England will be hoping to consolidate their place atop the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers Group A when they welcome Bulgaria to Wembley on Saturday.
We are set to reach the halfway mark in the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers, with Matchday 5 drawing to a close on Saturday. One of the most improved sides in the continent will take the field on the day when England play hosts to struggling Bulgaria at Wembley.
The Three Lions have been on a resurgent run ever since Gareth Southgate took charge nearly three years ago. In this period, there has been a distinctive change in playing style, with the Three Lions playing a more attractive brand of football. And, the positive change has reflected in their results as well.
While the trophy drought has frustratingly continued, Southgate can take heart from the fact that after finishing fourth at last year’s World Cup, they ended up third in the UEFA Nations League. As far the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers are concerned, England a perched atop the Group A standings, despite playing fewer games than others in their group.
Bulgaria, on the other hand, are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Once considered to be a tricky proposition for the big boys of European football, the Lions have had a terrible fall in stature in recent years and are now one of the whipping boys of the continent. As far as the European Qualifiers are concerned, Krasimir Balakov’s men sit second from bottom with two points.
England and Bulgaria last locked horns in the UEFA Euro 2012 Qualifiers, with the Three Lions trouncing their opponents 7-0 on aggregate over the two meetings. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the two sides.
Team News & Tactics
Gareth Southgate has made a fair share of changes to the squad that was picked for the 2019 UEFA Nations League finals back in June. The notable absentees are Manchester City duo John Stones and Kyle Walker, with the former missing out due to his recent fitness struggles.
The England head coach had called up four uncapped players, but has seen one of them withdraw his name from the group, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka pulling out due to injury. But, James Maddison, Mason Mount and Tyrone Mings are all in line to make their debuts against Bulgaria.
As far as the starting lineup is concerned, the trio is likely to miss out and are only expected to feature from the bench at best. Jordan Pickford is a certain starter in goal despite the resurgent form that both Tom Heaton and Nick Pope have projected this season at club level.
In front of him, England are set to line up in a 4-3-3 formation that Southgate has preferred since the end of the World Cup. The four-man defensive unit pretty much picks itself, with Ben Chilwell ahead of Danny Rose on the left, while Trent Alexander-Arnold has seemingly usurped Kieran Trippier on the right, for now.
At the heart of the English defence, there is no looking past Harry Maguire, who will have Michael Keane as his partner in the absence of Stones. The midfield three will see Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice as certainties, while Ross Barkley should get the nod over Harry Winks to provide the creative impetus.
Up ahead in attack, Harry Kane, Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling are the definitive picks at present, with Marcus Rashford having to make do with a place on the bench. While Sancho will be the creative force of the side, Sterling and Kane will be expected to come up with the goods in and around the box.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Pickford; Alexander-Arnold, Keane, Maguire, Chilwell; Henderson, Rice, Barkley; Sancho, Kane, Sterling
Like his opposite number, Krasimir Balakov too has chosen to call-up a number of prospective debutants, with as many as six players hoping to feature for the very first time for Bulgaria. But, the Bulgaria head coach is unlikely to make any surprise calls, although he is yet to zero in on his preferred formation so far.
Known to be an advocate of the 4-1-4-1 formation, Balakov has fiddled with the 4-5-1 and the 4-3-3 thus far. And, against England on Saturday, the Bulgaria boss could yet continue with the 4-3-3 formation, mirroring their hosts’ formation so as to avoid getting outnumbered in the midfield.
A much changed squad was expected from Balakov after a poor start to his reign as the Bulgaria head coach and the group picked bears an inexperienced look. In goal, Plamen Iliev should be the one to feature, with the 27-year-old set to be a busy man against a strong England side.
In the back four, Nikolay Bodurov should be a certain starter, with his experience holding the key for the Lions to stand any chance of stifling England. The 33-year-old should have Vasil Bozhikov as his central defensive partner, with Strahil Popov and Ivan Goranov being the two full-backs for Bulgaria.
Up ahead in midfield, Georgi Milanov and Georgi Sarmov will be the two workhorses, with Simeon Slavchev hoping to hold the fort in front of the defence. The onus though, will be on Bulgaria skipper Ivelin Popov to lead by example in attack. Giving Popov company, should be Galin Ivanov and Kiril Despodov.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Iliev; Strahil Popov, Bodurov, Bozhikov, Goranov; Milanov, Slavchev, Sarmov; Ivelin Popov, Despodov, Ivanov
- England are yet to taste defeat at the hands of Bulgaria after ten meetings (W6 D4).
- Bulgaria have only managed to trouble the score keepers once on their five visits to England while conceding as many as eight goals, including four on their most recent trip.
- England boast an impeccable recent record in qualifying fixtures, having won 22 of their last 25 European and World Cup qualifiers at home (D3).
- Krasimir Balakov has lost each of the two games he has overseen since being appointed as the Bulgaria head coach earlier this year.
- Across his career Ivelin Popov has netted five goals in Euro qualifiers, more than any other international format.
Player to Watch
While much of Gareth Southgate’s side seem to be well settled, one position that is set to be up for grabs till the UEFA Euro 2020 begins is the right-back slot. That is, unless current incumbent Trent Alexander-Arnold has anything to say about that.
With Kieran Trippier, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Kyle Walker all competing for one spot, even the smallest of errors could come under the microscope. Therefore, the onus will be on the Liverpool star to translate his club form in international football and make the right-back spot his own.
It is all up to Alexander-Arnold now to nail down his place in the side, while still in his early days as an England international.
England 4-0 Bulgaria
The fact of the matter is simple. England are one of the toughest sides in world football to master at their home, with Wembley being a fortress for the Three Lions. Bulgaria, on the other hand, are starting to become the whipping boys of Group A, with fast improving Kosovo also handing them a defeat last time out.
With England tightening the noose at the back, it looks unlikely that Bulgaria will be able to trouble the hosts much on Saturday On the other end, with Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho on a roll at club level, there should be no stopping Gareth Southgate’s men. The Hard Tackle predicts a 4-0 win for the hosts, who should tighten their grip on top spot in Group A.