England will bid to maintain their 100% start to their World Cup qualifying campaign when they take on Albania in Tirana on Sunday.
Manager Gareth Southgate was able to rest captain Harry Kane during a routine 5-0 win against the minnows of San Marino in midweek. The Spurs striker is expected to return to the team to lead the line against Albania.
He will be keen to impress after his understudy, Everton forward Dominic-Calvert Lewin, scored twice in that match against San Marino. Southgate has plenty of options in attack, and the Three Lions should have enough firepower to overwhelm Albania.
Christian Panucci’s side are currently 66th in the FIFA world rankings, nestled in between North Macedonia and Saudi Arabia. They come into this game on the back of a three-match winning streak, and they are unbeaten in their last five outings, but they have not exactly faced formidable opposition.
Albania were in League C of the UEFA Nations League, so their three victories came against Andorra, Belarus and Kazakhstan. England, who are currently fourth in the FIFA rankings, will offer a very different challenge to those teams.
Albania’s most notable players ply their trade in Italy. Captain Etrit Berisha is the goalkeeper for Serie B side SPAL, and vice-captain Berat Djimsiti plays at the heart of a somewhat chaotic Atalanta defence.
The main goal threat is Konyaspor striker Sokol Cikalleshi. He generally starts up front alongside Rey Manaj, who plays for Barcelona’s B team. Grasshoppers winger Ermir Lenjani offers some quality in wide areas, and they have a few decent midfielders, but the gulf in quality between England and Albania appears to be pretty wide.
Southgate went for a 4-3-3 formation against San Marino, and it will be interesting to see if he sticks with it, or reverts to his usual three-at-the-back system. John Stones and Conor Coady formed a pretty assured central defensive pairing, but Albania would naturally provide a greater threat than San Marino.
James Ward-Prowse, Kalvin Phillips and Mason Mount, three players without a great deal of international experience, started in midfield in that game. Jesse Lingard returned from the cold to play alongside Calvert-Lewin and Raheem Sterling in attack.
Southgate may be tempted to bring West Ham’s Declan Rice back into the team to face Albania, as he would give England more bite in midfield. Man City’s Phil Foden must also be pushing for a start, so we could see a few changes to the starting 11.
Regardless of who plays, England should be superior to Albania in every department. They have won all four meetings between the teams, but they have not actually played against one another for 20 years. There is no helpful head-to-head data available, but this is the sort of opposition that England normally beats with ease.
As such, Southgate’s men are just 2/7 (1.29) with 888 Sport to win the match. For more value, Bet365 has 49/50 (1.98) on England -1.5 Asian handicap. In the past couple of years, England have beaten Iceland, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic by huge scorelines, and they could pull off a similarly dominant victory over Albania this weekend.