By William Hill
Last Updated: 9th January 2020
TURN the clock back a year and England were about to kick-off their UEFA Nations League campaign.
You remember, the tournament to replace needless friendlies with a format that left fans scratching their heads.
But we all were all on board when England got to the finals in Portugal as Gareth Southgate’s side were two games away from lifting a trophy.
The Three Lions had spells of dominance against Holland in the semi-final.
However, the same issue that led to their downfall in Russia reared its head in Guimaraes, the inability to control games and keep possession.
The pace and energy is there, but Southgate knows ball retention against the world’s elite is the key to England moving forward and having any chance of winning Euro 2020 on home soil.
So, the Euro qualifier against Bulgaria, bottom of Group A at Wembley should be routine.
England are 1/12 to win again.
And the game should allow the boss some wriggle room to experiment.
SOUTHGATE WINKS AT MADDISON
Harry Winks is no experiment, but Southgate will be keen to involve the Spurs midfielder.
The 23-year old who ticks the required possession box, was outstanding in the 3-2 win in Spain last year.
Leicester City’s James Maddison must make his senior bow this weekend.
The playmaker has continued last season’s excellent form and is stepping up by taking control of games, Chelsea away a case in point.
Maddison plays progressive football and the stats don’t lie.
Nine assists, 15 big chances created and 26 through balls in the top-flight make the 22-year-old a striker’s dream to play with. Maddison is 6/1 to open the scoring on Saturday.
Chelsea’s Mason Mount is another new boy expecting to see action against Bulgaria.
The 20-year-old has not been fazed by the huge step up from the Championship scoring twice for Frank Lampard’s new look side.
Mount is 17/10 to score on his senior debut.
KEANE A STONES THROW AWAY
At the back, Michael Keane has a chance to give Southgate a real selection headache at the heart of his defence.
With John Stones not considered due to injury, Michael Keane has a huge chance to give Southgate a real selection headache at the heart of his defence.
Southgate wants his defenders to be comfortable on the ball, but not at the expense keeping clean sheets.
Stones was at fault for Dutch second goal in Portugal due to his slackness on the ball, and it was not the first time Southgate was forced to defend a Stones howler on international duty.
The Everton centre-back is now showing why the Toffees bagged him from Burnley and could win his eighth Three Lions cap.
In attack, Jesse Lingard is lucky to get a reprieve.
The Manchester United man has been poor for his club, at the time when they needed someone to step up and provide quality from midfield.
The numbers are damning, just four goals and two assists since April 2018 has set alarm bells ringing at full blast.
On current form, Lingard is a distant third behind Maddison and Mount, and should count himself fortunate he’s not spending the international break posting on Instagram from Dubai.