Gareth Southgate’s England will be away to world champions Germany in a friendly this midweek (7.45pm Wednesday, live on ITV1).
The former under-21 boss has had a solid start to his reign as manager of the senior England side, but anything the team achieves between now and the World Cup in Russia will be tempered by their dismal showing at Euro 2016. The Three Lions were perhaps a little unfortunate to finish second in the group stage, but there can be no excuses for their awful performance in the remarkable round of 16 defeat by minnows and tournament debutants Iceland.
The fact that the Championship was followed by Sam Allardyce’s ignominious one-game tenure made things even worse for England, who will be out to boost morale in this meeting with quality opposition. Southgate has at least guided the country to a lofty position in World Cup qualification: after four matches, England are top of Group F with three wins and a draw.
Germany also left France disappointed after the Euros last year, but Joachim Low’s charges by no means disgraced themselves by reaching the semi-finals before losing to the host nation. The four-time world champions have begun the current qualification campaign for Russia 2018 in typically dominant fashion. The Germans are looking down at Northern Ireland, Norway, Azerbaijan, San Marino and Czech Republic from the summit of Group C, having amassed 12 points from 12, scored 16 goals and conceded none.
Germany’s qualification for the tournament is not in any doubt, with the next 15 months instead about further solidifying their possession-based style of play and blooding younger players who could be important members of the squad next year. This friendly with England thus provides Low with an opportunity to do those things while facing an opponent who will also be expected to reach the latter stages of the 21st World Cup.
Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane will miss out with an ankle problem, while captain and record goalscorer Wayne Rooney is also absent through injury. Jermain Defoe’s goalscoring exploits for Premier League strugglers Sunderland have earned him an unlikely recall to the national team setup at the age of 34, while Joe Hart retains his spot as England’s No.1 despite a rather mixed campaign with mid-table Torino in Serie A.
Liverpool’s Adam Lallana has enjoyed a terrific season at club level and is arguably England’s key player these days, with youngsters Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford all capable of causing the home side problems in attacking areas. Southgate’s defensive options are not the most impressive, though: the Three Lions’ centre-halves for this friendly will be two of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill, John Stones and the promising but uncapped Michael Keane.
Low’s 23-man group contains Premier League stars Mesut Ozil, Leroy Sane, Shokdran Mustafi and Emre Can. There is also Juventus’ Sami Khedira, Paris Saint-Germain’s Julian Draxler, Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos and Bayern Munich quartet Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Muller, who has scored just two Bundesliga goals this season. RB Leipzig’s impressive 21-year-old striker Timo Werner could earn his first cap and fellow youngsters Sane, Kimmich, Niklas Sule, Julian Weigl and Julian Brandt will all be hoping for some playing time.
Notwithstanding the Three Lions’ superb triumph over their upcoming opponents in the run-up to last year’s European Championship in France, it is difficult to envisage anything other than a routine Germany win in Wednesday night’s clash. Low simply has a superior squad of players at his disposal, and the hosts will be out to avenge the defeat they suffered against the Three Lions last time out. Overall, then, it would be wise to put some money behind the 2014 World Cup winners, although a clean sheet could be beyond them. So if you fancy a wager with the bookmakers as you watch the game on ITV1, then these are this preview’s betting tips: