After a pair of crushing victories in their opening Euro 2020 qualifiers, England now host Bulgaria at Wembley (5pm Saturday, live on ITV).
England began the qualifying process with a 5-0 thrashing of Czech Republic at Wembley in March, with Raheem Sterling scoring a hat-trick. They followed that up a few days later with a 1-5 win away to Montenegro. Their status as group favourites has proved justified so far.
Gareth Southgate’s side currently top the group despite the fact that they have played one game less than Czech Republic and Kosovo and two less than both Montenegro and Saturday’s opponents Bulgaria. In fact, Bulgaria’s hopes of qualifying already look in danger of collapsing. They have only picked up two points from their four matches to date.
While the rest of the group played out a couple of rounds of matches in June, England were participating in the final stages of the inaugural UEFA Nations League. A semi-final defeat in extra time against the Netherlands was followed by victory on penalties against Switzerland in the third/fourth playoff after a match England had shaded ended in a 0-0 draw.
Southgate clearly has a good idea of the players he considers to be core members of his group. Indeed, he admitted that it was Jesse Lingard’s previous England performances that earned him his place in the squad for this international break despite questionable form at Manchester United. The only real surprise in his squad is the absence of Manchester City defender Kyle Walker, rested to give space to Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.
There are, though, three uncapped players in the 24-man group for Saturday’s match and the away engagement in Kosovo that follows next Tuesday in the form of James Maddison, Mason Mount and Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also back in the fold for the first time since March 2018, having recovered from injury.
If given opportunities, it will be the performances of those kinds of players that will provide the interest in a pair of fixtures from which England is expected to come away with the full six points. They are undefeated in 10 previous internationals against Bulgaria, and comfortably won both home and away when the two sides last met in qualifying for Euro 2012.
Bulgaria sit 60th in the FIFA rankings on the back of a seven-match winless streak stretching back to October of last year. It is 10 years since they were last in the top 30 and 15 since they last qualified for a major tournament. Their glory days of the mid-to-late nineties are now well behind them. Back-to-back defeats to Czech Republic and Kosovo in June all but ended their realistic hopes of qualifying for Euro 2020.
Krasimir Balakov, a member of that nineties team alongside greats like Hristo Stoichkov and Emil Kostadinov, took charge in May on the back of a patchy, at best, record as a club coach. In truth, he doesn’t have a great deal of talent to work with. The large majority of his squad play domestically or elsewhere in Eastern Europe. With 15 goals to his credit, only 31-year-old captain Ivelin Popov has scored more than more than twice for the national team.
Bulgaria were defeated 1-4, 0-3 and 1-3 away to France, Sweden and the Netherlands respectively during the qualifying process for the last World Cup. It is difficult to see Saturday’s match ending in anything less than a similarly comfortable win for England, for whom a front three of Sterling, Harry Kane and one other, usually Jadon Sancho or Marcus Rashford, is clearly bearing fruit.
Our Preview’s England vs Bulgaria Betting Tips Verdict
Given the disparity in quality between the teams, it is pretty hard to find much value in the betting markets for Saturday’s match. An Asian Handicap would seem to offer the best return. After four-goal and five-goal victories across their first couple of qualifiers, backing England to achieve a similar winning margin against Bulgaria (but with a little bit of protective built in) looks a decent play.
So this is the betting tip for our England vs Bulgaria preview:
- We expect the home team to win by a more than 3-goal margin. Bet on England -3 goals on the ‘match handicap’ market @ 17/10 with William Hill. A draw on this market (ie: England to win 3-0 or 4-1 etc) would be a loser.
- Click for Euro 2020 outright winner betting.
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