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Not since Euro 2004 have England entered a major tournament with so much optimism and Gareth Southgate will be keen to record victories against Austria and Romania before their tournament opener against Croatia on Sunday week.
The Three Lions are one of the favourites to win this summer’s championships and boast a wide array of talent in almost all positions. Wednesday’s friendly with Austria represents one of the last opportunities to make an impression before the finals begin and Southgate’s side should be well up for this one.
Whoever starts at the Riverside Stadium will have undoubted quality and will be desperate to make an impression ahead of that game with Croatia, so England will not be lacking for effort in what is ostensibly a meaningless friendly.
England have won three out of three in 2021, propelling them to the top of Group I in the World Cup Qualifiers.
They look in fine fettle heading into the Euros and should have far too much for an Austria side who have already shot themselves in the foot in their own World Cup qualifying group.
Austria were trounced 4-0 at home to Denmark in their most recent World Cup qualifier and could only manage a draw in their trip to Scotland, leaving them five points off the top of Group F after just three games. They should pose little threat to an ominously strong England squad.
Wednesday 20:00: England v Austria
As dangerous as England are going forward, some question marks remain over their defensive capabilities. John Stones and Harry Maguire are almost certain not to play against Austria on Wednesday considering Stones played in the Champions League final on Saturday and Maguire is still recovering from an injury picked up in the Premier League run-in.
Southgate, therefore, is likely to turn to an inexperienced defensive partnership for Wednesday’s friendly, giving some of his fringe players a chance to impress ahead of the Euros next week.
Additionally, Reece James, Kyle Walker and Ben Chilwell are almost certainly going to be rested, while it is doubtful that Luke Shaw will start given his involvement in the Europa League final last week.
It provides Austria with an opportunity to expose a weakness in the English defence and they may cause a few problems.
England’s defensive frailties do not extend to their forward options. The Three Lions boast talent in abundance and are capable of scoring from all angles. It’s difficult to tell if Southgate will go with his tried and trusted attacking options on Wednesday, but he will not be compromising the quality of England’s attack by selecting alternative options.
Southgate’s side have scored two or more goals in 12 of their last 18 games in a run stretching back to March 2019. They have scored four or more goals on nine occasions in that 18-game spell and are clearly capable of running up a comprehensive scoreline.
Their attack has only gotten better in the last two years and it’s difficult to see Austria keeping the score down on Wednesday, especially if they defend like they did in the 4-0 rout against Denmark.
Austria have conceded seven goals in their opening three World Cup qualifiers and could be blown away by England on Wednesday.
It’s difficult to know what attacking players Southgate will select on Wednesday, but Calvert-Lewin should see some minutes. The Everton forward is coming off his best-ever goalscoring campaign but is still a relative novice for the national side.
Calvert-Lewin has made just seven England appearances in his fledgling international career, but he has already notched an impressive four goals in an English shirt.
In spite of his keen eye for goal, however, Calvert-Lewin is almost certainly destined for the bench when Euro 2020 kicks off next week and simply has to make an impact in England’s two friendlies against Austria and Romania.
He should be chomping at the bit on Wednesday night.
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