What will the Euro 2020 qualifiers tell us about England?
After a superb World Cup, followed by a Nations League triumph, England kick-off their qualification campaign for Euro 2020 this week.
Gareth Southgate’s team host Czech Republic on Friday, before a trip to Montenegro on Monday.
They’re heavy 1/6 favourites to top Group A. It’s hard to see them stumbling, but what will we find out about this group of players before next summer’s tournament?
England expects – but can they cope?
The weight of the Three Lions badge proved to be too much for the Golden Generation. The likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard failed to hit the heights of their club performances while on international duty.
But this side defied expectations to reach the World Cup semi-finals in Russia. Then they topped their Nations League group ahead of Spain and Croatia.
There’s real optimism about the national side now. When was the last time you could say that? But that means there are expectations too.
Glimpse of the future
Southgate called up Callum Hudson-Odoi to the senior England squad this week before the winger has even started a league game for Chelsea.
Some have called it premature, but it looks like part of a long-term plan from Southgate.
Jadon Sancho was brought into the picture relatively early too, but the Borussia Dortmund star now looks almost certain to be pushing for a starting spot when the tournament rolls around.
The England boss wants to bed in the young players he expects to play a major role down the line nice and early.
It may cause some growing pains, but it may well be worth it in the long run.
Do they have the keys?
England scored nine goals from set-pieces during the World Cup, setting a new tournament record.
They were also superb on the break in their 3-2 Nations League win over Spain last October.
But teams are now wise to their threat from dead-ball situations. And their qualification opponents will tend to sit deep, denying them space to break into.
That means they need to become better at controlling games and unlocking defences with clever passing and movement.
Harry Winks and Ruben Loftus-Cheek could become key players if they’re fit. It would be a surprise if Southgate didn’t find room for James Maddison’s creativity in the squad too.
If they can become the ball-playing team Southgate wants them to be, England could pose a real test for anyone.
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