By 90Min
March 18, 2019

Given how exciting the Premier League has been this season, what with its nail-biting title race, intriguing top four tussle and roller-coaster relegation battle, you'd be forgiven for having forgotten about little old England.

Well, the Three Lions are roaring back into town this week, as they look to build upon their mighty fine 2018 World Cup and UEFA Nations League efforts with a bright start to the Euro 2020 qualification campaign.

Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

Gareth Southgate's side take on the Czech Republic at a sold-out Wembley Stadium on Friday night, before flying out to Montenegro for a match on the following Monday.

There's a lot of intriguing questions to be answered before the football gets under way, so here's six key talking points ahead of the highly anticipated qualifiers...


1. Who on Earth Is Going to Partner Harry Maguire in Defence?

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England's once shaky defence has improved in recent times, but John Stones' late withdrawal has thrown an enormous spanner into the works. Leicester City's Harry Maguire is a guaranteed starter, but who will play alongside him is a conundrum that will give Southgate some real cause for concern over the coming days.

To be frank, the options available to fill in aren't exactly glittering. Everton's Michael Keane, or Burnley's James Tarkowski - neither of whom have particularly excelled for their respective clubs this season. 

Between them, both sides have conceded 101 goals in the league this, which is, to quote everyone's favourite Scottish viral video "DESGOSTEN!"

This leads us rather neatly - and appropriately - on to point number two...


2. Why Has Southgate Included Three Right Backs in the Squad?!

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Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Tripper and Kyle Walker. Southers, my man, what are you up to?

Perhaps, England are looking to revert to a back three; it served them wonderfully at last summer's World Cup, after all. However, against weaker opposition, it does seem a tad defensive. Perhaps then, Southgate may be looking to use Walker in the middle again.

Walker hasn't been used in a back two before, and this could be a little risky. Perhaps then, this glut of right-sided full-backs is more for squad cohesion purposes, and one (or two) of them will just have to miss out to maintain the squad atmosphere of banter and bonhomie.


3. Will England Go for Holding-Midfield Stodge or Opt for Some Flair?

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For a while now, a real criticism on England's midfield has been it's lack of dynamism and adventure. You wouldn't willingly go to a party hosted by Eric Dier, Fabian Delph and Jordan Henderson now, would you?

With the aforementioned Liverpool man out with an ankle injury, James Ward-Prowse has stepped in as his replacement. He's probably unlikely to get a start, and Dier is only just back from a lay-off with injury.

Still Southgate will want an experienced head in there to protect his defence, so expect Dier to be heavily involved. Alongside him? if it's a 4-3-3, perhaps Declan Rice and Delle Alli. A 4-2-3-1 or similar variant? Then it's a straight shootout between flair (Alli, Barkley, JWP) and steel (Rice) to partner Dier.

Speaking of formations...


4. Will Southgate Stick to the 4-3-3 Formation?

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After the World Cup, Southgate ditched his iconic waistcoat and the formation that saw his side power their way to the semi-finals.

In subsequent friendly and UEFA Nations League matches, England played in a rather fetching 4-3-3, packed with top quality attacking players - it saw them beat Spain and Croatia, too.

It's fair to say that the Three Lions squad is fairly top heavy, and the England boss will be eager to pack in the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford... which suggests that a 4-3-3 is most certainly on the cards.


5. Will Jordan Pickford Keep His Number 1 Shirt?

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Jordan Pickford was outstanding at the World Cup, but he's had a very shaky season indeed with Everton, making a series of blunders throughout the campaign.

On his day, Pickford is a better shot-stopper than either of England's other options (Tom Heaton and Jack Butland) and his ability to help the Three Lions play out from the back - something Southgate is insistent upon - is a highly valuable asset an' all.

The former Sunderland stopper put in an excellent - and rather timely - showing against Chelsea on Sunday, which could go a long way to ensuring he keeps the number one shirt for the time-being.


6. Will the Good Times Continue to Roll?

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Pre-Southgate, watching and supporting England was a brutal, frustrating and all round harrowing ordeal that has probably taken a good few years off our lives and cost several promising relationships.

Golden Gareth changed all that, the beautiful bugger, and it'll be interesting to see whether he can keep up relentlessly positive good times rolling. I don't know about you, but I'm giddy at the thought of seeing JWP bend a 30-yard free-kick into the top corner, before being enveloped in a swarm of choreographed handshakes and gloriously mistimed high-fives.

Of course, a couple of bad results and the press (and predictably, in turn, the nation) will turn on the team once again. So, c'mon England, let's get this show back on the road, eh!

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