3 major talking points ahead of England vs Czech Republic
While England will feature in the semi-finals of this year’s UEFA Nations League, Gareth Southgate and his side will turn their attention to the 2020 European Championships on Friday night.
Looking to make a statement in Group A, a group they share with the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Kosovo, the mood in England’s camp will be on a high after securing a semi-final finish in last year’s World Cup Finals.
Opening their qualifying campaign at Wembley, the Three Lions will host the Czech Republic on Friday before they make the trip to Montenegro on Monday night.
Ahead of England’s first match of 2019, we have taken a look at three big talking points before kick-off.
Does Declan Rice deserve a start?
After switching his allegiance from Ireland to England earlier in the month, the inclusion of Declan Rice has played a huge part in England’s build-up.
While the Three Lions’ push to the semi-finals out in Russia showed Southgate’s depth in certain areas, the position in front of England’s defence has been an area that remains up for grabs.
Although both Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson featured in a defensive midfield role, neither have been able to hold down a spot at Tottenham and Liverpool respectively.
With England unable to find a natural holding midfielder who is a similar stature to the Micheal Carrick mold, West Ham’s latest academy star has started to catch the eye in East London.
Cementing his spot as one of Manuel Pellegrini’s pivotal figures, no English midfielder has made more interceptions than the 20-year-old in the Premier League this season.
Even more impressive, Rice currently holds a better pass accuracy, 50/50 duel success and has won more ariel challenges than both Dier and Henderson this year.
In fact, Rice’s interception tally of 39 is more than both Henderson’s and Dier’s combined.
Also gaining a long list of admirers with his range of passing, Rice is a naturally defensive minded midfielder who can operate from almost a quarterback role.
Enjoying a breakout year with West Ham and seen to be the number one choice for the #4 jersey over the next decade, the Hammers’ talisman has also been linked as a potential long-term replacement for Fernandinho at Manchester City.
While Rice may only lack the international experience, Southgate has often stood by the old adage that if you’re good enough then you’re old enough.[global_advert id=”37963″]
Has Callum Hudson-Odoi’s call-up come a tad too early?
While Declan Rice’s impressive performances and establishing himself in West Ham starting XI on a weekly basis has helped him earn his first England call-up, Callum Hudson-Odoi is yet to make any real mark in the top-flight.
After it was announced that Manchester United defender Luke Shaw had withdrawn from the squad due to injury, many were surprised that the Chelsea winger was drafted in as a late replacement.
He was with England’s Under-21 squad, having received his first call-up at that level last week, when he was told he was being promoted to the senior squad by U21 manager Aidy Boothroyd.
Despite showing glimpses of the player that Bundesliga heavyweights Bayern Munich were willing to spend £35million on back in January, the 18-year-old has featured in just 119 minutes of Premier League action and is yet to start a match.
Instead, Hudson-Odoi has had to settle for appearances in the Europa League and despite scoring five goals this season, Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri has shown a worrying lack of faith in their domestic games.
Although Southgate has deemed his lack of Premier League experience as irrelevant, the argument can be made that a youngster should earn his spot among the senior international side, much like Jadon Sancho and the aforementioned Rice.
While some may argue that Hudson-Odoi lacks the pedigree to have earned his first senior call-up, he would become England’s eighth youngest player if he makes his debut against either the Czech Republic or Montenegro.
Should Pickford be the #1?
Away from all of Southgate’s options outfield, the England boss has his own headache over who he should hand the #1 shirt to on Friday night.
While Jordan Pickford’s penalty save against Colombia may have highlighted England’s push to the semi-final, the Everton shot-stopper has come under some recent scrutiny.
At fault for two of the three goals that Everton conceded in their 3-2 loss away at Newcastle earlier in the month, the former Sunderland man has made four mistakes leading to goals this season, more than any other Premier League goalkeeper.
Although the likes of England skipper Harry Kane have publically back Pickford in the build-up to Friday’s qualifying opener, some feel that Burnley’s Tom Heaton has done enough to earn his chance.
Not earning an England cap since a 3-2 defeat to France in June 2017, the 32-year-old has fought off competition from both Joe Hart and Nick Pope to earn back the #1 shirt to Turf Moor.
With his performances also seeing Sean Dyche re-hand him the captain’s armband, Heaton has played a huge part in Burnley’s battle to avoid the drop.
Despite his heroics last summer, should Southgate go for a change between the sticks?
Read more: See our England vs Czech Republic predictions and betting tips.
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