There’s one very good reason to look forward to November friendlies- it means you’re not in the nerve shredding play-offs. It does usually mean you’re playing someone else who’s already qualified; in England’s case it’s the worlds 2 best teams.
No one can accuse Gareth Southgate of picking weak friendly opponents to boost his side’s world ranking (a tactic cynically employed by Poland) or his own win percentage, the only previous friendlies Southgate’s England have faced were against Spain, Germany and France.
The build up has been dominated by talk of club v country and withdrawals. Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli, Harry Winks, Harry Kane, Fabian Delph and Raheem Sterling have all pulled out leaving England depleted, particularly in midfield. England’s midfield stock has been further reduced by long term absentees Adam Lallana, Nat Chalobah, Ross Barkley and Danny Drinkwater (who remains short of match fitness). But fear not Jack Cork and Jake Livermore have answered the SOS!
Southgate has denied a club v country problem and debunked the fake injury conspiracy theories. But whilst England are short of bodies for the established players this is probably not a bad week to miss- Kane & Alli in particular have a gruelling season ahead of them and 2 weeks enforced rest should go some way to reducing the workload and risk of end of season burnout.
Southgate will be frustrated that Delph yet again pulled up injured and Harry Winks didn’t make it, both have claims to press and both would likely have started at least one from these 2 games. The prime beneficiary of all this is Ruben Loftus-Cheek who will make his debut on Friday against the Germans. The Chelsea midfielder is finding his way on loan at Crystal Palace and will likely play in central midfield with a brief to get forward and support the loan striker.
England will try out the 3-4-3 system again with Dier likely to partner Loftus Cheek in midfield with Walker and Rose down the flanks. Further forward I expect Southgate to play Man United trio Lingard, Young & Rashford. Lingard and Young need to impress this week with Alex Oxlade Chamberlian dropped and the likes of Sterling, Lallana and Barkley to come back.
It’s too early to say how Brazil might line up but it’s likely to be an experimental Germany team tomorrow night. That said Germany’s scratch side breezed to the Confederations Cup title in July so they will inevitably start as favourites.
On a final point England & Germany will both wear poppies on their kits tomorrow night. Given the historical context of a Germany/ England fixture played the night before November 11th we should all hope England supporters respect their guests national anthem and don’t chant daft xenophobic songs. When France visited Wembley days after the Paris terror attacks, England supporters behaved immaculately, this occasion is different but will hopefully see a similar respectful tone adopted by those attending the game tomorrow night.