England face Montenegro at Wembley on Thursday night in their penultimate Euro 2020 qualifier. Securing progression to the finals is not the only issue ahead of the game, with Raheem Sterling’s omission and a landmark fixture also expected to be high up on the agenda.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the key talking points on the eve of the contest.
Point the way to Euro 2020
The Three Lions boast five wins from their opening six Group A qualifiers, however defeat in the Czech Republic last month means their progression is not yet assured.
A draw against Montenegro will be enough to seal England’s place at next summer’s finals, while Southgate’s side could even make it through with defeat at Wembley, if Kosovo were to lose to the Czechs.
Either way, England will be confident their spot in the draw, which takes place in Bucharest on November 30.
A ‘grand’ celebration for England?
While being a chance to secure potential future success, the game against Montenegro will also see England and the football Association acknowledge the achievements of the past.
This will be the 1000th fixture played by England, a landmark figure that will be marked with plenty of pre-match pomp with some of the biggest names to wear the shirt in attendance. It will then be up to the current crop to make sure the evening does not end on a sour note and that the nation is toasting Euro 2020 qualification after the celebrations.
One man who will not be able to influence the outcome of England’s 1000th match is arguably their best player.
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling has been sidelined by Southgate after a physical altercation
with Joe Gomez on Monday.
The pair clashed during Liverpool’s 3-1 Premier League win over Manchester City on Sunday and Sterling’s emotions boiled over into international week as he left Gomez with a scratch on his face – Southgate then opting to not consider the City man for this game.
Stones thrown back in?
Southgate’s main issues in recent internationals have almost all concerned his defence. He handed Tyrone Mings his debut for the 6-0 win in Bulgaria last time out but may be tempted to return to a Harry Maguire and John Stones partnership.
The pair have played together for England in the past and Southgate is a big fan of Stones, who is fit and playing for Manchester City again on a regular basis, but Mings did not put a foot wrong in difficult circumstances during his international bow so it will be interesting to see who is given the nod at the back.
England keen to avoid further racism rows
Mings saw his debut marred by racial abuse aimed at him from the stands in Sofia, with Bulgaria later punished as a result.
It was not the first time in the group campaign that England have had to deal with such issues with other black players targeted in the away game at Montenegro and a Bulgaria fan evicted from Wembley earlier this year.
England insisted ahead of the game in Bulgaria they would respect UEFA’s three-step protocol to tackle racism but they will hope that nothing untoward occurs on Thursday night.
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