Florian Kamberi is on the bench for the hosts. He did quite well for Hibs/us but then made an absolute chop of himself by agitating for a move to Rangers and saying he dreamed of playing for Rangers and basically implying that Hibs was merely a stepping stone. Which obviously it is, but nobody wants to hear that! He managed to get a loan to Rangers but only played a handful of games and, surprise surprise, there was no room at the inn back at Easter Road. And that was the end of that, he then moved back to his native Switzerland, but he plays for Albania (he’s Swiss Albanian). He’s a target man type who can play the ball. Anyway, we might see him later.
Good afternoon, welcome to our live blog of Albania vs England. It’s England’s second match in Group I, they had the easiest possible warm up a few days ago, a 5-0 canter at Wembley over San Marino. This will be tougher, but England will be extremely confident – and everyone is playing for their seat on the plane. Let me hand you over to Mike McGrath to set the scene.
Mike McGrath writes: Gareth Southgate will keep the lines of communication open with his players when they return to their clubs later this week, telling them where they stand in his final plans for his squad for the European Championship.
It will be like tracking stocks on the FTSE 100 before it is known if the rise of Jude Bellingham will catapult him into the 23-man pool of players, or whether Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s goals are enough to take him to the tournament.
Southgate, who was in the squad himself when Paul Gascoigne was dropped by Glenn Hoddle in 1998, will make sure it will not be the biggest shock when players are told they are on standby. Not that it will be an easy conversation.
“The worst part of the job is having to name a team and leave players out,” he said. “Of course, naming a squad for a major championship is a position where it’s a fantastic moment for 23 players and a real disappointment for others.
“But it is important we communicate well throughout the piece. Players with us now, it is important they know where they stand if they need to step up a level to get in the squad, they need to know that now so the more we communicate that in the next couple of months, it shouldn’t just be about a call at the end.”
Southgate boarded the plane to Tirana on Saturday with 24 players, having seen Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka return to their clubs. With Jordan Henderson, Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish to return from injury, there will be difficult decisions to be made.
Today’s World Cup qualifier against Albania will give some insight into Southgate’s thinking. He is likely to return to a three-man defence, with Harry Maguire at the heart and Kyle Walker as a right-sided centre-back. His biggest decision is in midfield, where Henderson is battling to be fit after surgery on his adductor, meaning he is choosing between Kalvin Phillips and James Ward-Prowse to cover.
Bellingham is more of a wild card, but Southgate sees similarities with Rio Ferdinand, who was taken to Euro ’96 for experience with the senior squad. The Borussia Dortmund midfielder could be a full member of the squad rather than just training.
“Jude and Rio are different people and different positions, but both with a thirst to watch the top players to see what made them top professionals,” Southgate said. “Jude has got that with some of the experienced players at his club like Mats Hummels, he can see why he’s a World Cup winner, and he’ll be looking at our seniors players and seeing why they’ve hit the level they have. He’s very keen to learn and observe in that regard.”
In goal, Nick Pope is assured of his place in the squad and it is now a case of whether he can also claim the No 1 jersey from Jordan Pickford while the Everton man is out injured. Pope has been told he will start today and on Wednesday against Poland, giving him a chance to put his case forward after a clean sheet against San Marino, where he was barely needed.
“I sleep very well at night with Nick in between the posts, there are no concerns about that at all,” Southgate said. “I thought he went about that in the correct manner. In the next couple of games he will be tested more, for certain, and he’s more than up to the task.”
Luke Shaw has made a late run to the Euros squad, but now looks set to go along with Ben Chilwell at left-back, while John Stones has also returned to form at the right time. It will be players such as Ollie Watkins waiting for those phone calls from Southgate and hoping he has done enough to get himself somewhere near the final squad.
Some places are assured. Raheem Sterling has been dropped from Manchester City’s squad in recent weeks, but still commands a place in Southgate’s attack. Rashford has only played in the matches against Belgium and Denmark this season and will be in the squad if he stays fit after returning to action.
“Raheem has got the bit between his teeth,” Southgate said. “It wasn’t underestimated by us when he was injured earlier this season. In the last 20 matches his record is over one goal in two games. I think Marcus is one in four or one in three in his England career. They’re important numbers.
“Of course you need attacking players who can unlock defences and who can creatively take players out of the game. But you also need people to finish chances. We definitely missed both their speed and their finishing power in the autumn.”
Southgate is expecting a stern test at Arena Kombetare, where the pitch is suffering teething problems after the stadium opened in 2019. With Harry Kane back leading their attack, it could give indicators to the team to face Croatia on June 13, but also provide more dilemmas for the manager
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