Traditional rivals England and Scotland do battle in World Cup qualification at Wembley on Friday (7.45pm on ITV1).
England may be without a permanent manager following Sam Allardyce’s shock exit after just a single match in charge but they have made a solid start to the campaign. They have amassed seven points from the first nine available after narrow wins over Slovakia and Malta and a goalless draw with Slovenia. While the Three Lions’ performances have not been particularly inspiring up to now, they are in pole position to finish in top spot and automatically advance to the tournament in Russia in two years’ time.
Interim manager Gareth Southgate recently admitted that he is not sure whether he wants the job on a permanent basis, but a victory against the Scots in London and a positive display in next week’s friendly clash with Spain would boost his chances of being offered it significantly.
The future employment prospects of Scotland coach Gordon Strachan (pictured) are also uncertain, with the former Southampton and Celtic manager under pressure after a run of just one win in their last five outings. A heavy defeat at Wembley could therefore spell the end for the 59-year-old, whose side currently find themselves in fourth spot in their six-team group after collecting four points from their first three encounters against Malta, Lithuania and Slovakia. Scotland are only one point off the play-off place and there is still plenty of football to be played. The country’s Football Association may choose to act sooner rather than later if they no longer think Strachan is the man to lead them to a top-two finish as they seek to qualify for their first World Cup since 1998.
Southgate’s 25-man squad features no real surprises. Bournemouth loanee Jack Wilshere has earned a recall after being left out of recent England squads, while captain Wayne Rooney has again been included despite no longer having a guaranteed place in Manchester United’s starting XI. The Three Lions will probably again line up in the 4-2-3-1 formation that was deployed in the recent triumph over Malta.
Rooney is likely to either be used in the No.10 role or as a central midfielder, with Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge battling it out for the centre-forward position. Gary Cahill and John Stones will probably resume their partnership in the heart of the backline. Goalkeeper Joe Hart is set to continue between the sticks and Tottenham Hotspur duo Kyle Walker and Danny Rose are the favourites to begin the game at full-back.
Scotland’s group includes plenty of players plying their trade south of the border, including Hull City duo David Marshall and Robert Snodgrass, West Bromwich Albion midfielders Darren Fletcher and James Morrison, Crystal Palace’s James McArthur and Norwich City forward Steven Naismith.
Strachan employed a 4-3-3 configuration against Slovakia last time out and could stick with the same setup despite the poor result. The pair of wide men – likely to come from Snodgrass, Matt Ritchie and Oliver Burke – may be forced into deeper positions and the overall shape could appear to be more of a 4-5-1 as a result.
It is difficult for this preview to look past a rather comfortable England victory on Friday night, despite the country’s struggles both during and after this year’s European Championship in France. Scotland are in poor form and simply do not possess the same quality as their opponents, who will also have the added advantage of playing in front of their own supporters. A 3-1 triumph for Southgate’s side is our betting tips’ suggestion. The in-form Raheem Sterling, who has had an excellent start to the campaign for Manchester City, could be a good choice for first goalscorer.
- Betting Tip: England to beat Scotland by the correct score of 3-1 at best odds of 13/1 with BetVictor.
- Betting Tip: Take Raheem Sterling to score the first goal of the game at a best price of 5/1 with Coral, William Hill or Betfair.
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