Five talking points as England prepare for crucial Nations League games

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

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England face Italy in the Nations League on Friday night as preparations for the World Cup continue.

The clash at the San Siro is the penultimate game before Gareth Southgate’s side face Iran in Qatar on November 21.

But the game against Italy also has significance and here the PA news agency takes a look at some of the key talking points ahead of the game.

For king and country

England players will wear black armbands while singing ‘God Save the King’ on Friday night (Nick Potts/PA)

(PA Archive)

Friday’s game is the first time England’s senior men’s team will take to the pitch since the Queen’s death.

They will wear black armbands to mark the occasion, with further tributes planned for the game against Germany at Wembley on Monday night.

Southgate and his players will also sing ‘God Save the King’ before kick-off in honor of King Charles III, the first time this version of the national anthem has been used before a football match in England since November 1951 .

summer school

England captain Harry Kane and his team-mates were dejected by a poor run of results in June (Nick Potts/PA)

(PA wire)

England played four games in June and, by the time they lost 4-0 to Hungary to end the run without a win and two draws, Southgate was feeling the pressure.

It was arguably the nadir of his England tenure to date, with fans jeering and chanting ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ as his side crumbled to victory at Molineux.

He will be keen to correct these results, which have come at the end of a long and tiring campaign for his players, with a view to the World Cup.

Down and Out?

Southgate faced criticism from the crowd as England lost 4-0 to Hungary last time out (Nick Potts/PA)

(PA wire)

Those four results have all come in Nations League matches, losing twice to Hungary while drawing in Germany and at home to Italy.

It means defeat to the Italians on Friday would condemn England to relegation to League B where potential opponents would include Georgia and Kazakhstan.

Leaving the League A top flight would also have ramifications for the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, with the prospect of England not being seeded in next month’s draw.

The countdown to the final

Ivan Toney is aiming to claim a place in England’s World Cup squad (Mike Egerton/PA)

(PA wire)

With just 59 days between Italy in the Nations League and Iran in the World Cup, Southgate is running out of time to decide what he sees as a winning formula.

Ivan Toney will push to get involved to show what he can do after the Brentford forward’s first call-up, while Manchester United captain Harry Maguire aims to prove they belong in the squad despite the lockdown of the shape of the club.

Southgate now has very little room to maneuver as they seek to improve on their fourth-place finish at the 2018 World Cup and defeat in the Euro 2020 final last summer.

Shape things to come

Bukayo Saka and Kyle Walker are two of many players who can operate in different positions under Southgate (Simon Marper/PA)

(PA wire)

While the personnel selected by Southgate will be the most intriguing, how he chooses to set up his team is another question to be answered.

Having selected no less than 12 defenders in his squad for this Nations League double-header, it raises the prospect of a return to three, which Southgate has often favored against tougher opponents.

The way he presents his training at San Siro could help hint at his plans for Qatar and his quest for a first major men’s trophy since 1966.

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Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at

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