England will look to bounce back from a flat display against Malta as they finish their Euro 2024 qualification campaign away at North Macedonia in Skopje on Monday.
Gareth Southgate was left frustrated as his England side were below par in beating Malta 2-0 on Friday, producing just three shots on target at Wembley Stadium against a side ranked 171st in the world.
The victory did secure top spot in Group C, however, and the Three Lions will look to finish the qualification campaign unbeaten before the preparations for the tournament in Germany resume next March.
England thrashed North Macedonia 7-0 at Old Trafford back in June as Bukayo Saka netted the first hat-trick of his career, and Southgate’s men will look to put in a similar performance to that on Monday, rather than the one seen at Wembley on Friday.
North Macedonia’s hopes of making it to Germany next year are already over with just two victories from their seven qualifiers, both coming against Malta, though they will hope to end the campaign on a high by taking the scalp of the fourth-ranked side in the world.
England need just a point to secure their place in Pot 1 for the Euro 2024 draw next month, though Southgate will be gunning for all three with a strong performance to boot after Friday’s underwhelming outing.
Monday’s game could see the return of the likes of Saka and Declan Rice, with the Arsenal pair both coming off the bench against Malta.
Marcus Rashford went off injured in that game and is unlikely to feature against North Macedonia with Jack Grealish potentially his replacement, though Cole Palmer could be in line to make an appearance after earning his first cap against Malta.
Rico Lewis and Ezri Konsa are both in the squad for the first time and will be hoping to get on the pitch to earn their maiden caps, both profiting from injuries to the likes of Luke Shaw and John Stones that kept them out of Southgate’s selection for this November international break. Kieran Trippier left the squad on Sunday because of a personal matter and will be unavailable.
For North Macedonia, Jani Atanasov scored his first senior international goals by netting a double off the bench in Friday’s 5-2 defeat at Italy. He is likely to come into the starting XI, with Milan Ristovski and Stefan Ashkovski also competing to start.
Former Leeds United man Ezgjan Alioski could start again, as will Napoli’s Eljif Elmas, while Enis Bardhi will likely captain the side.
England have never lost to North Macedonia, winning three of the five meetings between the sides and thumping them 7-0 in the last clash at Old Trafford. The Three Lions have won on both of their previous visits to Skopje.
What’s been said?
North Macedonia head coach Blagoja Milevski: “We learn from every game, including the one at Old Trafford, we made a lot of changes and now I think our selection has a new face with young players who brought a lot of positive energy.”
England manager Gareth Southgate: “We want to go into the tournament unbeaten. We have some tough games coming up. It’s good for us to be away from Wembley again, in a challenging environment because that’s where we’ll be next summer.”
Prediction – 3-0 England
Even with an out-of-sorts display last time out, England should have far too much for a North Macedonia side already out of contention for a place at Euro 2024. Southgate will be looking for some of his fringe players to step up and stake their claim for a spot in his squad for the tournament in Germany as England try and finally get over the hump at a major tournament.