Sunday sees England host Lithuania at Wembley in a 2018 World Cup Qualifier.
Gareth Southgate’s first match as the full England manager ended in a disappointing 1-0 defeat to eternal rivals Germany. Lukas Podolski’s thunderbolt really skewed what was a decent performance by England, who experimented with a 3-4-3 formation. Lithuania may be massive underdogs this week, but they will feel that they still stand a decent chance of qualification should they get any type of result here. They have strung together some decent results and could benefit from a log jam towards the top end of this group. Southgate will know that if his side doesn’t get in the flow at an early stage, the English supporters will do the thing that they seem to enjoy most as a national footballing culture: get on the back of the man in charge.
England v Lithuania | Sunday 26 March | Wembley Stadium | 18:00
To Win (90 Mins)
England 1/8 | Draw 7/1 | Lithuania 22/1
Michail Antonio and Phil Jones have been forced to withdraw from the English squad due to injury, with Gareth Southgate as of yet to choose replacements for the Lithuania match. Andy Carroll, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck were the notable absentees when Southgate named his squad last week. Gary Cahill misses out due to suspension.
I think that Southgate may revert to tried and tested with the 4-2-3-1 formation that features Eric Dier in the middle of the park, thereby creating a 3-4-3 when attacking. They will want Ryan Bertrand and Kyle Walker to attack as often as possible. Width is always the best way of exposing disparities of quality.
While Southgate may be tempted to opt for Marcus Rashford ahead of Jamie Vardy this week, my gut instinct tells me that he will prefer Vardy’s sheer work-rate ahead of the occasionally languid presence of Rashford for this fixture. Sterling, Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain look a likely trio to play in behind Vardy, with Sterling’s pace a potentially decisive factor against the rugged Lithuanian side.
Edgaras Jankauskas’ job has been made a whole lot more difficult by a raft of absentees. Edwin Girdvainis misses out through injury while George Friedgeimas is suspended for the clash. Added to that is the omission of Vytautas Andriuskevicius. Similar to many of the lesser European nations, Lithuania base their game on a roughly hewn, physically dominant midfield that aims to bridge the quality gap that exists between them and their opponents.
In this case, the likes of Zulpa and Novikov will want to get stuck in and assert themselves against an English midfield sans Jordan Henderson. The English midfield does certainly have a slightly soft edge to it without the English midfielder, especially if Dele Alli plays in a slightly deeper role.
Verdict: Goals Home Team -England 3+ goals 13/20
England have won the two previous encounters between these two sides and there is absolutely nothing to dissuade me from thinking that it will be business as usual this weekend. This seems a bit bold, especially giving Lithuania’s performance in the group thus far. But the swelling home support should incentivize this quality English side.
Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets