England conclude their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign on Sunday, when they visit LFF Stadionas to take on Lithuania

The group stage of the European leg of the 2018 FIFA World Cup comes to an end in the next few days, with automatic qualification picture becoming clearer. From Group F, England have already booked their ticket for Russia, but they bring their campaign to an end on Saturday as they face Lithuania at LFF Stadionas.

The hosts have surpassed expectations in their World Cup qualifying campaign, holding Slovenia and Scotland to shock draws, and losing five of their nine outings. Edgaras Jankauskas’ men come into this match on the back of another unbeaten result, although they would have hoped to be Malta.

England, on the other hand, have largely performed to expectations, unbeaten in their qualifying run and topping Group F quite comfortably for the large part. Their qualification to next summer’s competition was sealed earlier this week when they earned a hard-fought 1-0 win over Slovenia.

The reverse fixture, played earlier this year, ended in a 2-0 win for Gareth Southgate’s men with Jermain Defoe and Jamie Vardy scoring the goals. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Lithuania

Edgaras Jankauskas has no fresh injury concerns to deal with ahead of the visit of England on Sunday as his side escaped unscathed from their visit to Malta. Therefore, much of the side that played on Thursday is expected to feature against the Three Lions as well, with Fiodor Cernych leading the team.

The key men, though, will be at the back with experienced defender Tadas Kijanskas expected to shore up the defensive unit alongside Tomas Mikuckis and Egidijus Vaitkunas, while goalkeeper Emilijus Zubas will need to be at his solid best to keep the visiting attack at bay.

Up front, the hopes for a shock result rests on the shoulders of captain Cernych as well as his partners in attack, Deivydas Matulevicius and Nerijus Valskis.

Possible Starting XI (4-5-1): Zubas; Borovskij, Mikuckis, Kijanskas, Vaitkunas; Matulevicius, Slivka, Gabovs, Novikovas, Cernych; Valskis

Lithuania

England

Like his counterpart in the Lithuania dugout, Gareth Southgate does not have any fresh injury concerns on his hands either. In fact, the England boss can welcome a player back into his matchday squad, after Dele Alli served a one-match ban against Slovenia on Thursday.

Southgate, though, has hinted that he will ring in the changes ahead of the trip to Lithuania, claiming that he will give a chance to several fringe players between now and next year’s tournament to identify his best possible squad for the World Cup.

With that in mind, Harry Winks and Harry Maguire are in line for their England debuts, while the likes of Michael Keane, Chris Smalling and Aaron Cresswell are in contention to start in defence. In goal, Jack Butland is likely to take up Joe Hart’s spot.

Up front, Alli could be partnered by Jesse Lingard, while Daniel Sturridge is in contention to earn a rare international start as well. The goalscoring responsibility will rest on the shoulders of the trio, with Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford likely to get the night off.

A shift in formation could also be expected on Sunday, with a 3-4-3 or a 3-4-2-1 the likeliest formation, with Southgate implementing the two systems previously in a bid to add more dynamism to his side.

Possible Starting XI (3-4-3): Butland; Keane, Smalling, Maguire; Trippier, Winks, Livermore, Cresswell; Lingard, Sturridge, Alli

England

Key Stats

  • England and Lithuania are meeting for the second consecutive qualifying campaign, having faced off in the same group in Euro 2016 qualifiers as well.
  • England have only faced off against Lithuania thrice – the two Euro 2016 qualifiers and the reverse fixture earlier this year – scoring nine while conceding none in the process.
  • Gareth Southgate would be hoping to improve his away record on Sunday, having managed to win just one of his first five games on the road (D2 L2).
  • Lithuania have lost their last two home matches. A loss on Sunday could make it three home defeats in a row for the first time since August 2001, when they lost six consecutive games.
  • England will look to continue their unbeaten run in qualifying fixtures, having not lost once in their last 38 outings.

Player To Watch

Jack Butland

A big opportunity beckons. (Photo courtesy - Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

A big opportunity beckons. (Photo courtesy – Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

If there has been one position in Gareth Southgate’s squad that has not seen much rotation in recent times, it’s the one between the sticks. The England boss have imposed his complete faith in Joe Hart, publicly so, claiming that the West Ham goalkeeper is his number one.

On Sunday though, Jack Butland is set to finally get an opportunity to play in goal for the Three Lions. While he is expected to go untested for large parts of Sunday’s game, a commanding performance can help him make a case for more regular role at a time when England fans have been clamouring for his inclusion.

Prediction

Lithuania 0-2 England

The pressure is off England and Gareth Southgate’s shoulders following Thursday’s win over Slovenia. With several changes in the offing for the Three Lions, we could see an exciting performance from the fringe players who will be looking to impress their manager on Sunday.

Dele Alli, in particular, will look to overcome his slump in form, as will Daniel Sturridge who has struggled in front of goal as well. Nevertheless, it should be a comfortable outing for the visitors, with the gulf in class too much for Lithuania to overcome. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-0 win for England.