England will be aiming to take a step closer to qualifying for UEFA Euro 2020 when they welcome Kosovo to the St. Mary’s Stadium on Tuesday.
Matchday 6 of the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers will draw to a close on Tuesday, with teams from Groups A, B and H in action on the day. In Group A, favourites England will be in action at home once again, playing hosts to the ever-improving Kosovo at the St. Mary’s Stadium.
England have been one of the most consistent national teams in Europe and have begun their UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in fine fashion. Gareth Southgate’s men sit atop Group A after their first three games, with their latest success coming in the form of a comfortable 4-0 win over Bulgaria at Wembley.
Kosovo, on the other hand, are one of the most-improved teams in Europe, if not the single most-improved team. Under Bernard Challandes, the minnows have been a stubborn and resilient unit that has not been beaten in 15 games. And, the Dardanet stand a great chance of directly qualifying for next summer’s tournament, seeing as they currently occupy second spot in Group A.
In fact, Kosovo have already gotten the better of Czech Republic, coming from a goal down to shock their more fancied opponents with a 2-1 win. Their first game against England though, will be a completely different proposition and ahead of their meeting in Southampton, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the two sides.
Team News & Tactics
Gareth Southgate had already seen Aaron Wan-Bissaka withdraw his name from his squad due to a minor injury. The England head coach will now also be without the services of Jesse Lingard, who has pulled out due to illness.
But, the absence of Lingard is unlikely to leave Southgate sweating much, with the England boss having plenty of midfielders at his disposal to compensate for the Manchester United star’s loss. Meanwhile, Southgate is expected to name a strong lineup, with Kosovo not a team to be taken lightly.
Jordan Pickford keeps his place in goal for England, but the defensive line should see a change or two. While Harry Maguire and Michael Keane should continue as the central defensive partnership for the Three Lions, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Chilwell should be the two full-backs against Kosovo.
Up ahead in midfield, the trio from the rout of Bulgaria should be retained, with Declan Rice being the Anchor Man, while Jordan Henderson and Ross Barkley will provide the forward thrust. The attacking unit though, should see one shuffle.
Jadon Sancho should come into the side in place of Marcus Rashford, so as to add a more creative touch against a stubborn Kosovo defence. There is no looking past Raheem Sterling and captain Harry Kane for the other spots in England’s attack, however.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Pickford; Alexander-Arnold, Keane, Maguire, Chilwell; Henderson, Rice, Barkley; Sancho, Kane, Sterling
Bernard Challandes does not have any fresh injury concerns to deal with ahead of the trip to the south coast of England. And, the Kosovo head coach should retain much of the lineup that bested Czech Republic last week, with his team selection being rather consistent.
Challandes likes to line his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the Kosovo boss laying an equal emphasis on attacking flair as well as pragmatism. Going forward, the Dardanians are all about fluidity, with the wingers mixing it up with the full-backs. Off the ball, the onus is on suffocating the spaces that the opposition can exploit.
Kosovo are missing two of their most important players – Arber Zeneli and Milot Rashica – through injuries, meaning Edon Zhegrova and Elba Rashani are certain starters out wide for the visitors. Vedat Muriqi should lead the line against England once again, with Bersant Celina playing off him.
Idriz Voca will hold the fort in the middle of the park for Kosovo, with Besar Halimi being his partner in the midfield double pivot. Halimi will be the workhorse of the side, looking to recycle possession quickly while supporting Voca when off the ball.
At the back, stability is the name of the game, with the left-back slot the only position that is seeing a few shuffles. Florent Hadergjonaj started on the left side of Kosovo’s defence last time out and should retain his place in the side. The rest of the defensive unit should remain the same as well, with Arijanet Muric starting in goal ahead of captain Samir Ujkani once again.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Muric; Vojvoda, Rrahmani, Aliti, Hadergjonaj; Voca, Halimi; Zhegrova, Celina, Rashani; Muriqi
- England are unbeaten in their last 42 Euro/World Cup qualifying matches (W33 D9), with their last defeat in such a fixture coming at the hands of Ukraine in October 2009.
- Kosovo have not been bested in their last 15 games across all competitions, with the Dardanians winning 10 of those fixtures (D5).
- England will be playing at the St. Mary’s Stadium for only the third time. The Three Lions are yet to be beaten in Southampton (W1 D1).
- Bernard Challandes is unbeaten as the Kosovo head coach. The Swiss tactician has overseen 14 games, with Kosovo winning 9 of those fixtures (D5).
- Raheem Sterling has been directly involved in nine goals in his last seven appearances for England (seven goals and two assists); as many goal involvements as he registered in his previous 33 outings.
Player to Watch
Kosovo are unlike any international team that has been branded a minnow, playing a brand of fearless football that has helped them grow at an exponential rate. One of the exponents of this style is Vedat Muriqi, who tends to lead the line for the Dardanet with aplomb.
That Kosovo are in with a chance for automatic qualification has a lot to do with Muriqi, who found the back of the net in the wins over Bulgaria and Czech Republic. The opportunity to become his country’s all-time top scorer in their short history beckons now and one can expect Muriqi to be motivated enough to take that mantle against England.
England 2-0 Kosovo
England have made it a habit to breeze through the Qualifiers. And, as they approach the midway point of their UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, a place in next summer’s tournament seems to be a formality. But, Kosovo, who are playing the European Championship Qualifiers for the very first time, will provide England their toughest test yet.
Looking at Kosovo, one can hardly say that they are the youngest European footballing nation. But, they are hardly a team to be taken lightly and the visitors should take the game to Gareth Southgate & co. on Tuesday.
In the end, however, England should do just about enough to get past the Dardanians unscathed. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-0 win for the Three Lions, although the scoreline might not reflect the true story of the game.