury – something the England boss claimed he’d known about for ‘a couple of days’.
The England squad in full:
Goalkeepers: Tom Heaton, Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford.
Defenders: Ben Chilwell, Michael Keane, Harry Maguire, Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, James Tarkowski.
Midfielders: Ross Barkley, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Declan Rice, James Ward-Prowse.
Forwards: Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Callum Wilson, Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Predicted England line-up
Pickford; Walker, Maguire, Keane, Rose; Rice, Henderson, Barkley; Sancho, Kane, Sterling.
Given England’s fantastic achievements during 2018, there will be a heightened sense of excitement and expectation heading into Friday’s game.
However, we fully expect them to rise to the occasion – as they so often have under Southgate – and see off what could be a very tricky opponent.
England 2-0 Czech Republic.