KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: England return to action tonight in World Cup qualifiers which will revive memories, both good and bad, from the Euro 2020 finals.
First Gareth Southgate’s men face Hungary in Budapest on Thursday, host minnows Andorra at Wembley on Sunday then fly to Warsaw to play Robert Lewandowski and Poland next Wednesday.
England are guaranteed a positive reception at Wembley on Sunday whatever the outcome in Budapest. But a win tonight over a footballing nation with particular historical connections would enhance the general sense of optimism created by England’s journey to runners-up spot in July.
Southgate has some intriguing choices. One concerns Trent Alexander-Arnold. He missed the Euro finals through injury but has been outstanding thus far for Liverpool. His pin-point passing has created more goal chances (15) than any other player in the Premier League this season. However central defence is a problem because John Stones has had no game time with Manchester City.
The inclusion of TAA would help England become more creative. One of their failings in the Euro finals was in generating scoring chances consistently for Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling.
Mason Mount is a favourite of Southgate in attacking midfield but Jack Grealish will expect more game time after his step up to Manchester City and there is Jude Bellingham to consider.
Bellingham made three appearances, totalling 55 minutes, at Euro 2020 and could be the missing link. He could starting against Andorra as could centre-forward Patrick Bamford who was Leeds’ 17-goal top scorer last season under Marcelo Bielsa. Bamford is the only uncapped player in the squad.
Southgate said: “Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford were injured so there was an opportunity in the forward areas for Patrick.”
Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka are also expected to play a full part in the qualifying ties. The duo – plus Rashford – were abused on social media after missing penalties in the Euro final and are eager to put that behind them,, according to Southgate.
He said: “They are keen to move on. It is a fresh season with fresh challenges. They are exciting young players with an exciting time ahead of them.” The Wembley crowd is expected to give them an encouragingly warm welcome.