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Three Lions

BEFORE we determine how England might fare this Saturday coming up against an out-of-sorts but always very dangerous Brazil, it is necessary to first make sense of what the Three Lions will consist of.

Aside from a couple of friendlies right on the Euros doorstep in June, taking on the Selecao, then Belgium on Tuesday evening, will be Gareth Southgate’s last opportunity to run the rule over the periphery of his squad. Certainly, it’s his final chance to experiment should he choose to do so, whether that be in shape or personnel.

To some extent therefore we are grasping in the dark when it comes to predicting the line-up that walks out at Wembley.

Or perhaps not if we look back at recent history. Across Southgate’s eight years in charge he has previously had the luxury of five international breaks consisting entirely of friendlies and in all-but-one of these fixture pairings he has gone very strong in the first game. It is also here where he tends to implement any formational tweaks and this feels perfectly logical: to entrust his most trusted lieutenants to ring in the changes.

In the second game he has habitually selected what is essentially a reserve side made up of seasoned squad players and debutants.

Should he stay true to type then, England’s eleven this weekend could conceivably see Pickford in nets, Walker and Chilwell as the full-backs and Maguire and Stones in the middle. The midfield could be a three of Rice, Gallagher and Bellingham, with Foden and Saka on the flanks. Let’s leave the centre-forward pick for the time being.

Nine of the last ten goals Brazil have conceded have come after the break. Back the hosts to win the second half at 6/5

It’s also worth noting that it feels right to go strong against the five-time World Champions. It’s a showpiece event, broadcast to a huge Saturday night audience. It is additionally important to return from a four-month international hiatus with a statement win.

Gut instinct says Southgate will be much happier rolling the dice against the Belgians.

And if this is indeed the case, boy will he be blessed with two in-form wide players at the weekend, capable of making the difference in their own right.

Between them, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka have 41 Premier League goals and assists this term and there is no sign of their prolificacy slowing down. In his last seven league outings, Saka has notched seven, bagging a brace of assists into the bargain.

Only Mo Salah and Son Heung-min have created more big chances than the Gunners flyer in 2023/24.

As for Foden, the 23-year-old is putting in the most complete performances of his career to date. He is averaging 6.4 shot-ending sequences per 90 and in recent weeks 3.3 shots. He is regularly running the show which is no small feat when you consider what a grand spectacle Manchester City are.

Back Saka to score anytime at 23/10

And then there’s Jude Bellingham, how can we possibly overlook his generational input? Threatening to be fresh after sitting out a suspension in Spain, England’s Rolls Royce in boots has been a revelation in La Liga and crucially that doesn’t change when he puts on an international jersey.

His last appearance for the Three Lions saw him make one surging run after another at the heart of a panicked Italian rearguard. Bellingham fed off the crowd that night and will likely do so again here.

He has statistically been England’s best player in his last two outings. He was their second best player in the two before that.

BTTS, full-time England, and over 2.5 goals is worth a punt at 14/5

This exciting, highly-impactful trio will orbit a centre-forward who may well be Harry Kane, he of the extraordinary strike-rate in the Bundesliga (31 in 26) and scorer of 36% of England’s goals post-Qatar.

A twisted ankle, however, picked up in a 5-2 win over Darmstadt last week casts doubt over his availability and it may be viewed as prudent to allow for a few more days of rest with Kane featuring against Belgium.

If so, that leaves us with the intriguing proposition of Ollie Watkins and Ivan Toney vying for a starting spot, the two forwards who are in direct competition to be Kane’s understudy this summer.

Watkin’s claim is arguably the strongest. After all, only Haaland and Salah have a greater number of goal involvements across all comps this season.

But perhaps Toney’s more direct approach better suits what Southgate has in mind? This, remember, is an opportunity for experimentation.

England have accrued a steady stream of 4.8 corners per 90 from their last 10 contests while Brazil are never shy in coming forward. Go for over 8.5 corners at 27/25

Whoever gets the nod will take on a Brazilian defence minus Marquinhos and deprived of both Alisson and Ederson in goal. Moreover, England face a gold-standard footballing nation who have recently succumbed to crisis.

With Tite sacked following Brazil’s World Cup exit, the appointment of Fernando Diniz in a caretaker role proved to be disastrous as the Selecao spiraled into a run of poor results that has them presently winless in four.

It was a sustained slump that led to the much-travelled Dorival Junior getting the gig in January and unquestionably one of the most fascinating aspects of this fascinating clash will be gauging to what extent he has instilled greater intensity and restored belief.

Certainly his quotes so far suggest that the Brazil exhibiting their wares at Wembley will be a Brazil we are all very familiar with. “It has an obligation to win again,” he said on the day of his unveiling. “What we need for now on is to look for solutions.”

One such solution, naturally enough lies in the blistering pace and deadly intent of Vinicius Jr, but let’s not forget how Kyle Walker successfully nullified the winger twice-over in the Champions League last season.

Their midfield meanwhile is heavily represented by Premier League stars, with five of the eight options treating this almost like a home game. Of these Bruno Guimaraes stands out, not only for his craftmanship but also poor discipline.

Only two other players have been cautioned more in the top-flight this campaign.

All told, given England’s terrific form that has them unbeaten in ten, with an aggregate scoreline of 26-5, they should be fancied here though no doubt they will encounter some samba magic along the way.

Belgium by comparison is a series of unknowns, though no less entertaining.

With so much attacking talent on display a goal scored in both halves appeals at 39/20


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