Czech Republic host England at the Sinobo Stadium as Gareth Southgate’s men look to make it five wins from five in Euro 2020 Qualifiers, and take them a step closer to the European Championships in the summer.
Two high scoring affairs (4-0 v Bulgaria and 5-3 v Kosovo) in the last round of fixtures has given Southgate much to ponder with his options up front, and a leaky backline against Kosovo could see him mix it up at the back.
Czech Republic sit 2nd in Group A on 9 points, and come into the game on the back of an impressive 3-0 away win at Montenegro, bouncing back from a surprise 2-1 defeat away at Kosovo three days before. It looks like it will be between themselves and Kosovo for 2nd spot, however a win over England would take them level on points with Southgate’s side, although England would have a game in hand.
The first meeting between these two sides back in March saw England brush the Czechs aside in a comprehensive 5-0 victory, thanks to a hat trick from Raheem Sterling, a Harry Kane penalty and an own goal. 2-0 up at half time, England killed the game off in devastating fashion on the break thanks to pace on the counter attack of Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling in a similar fashion to which they dispatched Kosovo at St Marys in the previous break.
A worrying sign for the Czech side, England are expected the line up in the same fashion with a front three of Sterling, Kane and Sancho, and they can be expected the cause havoc once again. Victorious last time out away at Montenegro 3-0, the Czech side were lucky to keep a clean sheet, as they were constantly caught on the break by Montenegro, who should’ve found the scoresheet but for some slack finishing. Without the injured Bristol City centre half Tomas Kalas, ex-Sunderland defender Ondrej Celustka and Marek Sucky of Augsburg were exposed by quick breaks from Montenegro, as the Czech full backs pushed on in an attempt to provide width to the wide players in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Kalas has missed out once again through injury, and England will look to expose this.
One match up that is of particular interest as a result is that of Jan Boril at left back, up against the in-form Jadon Sancho. Fresh off netting his first International goals for England in victory against Kosovo, the young Englishman faced up against Boril for Dortmund in the Champions League just a week ago in a 2-0 victory over Slavia Prague. An attacking full back, the 28-year-old Boril was often caught out by Sancho’s
pace and allowed him a lot of scoring chances, before being caught out of position once again by Achraf Hakimi for the opening goal. His lack of positional awareness and tendency to drift forward in this game will excite Southgate, as he has the perfect wingers to exploit this, and will allow England an opportunity to pick off the Czech side once again if they have to chase the game.
One area that Czech Republic will look to exploit England is off set pieces, as they have looked particularly threatening in recent matches, with two goals coming against Montenegro from corners, and the third from a penality. England have shown an element of vulnerability to these dead ball situations in past games, and with Michael Keane struggling for form, Harry Maguire could have a new centre half partner, which would potentially add an element of confusion to the back line. They are struggling to create enough clear chances from open play, and even more worrying for the Czech’s is that star striker and top goal scorer Patrik Schick has only mustered 21 minutes in the Bundesliga for Leipzig, and will subsequently be rusty in leading the line. As a result, they will look to target England through set pieces, and it wouldn’t be a great surprise to see them create opportunities as a result.
As strong as England have been, they were sloppy against Kosovo at the back, and conceded thanks to a number of individual errors, particularly against the high press that Kosovo employed. England’s centre halves will not be afraid to play, and with Keane struggling for form, he could be replaced by either Fikayo Tomori or Tyrone Mings, both more adept at playing out from the back. It is worth noting that both made errors in possession that resulted in goals on the weekend, so there is still an area of susceptibility for England at the back.
The high-risk tactics allowed England to pick them off, so whether the Czechs take a similar approach will have to be seen. In Tomas Soucek, they have one an exciting talent in the middle of midfield, impressing in Prague’s 1-1 draw with Inter Milan in the Champions League, as he helped restrict the creative talents of Inter’s midfield. He will be expected to carry out a similar task against England, and who fills this role for England awaits to be seen.
James Maddison could replace Ross Barkley, and he is bang in form after another goal against Liverpool on Saturday. If Czech Republic sit deep, he will be key to breaking down the defence, and in Ben Chilwell at left back, England have Leicester’s telepathic relationship to exploit. With 2 goals and 2 assists in the league this season, Maddison is in the form of his life, and isn’t afraid to take on a shot when full of confidence. Averaging 3 shots per game this season, his goal against Tottenham was that of someone not afraid to have a go, and a Czech side that will be wary of
England’s pace in behind will potentially allow the Leicester man plenty of space. Soucek showed his class against Inter in stopping this space, but Inter didn’t have the same pace to contend with, and as a result this will represent a much tougher task for the Czech midfielder.
England still represent a generous price at 5/11 (Sporting Bet), however in search of more value, England and Over 2.5 goals is appealing at 6/5 (Paddy Power). England still have enough defensive susceptiblilty, particularly off set pieces and off a high press, to warn off backing to nil, but both sides have seen their recent games high on goals. If the Czech side are to go behind, England possess immense counter attacking quality and clinical strikers to pick the game off, as shown against Kosovo, and the Czech backline will struggle to deal with any counter attacks.
Looking at the individual battle of Sancho up against Boril, after the torrid time the Englishman gave Boril last week in Prague, both Boril to be booked (3/1 Unibet) and Sancho anytime goal scorer stands out. With Harry Kane once again odds on, value needs to be found elsewhere, and with Sancho full of confidence after his double against Kosovo, and his impressive link play with Raheem Sterling on the break, 12/5 (Paddy Power) represents better value.
Although not currently priced, and not a guaranteed starter, it is worth keeping an eye on James Maddison’s odds regarding number of shots in the match. As alluded to earlier, the Leicester City midfielder is full of confidence, and isn’t afraid to have a shot. Potentially on free kick duty and up against a defence that may be forced to sit in, he will be likely to chance his arm more than once, so Maddison to have over 1.5 shots could represent a punt worth taking on, if the price is right.