Gareth Southgate takes his youthful England squad into the first of two Friendly Internationals before the World Cup.
Fellow tournament qualifiers, Nigeria, will visit Wembley on Saturday to prepare themselves for their extremely tough World Cup Group that includes Croatia and Argentina.
The Super Eagles were the first African Nation to qualify for Russia 2018 and they may feature some recognisable faces on Saturday evening, with six Premier League players amongst their ranks.
I like the look of Southgate’s squad, and the manager himself will be hoping to use these friendlies to finalise who he fancies to start in certain key positions for England. The first-choice goalkeeper has still not really been decided; I imagine Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford will both play 90 minutes either here or against Costa Rica next weekend. Whoever makes the least mistakes in these games will probably be the England No.1 on 17th June to face Tunisia.
Pickford’s passing ability from the back gives him a slight advantage over Butland, and this should also be true for Leicester’s Harry Maguire. The internationally inexperienced (4 caps) centre-back’s composure on the ball could see him oust Gary Cahill (68 caps) on the left side of England’s three man defence. I think we know Harry Kane is going to start up front, but he has great competition and support from Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy, so the Spurs man can’t be too complacent, even if he is the new England Captain. Southgate has shown he’s not afraid to make the big decisions, leaving the perennially injury-prone Jack Wilshere at home, even though the tabloids were crying for his inclusion.
The competition for places is fierce, as with any International squad, but this time it feels different for England, with players being selected on merit and not reputation and also the temperament and personality of the player being considered by Southgate to be important for the bonding of the squad during the tournament. The only other place up for grabs is the left wing-back slot, will Ashley Young’s rejuvenation put him ahead of the slightly out of form Danny Rose?
Also, will he cram the midfield with Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson or will the more creative Ruben Loftus-Cheek be given a chance in one of those positions? All may become clear over these next two games. I expect England to beat a decent Nigeria side at Wembley on Saturday, maybe by a two goal margin. This well balanced England squad’s keenness to impress their manager should be too much for the Nigerians to handle.
England to win HT/FT, Best odds 5/4 @ Ladbrokes
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