Gareth Southgate’s preparations have been rocked by news that Mount and Chilwell are having to isolate after coming into contact with Chelsea team-mate Gilmour at England’s draw against Scotland.
Which begs the question, what did these two players do with Billy that his own team mates did not do (none of the Scottish players are self isolating) and why are none of the English players who presumably would have been in close contact with Mount and Chilwell, after the incident, also not self isolating? Well I too am at a fucking loss at trying to explain it... so let us just blame SAGE, that always seems to work.
Anyway as to the game at hand, I cannot remember a more toxic build up in terms of fan expectations since England v Slovenia back in 2010. Part of the problem is that the fans really believe in this squad. The squad is super likeable and talented, yet it is playing football which is every bit as bad as that against Iceland back in 2016. The fans are hurting and expectations have hit an all time low... there is an impending sense of doom.
Southgate is at a crossroads. Does he go for the line-up in the first game, which got him a result or does he risk defeat by going for a barnstorming victory and set himself nicely for the knockout stages. Tomorrow will tell us a lot about his mindset and how he will approach the rest of the tournament.
It is probably fair to say this is not a vintage Czech side. Yes, they were more ruthless than Scotland but on the balance of play it has to be said that the Scots deserved to win and at the very least claim a draw. This was followed by a bore draw against Croatia that has to go down as one of the most forgettable in Euro's history. Nevertheless, one player who has stood out amongst the dross has been Patrik Schick.
Despite a chequered history which has seen him make several moves to various big Italian and German clubs without any substantial success, Schick has nevertheless retained the air of a player who is going places. Tall, fleet footed, a deadly left foot and wonderful movement - not to mention handy in the air, it is clear to see why so many clubs have been willing to give him a chance. If it all clicks, Schick could be the perfect modern striker.
Tactically, Schick prefers to drift out to the right half space and slalom inwards on his left foot. He can then seek to pick progressive passes whilst on the run or lay it off to any overlapping runners with a reverse pass down the right. In this particular game it will be interesting to see how Gareth addresses this... Shaw may be the preferred option to protect Mings or Maguire from his threat.
The majority of the Czech's attacks come down their right flank, with Coufal proving to be a particularly influential figure in attack - driving forward or bombing forward to join the attack at any given opportunity. His link up play with Masopust has been a delight to watch during these Championships and with Schick also drifting over to this side... The Czech's possess a formidable right flank.
However... what is a perceived strength can also be your weakness and it was clear that Croatia targeted the spaces left by Coufal as their designated route to goal. Perisic gave Coufal a torrid time not only scoring but leaving Coufal on his backside more often than not. Seeing as England have an abundance of talent down their left side, it would not be a surprise if England dominate this flank by fighting fire with fire.
With Kane drawing blanks so far and Southgate confirming he will start, expect England to do all they can to ensure he gets fed for tonight's encounter. It seems predestined that he scores, the media writes the 'class is permanent - form is temporary' headlines before we proceed to draw blanks again when the knockout stages get serious. With that in mind, I expect a fair attacking lineup by Southgate's standards with some crowd favourites set to feature.
According to the media, Sancho is set to come in from the cold and start on the right - although I feel Sterling will probably retain his spot. Grealish is set to take the number 10 slot and Rashford is likely to play on the right if Sancho is not selected. Most outlets seem to indicate that Shaw will retain his spot from the Scotland game, but do not be surprised at all if Trippier features there if Chilwell is ruled out.
It promises to be a more enterprising lineup than we saw against Scotland but there are still some flaws with this lineup. The absence of Mount and the reintroduction of Henderson alongside Rice - again will lead to stifled progression play from the defensive third. If Sancho is paired with Walker it would mean England lack chemistry down that right side... Sancho likes to come inside and join the play. He operates best with a very attacking right back overlapping and the current iteration of Walker just likes to sit back.
The decision to play Rashford would be a positive one as tactically he is the closest player England have to Son-Heung Min and that will give Kane someone to play off. Marcus will stretch the opposition and give Kane space to work with. Kane also has a very positive relationship with Grealish off the pitch so it will be interesting to see if they can bring that same level of chemistry on to the pitch.
I do have my concerns with Grealish as a no.10 with no other playmakers of note on the pitch to share the burden. He can get bogged down in central areas if he is the only threat and I do not see why he and Foden cannot be unleashed together at the same time. Grealish came to prominence this season playing on the left and sharing playmaking responsibilities with the likes of Ross Barkley. Similarly Foden thrives when next to the likes of KDB... neither prefers to be the main 10 and to be man-marked out of the game.
England: Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Trippier, Rice, Henderson, Sterling, Grealish, Rashford, Kane
Czech Republic: Vaclik, Coufal, Celustka, Kalas, Boril, Holes, Soucek, Masopust, Darida, Jankto, Schick
It is a very difficult lineup to predict as even Southgate will recognise the need for change. He will be very reluctant to drop cornerstones from his squad such as Kane, Sterling and will be itching to include the likes of Henderson and Maguire. Whatever team he picks, England are already through so in some sense the pressure is off but there is the pressure to put on a display at Wembley and get the crowd back on side. Therefore he will make one concession and bring in Grealish but other than that I expect to see a very Southgatesque lineup.
I suspect England will put on their best display yet and win comfortably - reinforcing Gareth's belief in his tactics but I do not envisage a night of shackles off football which sees Foden, Grealish and Sancho unleashed. Experience will be prioritised to ensure England get the job done professionally with minimal fuss.
Prediction - A professional and competent display by the English... 3-0.