Welcome Break For Spurs?
Whilst the international break is generally met with much gnashing and wailing, for once everyone at Tottenham might be more grateful for this Eastern European jaunt than your liver at the end of Dry January.
All is not well in this part of North London and that’s probably why Dele Alli wasn’t invited to the gathering at SGP. The Lilywhites still have representation with the two Harry’s and Danny Rose all involved. This might be an opportunity for them to breathe some fresh air away from the toxic fumes of White Hart Lane.
Even so, there will be one glaring reminder in the England camp of the club’s current strife. Kieran Trippier. The Bury boy has been quietly pulling up trees at his new home in Madrid, with an eye catching showing against Juventus in the Champions League the clearest indication of Diego Simeone’s genius.
The sight of him waltzing around the park in Prague could well have his former teammates kicking themselves that they couldn’t hold onto him and wondering if the grass isn’t occasionally just a little greener. Atletico haven’t conceded a single goal in the last 295 minutes with their £20million full-back in the side and are 3 points off top spot in La Liga. In that time, Spurs have shipped 11 and find themselves 13 points off the Premier League pace. Ouch.
Pickford Back On Probation?
He probably ought to be. Uncle Gareth has no qualms about dropping his high profile outfield players if they’re going through a sticky patch, just ask Alli, Lingard and the aforementioned Trippier.
Unfortunately, the messiah is not blessed with the same variety of options in goal, where Pickford is currently having a bit of a stinker, shipping 18 goals in his last 10 games for club and country.
Much like an anecdote from Rowley Birkin QC, he arrived, entertainingly enough, with a bang in 2018. Since then his form has tailed off noticeably, something not helped by the odd “very, very drunk” pub brawl.
The merry Mackem has a worrying habit of pulling of the unthinkable whilst often making a pig’s ear of the simple stuff. Southgate’s problem, however, is a lack of genuine competition to make the lad sit up straight and pay attention.
Burnley’s Nick Pope is the logical alternative if you want something catching but will never offer the footsy stuff that’s bang on trend at the game’s top level right now.
Otherwise you’re looking at the last-minute call-up, Dean Henderson a young man whose wrists contain more cocoa than a bar of Green and Blacks. Give his recent honkers against Romania and Liverpool a watch if you need evidence of a lad who’s got a lot to learn at the highest level.
The shirt remains Pickford’s for now but he could probably do with a quiet evening’s work to keep Southgate’s mind from wandering further.
Tamm The Man
What a couple of months it’s been for Tammy Abraham - first goal for Chelsea, netting in the Champions League, bagging a Premier League hat trick and now receiving his first senior England call up.
How far he is from the starting 11, despite 8 goals in his last 7 for Chelsea, highlights just how deep England’s riches are in attack at the moment. If he’s made Gareth Southgate think for even a second about including him, he should be happy.
Of the 55 teams in the qualifying campaign, the Three Lions have scored the joint highest amount of goals with Belgium, despite playing two less games than Europe’s Red Devils. Captain Kane and Sterling pick themselves while wunderkind Jadon Sancho continues to fire in Germany.
But knowing the waistcoat wizard’s penchant for blooding the young guns, don’t be surprised to see the 20-year-old primed for action in off the bench Prague or Sofia. Right now it looks like the 22 year old has stolen a march on Rashford and Wilson to be Kane’s understudy as an out and out centre forward.
Keane Not Looking Mustard
Since Harry Maguire’s vastly inflated transfer fee, it’s hard to see him in the same light. When the ludicrously large £80million sum exchanged hands in the summer, there was a joke doing the rounds that United hadn’t even signed Leicester’s best defender (Johnny Evans). With seven places separating the sides in the league, that argument looks less facetious by the day.
For the time being, however, he’s here to stay for England. The question is who best to partner Slab Head at the heart of the defence? Maguire’s prime partner in Russia last summer, John Stones is ruled out due to injury. Michael Keane has been having a torrid time of things at Everton and the way he gifted Kosovo their opening goal last month won’t do his case for starting any favours. Joe Gomez should be next in line given his newly acquired experience of conquering the continent.
But might a thought be given to Fikayo Tomori and Tyrone Mings? Both have shone for Chelsea and Aston Villa respectively. With qualification all but guaranteed, now would be an opportune time to slip one of these into the fold and see how they handle themselves on the big stage.
While glorified farmers these days, it’s easy to forget that between 1996-2006, our Czech mates were a serious outfit, ranked 2nd in the world on two separate occasions. Runners up in 1996, a side containing Cech, Rosicky, Koller and Nedved played comfortably the best football at Euro 2004 before getting rope-a-doped by Greece in the semis.
Prior to the recent shellacking, England’s most recent encounter with the Czechs came at a shiny new Wembley in 2008.
Fabio Capello’s blushes were spared as his side twice came from behind to draw 2-2 with Joe Cole stabbing home in added time after more ricochets than an Irish phonebook. Rank stuff.
In stark contrast to England, they’ve been on the slide ever since as evidenced by their 5-0 dismantling on their return to these shores earlier this year. The fact they are favourites to take the second automatic qualification spot is more a blot on the rest of the competition than their own strengths.