By Nilesh Patel
- England currently sit at the top of Group F
- Scotland look to improve on their 4th place position
- Friday’s match will be the 113th meeting between the nations
WEMBLEY, ENGLAND – England and Scotland prepare for their first competitive encounter since November 1999.
England host fourth-placed Scotland at Wembley on Friday, which is set to be a heated encounter as both nations aim to improve their 2018 World Cup Qualification hopes.
England, who top the group, will hope to increase the distance between them and their rivals, while the Scots need to make up for their dropped points against Lithuania and Slovakia.
For the two nations this is always going to be a confrontational game, but with the added element of World Cup qualification in the mix there is more than national pride at stake. With the game at sell out with 90,000 fans supporting their sides – Scotland backed by 10,000 – there is sure to be a fierce atmosphere.
Can England keep their cool or will Scotland’s passion bring them success?
As underdogs, Scotland will hope to use that to their advantage by utilising their passion to better England in one-on-one situations. However, for England in qualification processes they are regularly considered as the favourite for all their games. Their ability to control their emotions and shun the intensity of the rivalry with their on-field quality will be crucial to their success. The calm demeanour of England manager Gareth Southgate on the touchline will likely transpire through to the squad.
England striker, Harry Kane, who returned from injury with the equalising penalty in the North-London Derby last weekend told BBC Sport: “We have to use the atmosphere to our advantage, we have to use all the positive energy and that passion to win the game… There are going to be a lot of heated moments and tackles flying in, but we’ve got to keep cool and keep focused.”
Unfortunately Scotland’s squad doesn’t have the quality to match England’s but there is not doubt that there is ability within the squad. Gordon Strachan has often suggested that the calibre of player he has to chose from doesn’t match the quantity of passion. There is no question that their passion should be taken for granted but they’ve got to now match the passion with their ability to play.
How will Strachan deal with squad dismissals?
Scotland have dilemmas at the back and in their attack with a handful of full-backs and attackers unavailable for Friday night’s game.
Aston Villa right-back Alan Hutton made himself unavailable for international duty leaving Scotland short at righ-back. Also, Hull City’s Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney of Celtic are both missing through injury, leaving Strachan with a huge problem at left-back. Blackburn’s Charlie Mulgrew was called up on Tuesday and has experience playing on the left-side of the defence.
Mulgrew’s Celtic ex-teammate, Scott Brown, returns from international retirement and is expected to start having previously been captain under Strachan before the qualification draw. The 31-year-old reversed his decision to retire last week but is recovering from a dead leg which forced him of the pitch on Saturday.
The concern for Strachan up top is with Steven Fletcher’s fitness. The Sheffield Wednesday striker is recovering from a knee injury and is a doubt for Wembley. Fulham’s Chris Martin is the likely replacement having scored four in his past five and scoring in Scotland’s 1-1 draw with Lithuania.
How can England create more chances?
If not for Joe Hart’s goalkeeping brilliance against Slovenia, England definitely would have ended the game with zero points. The Three Lions only had three shots on target and really struggled to create any clear-cut chances.
In what was a pacey line-up with the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Dele Alli and Theo Walcott all starting, the creative three really struggled to penetrate the Slovenian back line.
Thankfully for Southgate he has greater options in Man City’s Raheem Sterling and Liverpool’s in-form Adam Lallana for this fixture. The two Englishmen have been part of 17 goals for their clubs already this season. Lallana has thrived performing in a fluid number 10 role, where he has been allowed to press defenders and be the creative outlet for the midfield. Lallana can play a similar role for the national side where creativity is vastly needed.
So far, England have struggled with breaking down teams who set up to defend against them. With Lallana and Sterling in the side England will have both the vision and speed to breach defensive teams.
Is this the best chance Scotland have to better their rivals?
With England yet to appoint a permanent manager and the squad not fully implementing the style of their caretaker, this could be the chance for Scotland to pounce on England’s unstable position.
In the wake of Sam Allardyce’s resignation and a disheartening draw to Slovenia, the English FA have not yet committed to Southgate as their full-time successor, which leaves England in a current state of indecision.
Also, Scotland will have the confidence of winning their last competitive fixture at Wembley in a 1-0 victory in 1999.
Potential heroes on Friday could be found on the flanks for Scotland. Firstly, Hull City’s Robert Snodgrass has been in great form scoring 5 and assisting once for the Tigers in all competitions. The 29-year-old silenced all injury doubts on the weekend after he came on from the bench to inspire Hull to a 2-1 win over Southampton. After scoring and creating one goal, Snodgrass’ performance on Sunday reflects his strong start to the season which could be the biggest danger to England.
Another possible match-winner for the Scots could be Oliver Burke. The 19 year-old moved from Nottingham Forest to newly promoted Bundesliga club, RedBull Leipzig, for a reported £13million (making him the most expensive Scottish footballer). His German side have set the league alight currently sitting second in the Bundesliga, just behind Bayern Munich on goal difference. Burke has made 7 appearances for Leipzig, scoring one and assisting two. The right-winger certainly has the attacking prowess to better the England back line and we could see him claim his first international start on Friday.
Is this the best chance of rekindling national pride for either nation?
Both competing nations have different parameters of success. Roy Hodgson’s tenure as England manager was a massive disappointment with regards to tournament performances. Getting knocked out by the hand of Iceland at Euro 2016 was dubbed England’s most embarrassing moment by many supporters. Despite a youthful squad with much talent, the future under Southgate – as caretaker – couldn’t be further away from stable. Qualification from the group is expected and given the stature of player anything other than finishing top of the group would be a let-down.
On the other hand, Scotland’s situation has meant they haven’t qualified for a major tournament in 18 years. Scotland last qualified for the 1998 World Cup, where they finished bottom at the group stage. Scottish fans will be well aware that the time of Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen is in the distant past and the squad right now is not near the quality of prior decades. However, the challenge of making the 2018 World Cup is not impossible. A win against England would put them on the same amount of points and well within their limit to finish in the top two positions of the group. Key ties against the aforementioned England as well as Slovakia, Slovenia and Lithuania will prove crucial to the future of Strachan’s side.
England v Scotland kicks off at 7:45pm on Friday night.
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