England have sealed Euro 2020 qualification as group winners with a game to spare, yet boss Gareth Southgate insists the trip to Kosovo is anything but a dead rubber as they look to finish as top seeds.
The Three Lions always knew that a point from their remaining two Group A matches would guarantee automatic qualification for next summer’s finals, ensuring their pool matches would be played at Wembley in the process.
England secured safe passage to Euro 2020 in some style as Harry Kane’s hat-trick helped them celebrate their 1,000th match with a 7-0 win Montenegro on Thursday evening.
Victory ensured Southgate’s men will finish top in Group A due to their superior head-to-head record against Czech Republic, who wrapped up qualification as runners-up thanks to a comeback win against Kosovo.
England head to the Balkans as their group campaign comes to an end on Sunday, when changes should not be mistaken for the Three Lions taking the game lightly as they look to wrap up one of six spots as top seeds.
“We will make some changes, for sure, but the seeding in the group could be critical and we know it’s a big night for the Kosovans,” Southgate said.
“It’s a shame for them that they’re now out of this part of the qualification, although they’ve still got the play-offs in which I think they’ll be a huge threat in that format.
“So, it will be a good test for us because it will still be a lively environment.
“The enthusiasm for the game is high and we want to finish the group with as many points as we can.”
Southgate has confirmed Raheem Sterling will start in Pristina after being forced to watch Thursday’s match from the stands in the wake of his skirmish with Joe Gomez at the start of the camp.
Jordan Henderson is also in line to feature following a one-match ban, while Danny Rose will be hoping for the chance to impress at left-back after seeing Ben Chilwell flourish against Montenegro.
Kane may have scored a hat-trick but the Leicester full-back was named England’s man-of-the-match following a fine display in which he provided three assists in the opening 24 minutes.
“I think both full-backs’ use of the ball tonight was outstanding,” Southgate said, referring to Chilwell and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the opposite flank.
“And Ben, I liked the hunger in his game, the enthusiasm to get forward.
“The whole team pressed well but he also pressed well from that full-back position, got into overlaps, his quality of delivery was excellent.
“So, he started the season a little bit sticky following a bit of an injury but he’s really in the flow of his game now and you can see the confidence that he’s had with Leicester, which he brought into tonight’s game.”
England’s full-backs impressed going forward but were not really tested by limited Montenegro.
Alexander-Arnold and Chilwell played either side of the centre-back pairing of Harry Maguire and John Stones – a promising-looking back four on paper.
“Well, it’s the same with every position in that we’ve got to prepare a number of different players in every position,” former defender Southgate said.
“Because you just don’t know who’ll be available come the finals and who will be in the best form and physically in the best condition.
“Tonight, (there were) a couple of chances we conceded that just shouldn’t happen, so that’s still part of our game that we’ve got to improve upon.
“If we are to be a team that are going to challenge seriously, although we’re young, we’ve got to manage games well and got to make that although we’re such a fantastic attacking threat, we’ve got to make sure that the rest of the team is right as well.
“We’ve enjoyed a lot of the game but also there are things that we’ve got to be better at.”