Talking points ahead of England’s clash with North Macedonia

By Sports Desk November 19, 2023

Already-qualified England complete their Euro 2024 qualification campaign away to North Macedonia on Monday evening.

Ahead of the Group C finale in Skopje, the PA news agency has looked at five of the main talking points.

England attempt to end year unbeaten

Gareth Southgate’s men have ultimately cruised to qualification from a potentially tricky pool, going unbeaten across 2023 in the process. England have not looked back since rebounding from their World Cup quarter-final defeat to France by winning at reigning European champions Italy, going on to qualify with two games to spare. They all but sealed a place in the top pot for next month’s Euro 2024 draw by beating Malta 2-0 on Friday, taking this year’s record to eight wins in nine matches in all competitions. Southgate says he wants to end the year on a high and wants to build momentum by going go undefeated all the way through to Euro 2024.

Final foreign assignment before the Euros

England face March tests against Brazil and Belgium in Wembley friendlies, with another couple of home matches lined-up as Southgate’s side fine-tune for their shot at glory in Germany. It means Monday’s qualifier in Skopje will be their final match on foreign soil until the Euros get under way in June, with Southgate saying it will be good to be in “a challenging environment because that’s what we’re going to be in next summer”. There will be 2,332 travelling fans at the sold out 32,000-capacity Tose Proeski Arena, which may also end up playing host to Southgate’s final qualifier as England boss.

How will Southgate juggle his selection?

Southgate has dealt with a disruptive build-up and saw his already absentee-hit selection compounded by five of his initial group withdrawing through injury. A further three players have been absent for periods for the meet-up due to personal reasons, with Kieran Trippier among those and leaving the camp on Sunday. It means England have travelled to Skopje with just 22 players and Southgate is having to balance load, fitness and freshness for a potential dead rubber that will see wholesale changes. Cole Palmer will be hoping to make his first start after making his debut off the bench on Friday. The Chelsea talent was a late call-up along with Ezri Konsa and Rico Lewis, who will be hoping to win their first cap in the Balkans.

Can back-up attackers impress?

Record goalscorer Harry Kane would love to have the chance to pad his stats in Skopje, but surely Southgate will use this opportunity to give Ollie Watkins a run out as number nine. No England striker has been able to nail down a position as back-to the skipper but the in-form Aston Villa striker has a great chance with Ivan Toney banned and Callum Wilson suspended. Jarrod Bowen is another that needs to grasp his opportunity if Southgate turn his way. Selecting the 26-year-old over Raheem Sterling is a show of faith but the five-cap forward has so far failed to take his West Ham performances onto the international stage.

Macedonian revenge mission

North Macedonia were blown away in June’s reverse fixture at Old Trafford, where they were a far cry from the side that had recently shocked Germany and Italy. Kane struck twice in a 7-0 annihilation that also saw Marcus Rashford and Kalvin Phillips get in on the act, but Bukayo Saka was the star of the show with his tremendous treble. Head coach Blagoja Milevski apologised to the nation in the post-match press conference and said on Sunday that he pledged to show a “new face” in the rematch. Given they held the Azzurri to a 1-1 draw in Skopje two months ago, it would be a shock if they are not vastly improved.

Related items

  • Shaw again on target as Manchester City beat Everton to go top of WSL Shaw again on target as Manchester City beat Everton to go top of WSL

    Manchester City defeated Everton 2-1 to climb to the top of the Women’s Super League table.

    City picked up where they left off in their first match since defeating Chelsea last month, with goals from Khadija Shaw (15th) and Lauren Hemp (55th) taking them three points clear of Emma Hayes’ side, who play Leicester on Sunday.

    It is now 12 victories in a row in all competitions for Gareth Taylor’s City, who were pegged back by a fine strike from Hanna Bennison in the 60th minute but deserved the three points.

    City, who have won all 16 of their league games against the Merseyside team, were behind Chelsea only on goals scored at the top of the table heading into the clash at the Joie Stadium. They were well fired up for this game and dominated from beginning to end against Brian Sorensen's team.

    City enjoyed the majority of early possession but had a hard time getting time and space in dangerous areas. After a few tame efforts, Everton made it easy for the home team when Justine Vanhaevermaet crumbled under pressure and played a short pass inside the box that went directly to Shaw, who suddenly had an abundance of time and space to smash in the opener.

    The goal gave the in-form hosts a massive boost as they looked even more dangerous from then on, with Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp sending dangerous balls into the box that Shaw was unable to connect with. By half-time, 1-0 seemed a low score considering City had 13 shots throughout the first 45 minutes.

    Everton, meanwhile, were gifted one chance late in the half when goalkeeper Khiara Keating played the ball straight to Rikke Madsen, but her weak shot was straight back at the youngster.

    After Shaw missed a great opportunity by heading over the bar, it was Hemp who doubled City's lead, combining with Coombs in the middle of the pitch before driving forward and sending a long-range effort rolling into the bottom corner.

    Everton were not down and out, though, as City suddenly looked flustered at the back and gave the ball away, resulting in Hanna Bennison smashing in a beauty of a goal from outside the box. Both teams pushed on for another goal, but neither could find a way past their opponents' goalkeeper.

  • Ange Postecoglou warns players of social media risks after Ryan Sessegnon plea Ange Postecoglou warns players of social media risks after Ryan Sessegnon plea

    Ange Postecoglou has advised his Tottenham players to take social media with a pinch of salt after a difficult week for Ryan Sessegnon.

    Full-back Sessegnon had surgery on his right hamstring on Monday, after an operation on his left hamstring last summer, and called for people to “be careful what you say online” in a post on his social media channels.

    Sessegnon, 23, has endured a torrid time with injuries and faced plenty of abuse on Twitter and Instagram over his fitness woes, but boss Postecoglou likened those platforms to a prison yard.

    “I guess the easy thing to say is, ‘look just stay off social media,’ and that’s easy for me to say,” Postecoglou said.

    “I can do that but I guess for younger people it’s a vehicle for them or a platform for them to have a voice, which I kind of understand.

    “They’ve also got to be mature enough to also know that sometimes the audience, I think for want of a better term, social media is like walking into the prison yard and saying you’re innocent.

    “You’re not going to get a hell of a lot of sympathy. Most of it is going to be coming back at you.

    “If you’re kind of prepared for that then (fine), but if you’re jumping into there to try and feel good, my sense of it is, I’m not all over it but you’ll rarely come away from it feeling really good about yourself.

    “Even with the most genuine of reasons for saying what you want to say or putting out what you want to put out. It’s just that kind of platform you’re invariably going to come away from thinking I probably shouldn’t have said anything.”

     

    View this post on Instagram

    A post shared by Tottenham Hotspur (@spursofficial)

     

    Sessegnon is set to spend the rest of the season on the treatment table and is currently joined by Richarlison, who suffered a knee injury during the 2-1 home defeat to Wolves on February 17.

    Richarlison is not expected to return until after the international break and Postecoglou will also be without Pedro Porro (muscle) for Saturday’s visit of Crystal Palace.

    Fifth-placed Tottenham will aim to get their Champions League qualification hopes back on track against Palace and their manager expressed his frustration at the stop-start nature of their campaign.

    Early cup exits mean Spurs will only play 41 matches this season and asked if they can make the most of Aston Villa and Manchester United juggling cup commitments, Postecoglou admitted: “I don’t know.

    “It depends how you use that time. If you ask me would I rather be in Europe? Absolutely, 1000 per cent I’d rather be in Europe at this time playing games.

    “A club like us, who want to compete at the highest level against the best, you need a strong squad and to have a strong squad you need consistent games, consistent game time and opportunities.

    “At the moment, if we get an injury then we’re liable to throw in somebody who hasn’t played for four or five weeks. It’s not easy on that player.

    “Whereas if you’ve got games, there’s a natural rotation that you need to make all the time and also gives you a little bit of rhythm.

    “I had the other extreme last year of 60-plus games at Celtic, but I found that a lot easier to manage than having a disrupted season like we’ve had this year.”

  • Arsenal defender Ben White eager to win everything he plays Arsenal defender Ben White eager to win everything he plays

    Despite long-standing claims he does not like football, winning matters to Arsenal defender Ben White.

    The 26-year-old England international carries a reputation as someone who sees his sport as a job and something he has no passion for.

    White, though, insists that is not the case and just because he does not go home and watch every live football match he can get his eyes on should not suggest otherwise.

    “I know people say I don’t like football, but I go home and football is not on my mind. I can just be a normal person, relax. When I’m in here (training) it is intense,” he said.

    “It’s come from since I was young. I want to win everything that I do. My missus and I play a lot of games at home and I won’t be letting her win. We play bat and ball a lot, Uno, this magnet game. That’s sort of it.

    “I remember being young and always wanting to win and play aggressive and do as much as I could to win.

    And if he is losing to his wife at any of those games, it is simple: “Yeah, the ball gets lost!”

    White has become a key component of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side that, for a second year running, has Premier League title ambitions.

    Arteta sees White as someone willing to go into battle for his team, something of a warrior, and White revealed he knows his duties ahead of every game is to win the one-on-one battle with the opposing winger.

    “Before the game we have instructions of how they are going to do well in the game and what processes they have to be able to hurt us,” added former Brighton man White.

    “(Against Newcastle) Anthony Gordon was one of them, my job was to stop him rolling inside so I had to get as tight as possible, otherwise foul him.

    “He’s going inside if not. Every game, normally the winger is the best player so its always a challenge and I have to do my homework and try and stop him.

    “I know I’m not going to stop everyone and I know I’m not the best one-v-one defender but I know I can do things to help the team in game situations against their winger.”

    Arsenal ultimately ran out 4-1 winners against Newcastle on Saturday night, the latest in a string of impressive performances and eye-catching results for the Gunners.

    “We haven’t got anything, so there is nothing to lose,” White replied when asked about Arsenal being the chasers in the title run-in against Liverpool and Manchester City.

    “We are just going to go out there, do our best, and try and perform like we have the last few games.”

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.