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Monday, October 25, 2021

England vs Hungary: Three Lions can edge closer to World Cup but will Phil Foden keep his place in midfield?

England can take another significant step towards next year’s World Cup in Qatar when they face Hungary at Wembley on Tuesday evening.

Gareth Southgate’s side sit four points clear of second-placed Albania in Group I following their 5-0 win away to Andorra on Saturday and another victory back at Wembley would put them on the brink of qualification.

England will have to wait until the November international break to be certain of their place at next year’s tournament regardless of results on Tuesday, but the momentum is with them following another strong qualification campaign.

Is Foden’s future in midfield?

There is not much to be gleaned from a meeting with a side ranked 156th in the world but the win over Andorra did at least allow Phil Foden to make his case for a starting berth in central midfield.

England's Phil Foden shone in Andorra

The 21-year-old has been used primarily on the flanks by both Pep Guardiola and Southgate since his senior breakthrough for club and country but his future has long been seen in midfield and his performance against Andorra offered a glimpse of why.

Foden was the outstanding performer at Andorra’s National Stadium, his deeper role allowing him to dictate the game and show off his excellent passing range as he repeatedly sent England forward on the attack.

Sky Sports pundit Roy Keane likened him to legendary NFL quarterback Tom Brady – “he’s just picking people out… he’s making it look so easy,” he said – while Southgate was similarly impressed.

“It’s fabulously exciting, isn’t it?” said the England boss afterwards. “When you are trying to break down a defence as we were tonight, and you’ve got a player who can see the passes he sees and can execute them in the way that he did.”

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The question now is whether Foden’s performance will persuade Southgate to give him another chance in central midfield against stronger opposition on Tuesday.

England’s starting line-up is likely to look very different against Hungary but with Kalvin Philipps absent due to injury, there is an opening in the team alongside Declan Rice.

Southgate may opt for Jordan Henderson’s experience instead but with Foden now developing physicality alongside his innate technical ability, it may not be long until the Manchester City star takes up a central role for England more frequently.

“He is getting stronger so it is exciting for us that one of those midfield positions might be a possibility,” added Southgate.

Who fills in for Maguire?

Southgate insists John Stones is not at risk of losing his England place despite struggling for playing time with Manchester City.

Stones has not played a single minute for Guardiola’s side this season but he has started three of England’s last four games, including Saturday’s win over Andorra, and Southgate does not have any concerns over his lack of action at club level.

John Stones and Harry Maguire, England
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John Stones and Harry Maguire have become England’s first-choice centre-back pairing

“John, when he goes back [to City], will have many games,” he said this week. “Everybody knows his quality so he will be in the team and I don’t think that will be an issue going forward.”

His early withdrawal against Andorra suggests Southgate wanted to keep him fresh for the Hungary game but with Harry Maguire unavailable due to a calf problem, the identity of his centre-back partner at Wembley remains to be seen.

Conor Coady will hope to keep his place following a tidy showing against Andorra but the Wolves man was rarely tested defensively and the same is true of Fikayo Tomori, who played the final half hour of that game, only his second for England, having replaced Stones.

England�s Tyrone Mings (left) and John Stones during the training session at St George's Park, Burton upon Trent. Picture date: Thursday June 17, 2021.
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Will Tyrone Mings partner John Stones against Hungary?

That leaves Tyrone Mings as the most realistic option for Southgate. The Aston Villa man is left-footed, meaning he offers a different dimension to England’s other centre-back options, and he has already built up considerable experience having won 14 international caps since his debut in 2019.

Another possibility for Southgate would be to switch to a back three but England have not used that system since their 2-0 win over Germany during Euro 2020. A defensive axis of Stones and Mings looks more likely.

Kane up front but who supports him?

Harry Kane is expected to return up front after Tammy Abraham was given the opportunity to impress against Andorra and there are numerous players vying for the positions either side of him.

England's Harry Kane applauds the fans during warmup before the World Cup 2022 group I qualifying soccer match between England and Andorra at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)
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England’s Harry Kane was an unused substitute against Andorra

Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling are perhaps the favourites to start having been named on the bench on Saturday but they are not the only ones in contention.

Bukayo Saka scored on his 20th birthday against Andorra last month and found the net against the same opponent on Saturday. The popular Arsenal winger continues to establish himself at international level having impressed on England’s run to the final at Euro 2020.

The tournament ended in heartbreak for Saka, of course, his missed penalty proving decisive in the shootout defeat to Italy, but he has responded impressively to that setback and there were signs of recovery in Jadon Sancho’s performance on Saturday too.

The former Borussia Dortmund winger has endured a difficult start to life at Manchester United following his £73m switch in the summer but he provided two assists against Andorra and there was praise from Southgate afterwards, the England boss asking for patience as he finds his feet at Old Trafford.

Bukayo Saka, Andorra vs England
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Bukayo Saka scored his third goal for England against Andorra

“For a young player to have such a big change in his life, new league, new club, different style of play, different training regime, back living in Manchester, moving house and everything that’s involved in that, that’s a lot to take in,” he said.

“It’s going to need time but he showed a lot of the qualities that he has [against Andorra] and I know that will come with the club as well.”

Whether it’s as a starter or from the bench, Sancho, like Saka, will hope to impress again against Hungary.

Opta stats – England’s qualifying prowess

  • England have won their last 21 home major tournament qualifiers, scoring 73 goals and conceding seven since a 1-1 draw with the Ukraine in September 2012.
  • England have only been defeated once across their last 54 major tournament qualifying matches (W43 D10), with that defeat coming away to Czech Republic in October 2019. England have scored 40 goals while conceding only twice in such matches since that defeat.
  • Thirty-six of Harry Kane’s 41 England goals have come in competitive internationals. Only Wayne Rooney (37) has ever scored more goals in competitive games for England than Kane. Rooney scored one every 154 minutes, while Kane is averaging one every 118 minutes.
  • Bukayo Saka scored on his 20th birthday in his last appearance at Wembley for England against Andorra – aged 20 years and 37 days. He could become the youngest England player to score in consecutive appearances at Wembley, breaking the record currently held by Jimmy Greaves (20y 249d in October 1960).
  • Harry Kane has scored nine goals in 13 appearances for England in 2021. Should he score again, he would become only the second player to have scored 10 or more goals in more than one calendar year for the Three Lions, having scored 12 in 2019. The other was Vivian Woodward, who scored 10 in 1908 and 11 in 1909.
  • England are unbeaten in their last 14 matches against Hungary in all competitions (W12 D2) since losing 2-1 at the 1962 World Cup under Walter Winterbottom.
  • Hungary have lost nine of their 10 away matches against England – their other was a famous 6-3 win at Wembley in November 1953 in which Nandor Hidegkuti scored a hat-trick and the Three Lions conceded six goals at Wembley for what remains the only time.

When can England qualify?

England need just two more wins to be sure of qualification for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar following Saturday’s 5-0 victory over Andorra.

Gareth Southgate’s side are four points clear of second-placed Albania at the top of Group I after seven matches, with just three fixtures left to play.

England host fourth-placed Hungary on Tuesday night, but even if they win at Wembley and Albania lose at home to third-in-the-table Poland the same evening, that would not confirm the Three Lions’ passage to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

England then finish their qualifying campaign by entertaining Albania on November 12 when three points would guarantee them top spot in the group, before travelling to bottom-of-the-table San Marino three days later.

However, with only top spot meaning qualification, there is still little margin for error – particularly given that reaching Qatar with a second-place finish is not straightforward.

How to follow England’s World Cup Qualifiers

England take on Hungary at Wembley on Tuesday October 12 (kick-off 7.45pm) and you can follow the game via our live minute-by-minute on both the Sky Sports app and website, with free match highlights also available on both platforms from 11pm.

The free-to-watch highlights will be available on the Sky Sports website and app, as well as the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel, from 11pm.

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