17:15 (GMT), Saturday 2nd June, Wembley Stadium (London, England)
England begin their World Cup preparations with their third-ever fixture against Nigeria with both Gareth Southgate and Gernot Rohr using the fixture as a chance to test the depth of their squads for Russia.
The Three Lions last faced Nigeria in a 0-0 draw at the 2002 World Cup, previously beating the Super Eagles 1-0 in 1994, the only other side the two countries have met.
For England, this is the first of two international friendlies, the second coming against Costa Rica on Thursday.
The logic is simple although perhaps not ultimately compelling: Nigeria will offer a good test ahead of England’s fixture against Tunisia; Costa Rica will present a comparable team to Panama.
Whether or not this proves to be the case, Gareth Southgate will treat both fixtures as a chance to iron out the final problems before their opening fixture against Tunisia on the 18th of June.
Nigeria, on the other hand, have already played their first friendly of this tranche, running out a 1-1 draw with DR Congo on Monday.
With a few of their key players missing, Gernot Rohr won’t be too worried. However, with a game against the Czech Republic coming up on Wednesday the 6th of June, he will hope the remaining two fixtures can kick-start the Super Eagle’s World Cup campaign.
Can Nigeria earn their first victory over England at Wembley?
Last Time Out
England 1-1 Italy (Internation Friendly)
England were denied victory against the Azzurri back in March after the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) awarded late penalty to Italy.
Jamie Vardy fired the Three Lions in front in the 26th minute and they looked to be en route to a respectable 1-0 victory, despite some lapses in defensive concentration.
However, VAR awarded the Italians a penalty in the 87th minute after Burnley centre back James Tarkowski clashed with Federico Chiesa. Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne made no mistake from the spot.
Nigeria 1-1 DR Congo (International Friendly)
Nigeria did not earn the result they would have liked against the DR Congo, as they were held to a 1-1 draw on Monday ahead of this weekend’s friendly at Wembley.
William Troost-Ekong, a former Tottenham youth player, got the Super Eagles off to a strong start with a 14th-minute goal – his first for his country – but the Congolese continued to force saves from keeper Francis Uzoho.
The surface didn’t make life easy on Nigeria, whose short passing game was hampered by the state of the Congolese pitch, though this cannot excuse the fact Ola Aina gave away an 85th-minute penalty, resulting in a 1-1 draw.
Harry Maguire did not train with the Three Lions on Monday, although he should be fit for this World Cup warm-up fixture.
The Manchester City title-winners have joined up and trained with England ahead of Saturday, but rests could be given to Liverpool’s Champions League runners-up Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Gareth Southgate could use this as an opportunity to experiment with formation and personnel before settling on a starting XI for Russia, with the likes of Nick Pope potentially seeing some playing time.
After a promising performance between the sticks for Francis Uzoho, it seems as though manager Gernot Rohr has settled on his number one ahead of the World Cup.
Kelechi Iheanacho performed poorly as a midfielder against DR Congo, which could see Rohr change his shape to incorporate the Leicester City man up front.
Victor Moses could return after missing the first game due to participation in the FA Cup final.
Key Battle: Harry Kane vs William Troost-Ekong
William Toost-Ekong, the Nigerian centre back, was formerly a youth academy player at Tottenham, thus may have some prior experience of Harry Kane. However, Kane then compared to Kane now is an entirely different prospect.
The two have had very different career paths, with Troost-Ekong now plying his trade in Turkey with Bursaspor and Kane captaining England at the World Cup after winning two Premier League Golden Boots in three seasons.
Kane poses all sorts of problems up front. Troost-Ekong will have to work out when to track his runs in behind and when to close him down or hold position when Kane decides to drop deep.
It’s not just his shooting that Troost-Ekong needs to focus on, but his movement and the subsequent space it creates for the likes of Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling.
The centre back will have a lot to contend with at Wembley.
The number one Super Eagle
Having started his third game in a row for Nigeria, it seems as though Francis Uzoho has earned the right to start in goal at the World Cup, following another impressive display in the draw with DR Congo.
However, that was only Uzoho’s third cap for his country, highlighting his inexperience on the international stage. As a 19-year-old with two senior appearances for his club, Deportivo La Coruna, Harry Kane will certainly be the best striker he’s had to face.
Uzoho will do well to keep the 24-year-old from scoring, whilst also managing his nerves, but the key for Kane and his teammates is to get shots away continuously at the Nigerian goal in the hope Uzoho makes a mistake or parries the ball back into a dangerous area.
England’s midfield creativity
Perhaps the biggest criticism levelled at Southgate’s squad selection was the lack of creative options in the centre of midfield.
Eric Dier is predominantly a defensive midfielder, whilst Jordan Henderson is typically a safe passer which leaves creative responsibility on the shoulders of Crystal Palace midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
With Henderson jaded from last Saturday’s defeat to Real Madrid, this is a great opportunity for Southgate to experiment with Loftus-Cheek and Dier as a two-man combination.
Loftus-Cheek created the most chances (25), assisted the most (3) and scored the most goals (2) of the trio. His passing accuracy (82%) was only a fraction behind Henderson (84%) and Dier (86%), furthermore.
With this degree of creativity from a deeper position, it takes the pressure off Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling.
The fullback dilemma
As we approach the World Cup, it’s fair to say that Southgate is still undecided on his starting pair of fullbacks for Russia.
Expected to start are Tottenham duo Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose, though the latter hasn’t come close to resembling his 2016/17 form since his injury and subsequent setbacks, whilst Trippier isn’t athletic enough to perform the duties of a right wing back in a back five.
Ashley Young, a converted winger, has arguably been in better form for Rose – and started more consistently – whilst Liverpool teenager Trent Alexander-Arnold has had a brilliant breakthrough season, culminating in a mature performance in the Champions League final.
With all four likely to receive minutes either in this friendly or the next, all will have to be at the top of their game to ensure they start against Tunisia in England’s opening World Cup game.
Prediction: England 2-1 Nigeria
Gareth Southgate should perceive this match as winnable, hence selecting the slightly more attacking 3-4-3 formation over a 3-5-2.
The Three Lions are stronger than their visitors, but Nigeria are no walk in the park and will test England’s resolve.
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