England v Montenegro Preview

England vs Montenegro | Friday 11 October | Wembley | 21:00




England have made tough work out of this qualification group. 

Roy Hodgson can wax lyrical all he wants about the vagaries of cold away trips to Montenegro and Ukraine; it’s hardly as if they had a Spain or a Belgium lurking menacingly in their group. 

Having said that, they still have their destiny in their own hands; home victories against Montenegro and Poland will guarantee participation in football’s greatest showpiece.

They should be wary about their opposition however; they have drawn their last three matches against a steadily improving Montenegro side harboring their own dreams of Rio.


To Win (90mins)
England 7/20
Draw 38/10
Montenegro 87/10 

ENGLAND

The loss of Ashley Cole to a rib injury will be tempered by the excellent form shown by Leighton Baines for Everton this season. The ability he has to penetrate further up the pitch will be crucial in England being able to impose their pace to the game. 

The idea of Walker and Baines marauding the flanks should excite fans of the Three Lions, while Hodgson will attempt to formulate a system where both Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge can freely operate.

Hodgson knows that a victory here is really necessary and expect him to adopt a slightly less cautious approach than he did in Kiev last time out. He may opt for a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Sturridge being utilized in the conventional number nine position.

This system gives him some attacking leeway tempered by defensive stability.

Hodgson would be wise to go for experience in Lampard and Gerrard in the more withdrawn roles; they seem to be developing a more harmonious relationship there than they ever had in the more advanced areas of the field.

The attacking midfield three will see Rooney and Wilshere being used in some capacity, while he agonizes over playing either Milner or Welbeck in the other role, due to the injury to Theo Walcott.

Welbeck’s knack for scoring at international level coupled with his physical prowess may be a determining factor in that choice.

I believe Milner would be the safer bet as his non-stop industry will always give something to the team while Welbeck’s mercurial skills can often go walkabouts in big game situations.

By rights, England should be able to come through this encounter unscathed.

They have depth in their squad; you need only look at the likes of Lambert and Defoe in attack to realise the apparent strength of the England squad. But this is not an age of predictability in the realms of the English national team.

It is almost as if the ferocious competitiveness that exists in English club football has a disruptive influence on the harmony of the English team.

English fans will temper their excitement with a degree of reticence as a continually evolving Montenegro come to Wembley.

MONTENEGRO

Branko Brnovic’s Montenegro side will be buoyed by their away draw against Poland which has kept them very much in the hunt for World Cup qualification. They will however be without their captain Mirko Vucinic through injury.

The talismanic striker will be a massive loss while there are also injuries to goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic, centre-back Marko Basa and midfielder Milorad Pekovic. Despite all this, Montenegro have surprising depth in their squad and have enough players to cause England problems.

Stefan Savic should be familiar with many of the players; the Fiorentina defender spent a largely disappointing spell under Roberto Mancini at Manchester City. Stevan Jovetic has had precious few chances at City thus far and will be hoping to prove a point to his club manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Their most capped player of all time, Simon Vukcevic, will play a critical role in controlling the midfield and ensuring that Jack Wilshere doesn’t get the space to make those energetic bursts of his.

They actually have some depth in attack, with Andrija Delibasic and Beciraj already scoring on multiple occasions in this qualifying campaign.

One advantage that Montenegro could be seen to possess is a stronger sense of team cohesion.

They may not have the Rooneys or Lampards of this world populating their squad, but there is an undeniable team ethic that permeates the team.

All the pressure in the world is on England and their veritable galaxy of stars, so expect Montenegro to look to exploit this and not just go meekly into the night.

VERDICT: England 9/20

This could be quite a long and difficult night for most supporters of the Three Lions. I suspect a very tight game where Montenegro consistently pushes on the counterattack. But England will just have enough quality in the final third of the game. Don’t go expecting quite so dramatic a finale as when Beckham scored that free-kick against Greece to send them to the 2002 World Cup, but I feel England should score the decisive goal in the final half hour of the game. The man knows his football, but even he gets it wrong from time to time. Feel free to share your  view below.

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