England and Wales go head to head for the first time since Euro 2016 in a friendly at Wembley on Thursday.
Although this game won’t carry the same spice as the dramatic 2-1 win for the Three Lions in France four years ago – where Daniel Sturridge’s 91st-minute strike completed an England comeback – games between these two international rivals are always fiery encounters, not least thanks to the familiarity between both sets of players.
What’s more, with some massive Uefa Nations League fixtures to follow in quick succession, there will be plenty of players looking to put on a show and send a message to Gareth Southgate and Ryan Giggs, respectively.
So, without further ado, here are four things we think could happen between England and Wales.
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With plenty off-field disruptions and two big Nations League games against Belgium and Denmark to come, few would be surprised to see Southgate shuffle his pack at Wembley on Thursday, even if it is to face Wales.
Jordan Pickford has been making mistake after mistake for Everton and looks totally devoid of confidence, so this could be where Dean Henderson gets the nod (and another chance to impress both Southgate and Man Utd boss, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer). In front of him, Kieran Trippier could be the experienced head in a back-four including Everton’s Michael Keane, Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings and Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka, who more than deserves his international debut. Conor Coady is another likely alternative not listed on the graphic above.
Jack Grealish has been in wonderful form at club level, most recently scoring two goals and providing three assists as Villa demolished Liverpool 7-2, and could be tasked with acting as England’s creative outlet alongside set-piece specialist James Ward-Prowse and Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips.
And up top, although Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been firing on all cylinders for Everton, we don’t expect him to start just yet. Instead, Danny Ings could be the man to rest Harry Kane, who played three games last week alone. With Raheem Sterling pulling out of the squad with injury and places for Jadon Sancho and Tammy Abraham in doubt (along with Ben Chilwell), Southgate may be left with little option but to go with Marcus Rashford on the left. Meanwhile, Mason Mount could start on the right with freedom to drift in side or drop into midfield.
Having lost their last five games against England and failed to beat the Three Lions since 1984, it’s safe to say Wales have some serious scores to settle with their neighbours.
That in mind, don’t be surprised to see the likes of David Brooks, Harry Wilson and Daniel James all start while Cardiff City forward Kieffer Moore could be given the chance to add to his goal against Finland during the last international break.
The obvious issue for Giggs is the absence of key players Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale, with the former in isolation with the rest of the Juventus squad and the latter recovering from injury.
Still, Wales have plenty of pace and firepower in the final third to cause England problems.
Rashford notched his most prolific club campaign to date during 2019/20, netting 22 goals in 44 appearances for Manchester United across all competitions, helping the Red Devils finish third in the Premier League and reach the semi-finals of the Europa League and FA Cup.
While United have had some pretty remarkable struggles thus far this season, Rashford has continued to display his ruthless streak, scoring twice in just 302 minutes already.
Wales manager Giggs is more than familiar with Rashford having worked up close and personal with him during his time coaching at United, and the former winger has been keen to single out the 22-year-old — who has 10 goals in 38 England caps to date — as one of Southgate’s biggest threats.
“Marcus is a talent,” Giggs told reporters. “Having worked with him I’ve seen what a fantastic mentality he has. He’s a player who wants to improve and be the best. He realises he’ll need to improve like all young players.
“He’s one of a number of England players we’ll have to look out for in their forward line if they’re playing.”
Rashford scored four goals in seven caps across 2019 and will be keen to get one over one of his childhood idols.
Despite struggling through a couple of games, England haven’t conceded a single goal in their last five games, last succumbing to an opposition attack during their 2-1 defeat to the Czech Republic back in October 2019.
Similarly, much of Wales’ recent success has been built upon defensive solidity, with the Dragons on a run of four consecutive clean sheets themselves, while they haven’t conceded more than one goal in a game for 10 matches now, since a 2-1 defeat to Croatia in June last year.
Add in the fact that England have conceded just one goal in their last five meetings with Wales, and that neither side has scored more than two goals against the other in a single match since a 4-1 win for Wales back in May 1980 and you can’t help but feel like this is all set up for a low-scoring, attritional affair with neither side wanting to succumb to their rivals.
Although games between these two have been close over the years, England have only conceded just one goal in their last five meetings with Wales, winning all of them.
With Bale and Ramsey out, it’s hard to see Wales ending that run, even if Southgate does decide to heavily rotate ahead of their Nations League commitments.
So, with that in mind, we’re expecting another close battle, but one in which the Three Lions will emerge victorious, with a clean sheet to boot.
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