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By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer
England face a ominous threat as their path continues to look more than a magician – but it won’t come from some of the teams they will face to next summer’s showpiece on the route.
Their opponents in Group A could nearly have been handpicked to get a cozy passage the Football Association and by director Gareth Southgate.
There is a risk, however, in cleaning aside impotent opposition that is present.
While Kosovo, on Tuesday, are next up in St Mary’s at Southampton at 120th bulgaria, ranked 60th in the world by Fifa, were dismissed 4-0 at Wembley. The highest-rated opponents in 43rd of England, the Czech Republic, have already been beaten while Montenegro, on their own floor, were outclassed 5-1 at 55.
Not glorified barely although friendlies testing occasions either.
England have gone undefeated qualifying games, winning 33 and drawing at nine .
A decade with no defeat at qualifying is impressive but the flipside of this is that the fat lot of good it’s done England when it has mattered.
England’s run to the 2018 World Cup semi-final was a glorious sense shock, although the perceived success has to be suppressed by the fact they were defeated on the 3 occasions they fulfilled a side of critical quality, namely Belgium double and Croatia from the last four.
The abysmal World Cups of 2010 and 2014, alongside Euro 2016’s debacle, supposed the Russian odyssey has been an exception as opposed to the rule.
Even the make-up of Group A now means England are presented with the possibility of facing their most taxing competitive tests for two decades – 12 weeks if we count on the inaugural Uefa Nations League weight reduction loss to the Netherlands – after the critical activity gets under way following summer.
England not qualifying’s notion is a non-starter. This is not arrogance but a straightforward statement of truth. It is clear any beginning line-up Southgate assembles out of his squad ought to be good enough to ensure their place in Euro 2020 with the minimum of fuss.
It means a situation is for Southgate becoming his group match-hardened for Euro 2020 in the remaining qualifiers with a policy of rotation. There are plenty of candidates prepared to measure.
This was a relatively conservative selection by Southgate, passing over pair Mason Mount’s claims for starting locations, preferring Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice as his anchor guys and Chelsea’s Ross Barkley forward from Chelsea and Leicester City’s James Maddison.
Southgate chosen for Atletico Madrid’s Kieran Trippier’s adventure over Liverpool youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold regardless of the latter’s enormously superior form during the past 12 months – at right-back.
The coverage cannot be criticised granted a victory that hardly caused sweat to violate but there is a case for freshening up England with blood on Tuesday at St Mary’s.
It wouldn’t be a case of carrying Kosovo lightly giving the young brigade of England a flavor of the action that is aggressive they will have to prepare them for what may await next 39, when sterner assessments come.
Not so much experimentation, more solid common sense in readiness for the acid tests.
Leicester City’s Ben Chilwell will arrive in for suspended Danny Rose in left-back while the addition of Alexander-Arnold would hardly weakens the side of England.
Mount won his first cap as a replacement and there is a case for playing Maddison or with him instead of Henderson and Rice’s insurance coverage. They could provide a workable rivalry to Ross Barkley, not as replacements for the future but as rivals.
The fantastic news for Southgate and England is the current squad looks without seriously endangering the overall package, like it may endure a fair amount of spinning.
England captain Harry Kane, with a hat-trick here to shoot his England tally and move above 1966 World Cup final hero Sir Geoff Hurst from the all-time list of goalscorers, also Raheem Sterling are irreplaceable.
Kane aided by a supply of penalties, which is building a body of work.
Although his partnership with Sterling looks like a normal match, he leads from the front in every respect, his tireless work a touchstone with this England. Southgate has a pairing that will be the envy of many countries at Euro 2020.
Southgate also has space for manoeuvre elsewhere which barely finishes his starting XI of quality.
Alexander-Arnold is a downgrade on Trippier in the absence of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and dropped Kyle Walker, while those choices contain Tottenham’s Harry Winks.
Borussia Dortmund’s 19-year-old Jadon Sancho has proved he lives at this amount. He’ll relish the big, aggressive stage and more chances.
By shuffling their bunch in qualifying, england would not be belittling Kosovo or some of the competitions. It would simply be an instance of seeing the bigger picture.
It’s an old issue – however it may be the start of Euro 2020, when faced with the type of forensic examinations that the best teams run, before we find out exactly how great this England team is and just how much progress has been made since they came up short in the semi-finals in the World Cup and the Uefa Nations League.
England are here before. This time they need to be ready for when the serious interrogation starts.
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