England v Wales: Don't expect thriller at Wembley

Andy Schooler is expecting experimental line-ups and few goals when England host Wales in an international friendly on Thursday night...

England v Wales
Thursday October 8, 20:00
Live on ITV

'Never a friendly'

At the risk of showing my age, there was a day when England v Wales was a big annual fixture in the football calendar, part of the Home Nations Championship.

Despite England boss Gareth Southgate describing this clash as "a friendly which will never be a friendly", it's hard to get too enthused about it.

In a bizarre international window of three matches per team - yet another bi-product of the COVID-19 pandemic - this is simply a warm-up for the Nations League games to follow in the coming days. England host Belgium on Sunday, while the Welsh head to Ireland.

Southgate has already admitted that he's "not looking to start players in all three games" so there seems a strong chance that his key men, such as captain Harry Kane, will be on the bench for this contest.

Weakened England

He's already without the injured Raheem Sterling, while fellow forwards Jadon Sancho and Tammy Abraham are the latest whose off-field behaviour has caused their manager a selection headache.

They, along with Ben Chilwell, attended a gathering of more than six people at the weekend so join Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden on the naughty step.

At least Marcus Rashford is fit again, while Southgate does also have two forward players in great form in the shape of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jack Grealish.

Harry Maguire is another to return after his conviction in a Greek court last month saw him miss the 1-0 win over Iceland and the goalless draw with Denmark.

Southgate has more options in defence but left-back could be a problem area with Chilwell missing. Kieran Trippier played out of position there last month but new call-up Bukayo Saka or Ainsley Maitland-Niles may well start there.

In short, it's likely to be a disjointed England XI which takes to the field and something similar can be expected from Wales.

Key pair missing for Wales

Their boss Ryan Giggs has already been denied the services of Gareth Bale (injured) and Aaron Ramsey (in quarantine). Forward Hal Robson-Kanu and defender Tom Lockyer are also missing having played in last month's 1-0 Nations League wins over Bulgaria and Finland.

The return of Sheffield United's Chris Mepham and Swansea's Joe Rodon does at least help plug that defensive hole.

That will come as a relief to Giggs given his side's success during his reign has been largely based on a solid backline. They have kept 10 clean sheets in his 21 games in charge.

England odds-on - again

That statistic is a nod to where I believe the best bet lies.

The win market makes little appeal with England their regular heavily odds-on price (1.35). Wales are 9.80 for the upset with the draw at 5.60.

The uncertainty over the team news muddies the waters in most markets but the goal lines do suggest some value on going with the unders.

Goals at a premium

Wales have long struggled for goals and without their two best creators in Bale and Ramsey, they may well struggle to break down the home defence.

In contrast, England have been pretty free-scoring under Southgate but last month's games were vastly different with creativity stifled.

Southgate blamed the timing of the games - they came days before the start of the Premier League campaign - and said some of his players were "nowhere near the level" they needed to be at.

This week he admitted "some are still getting that fitness" and that "to be at the top of your game right now is almost impossible".

That suggests he's not expecting fireworks from his men again in this window.

With a probable new-look attack on show, one which has never played together before, it's not hard to see them struggling for goals again.

Under 2.5 in the game is offered at 2.16 and looks the way to go.

Long-term trends for Wales suggest it's a good play - 15 of their 21 games under Giggs have landed this bet, including five of seven friendlies.

Play your cards right

In the same time period, England have played six friendlies with four featuring under 2.5 goals.

Two of those six games saw no cards shown and that's another potential avenue to explore.

Scottish referee Bobby Madden has produced just eight cards in five Premiership games this season, while his last two international friendlies have brought just one - a red card for an awful tackle in the 93rd minute of Germany v Serbia.

Two of the seven aforementioned Wales friendlies featured no cards too.

At time of writing, the card markets weren't available but they will be worth checking out prior to kick-off.

Opta fact

England are unbeaten in their last eight friendly matches (W5 D3) since a 3-2 defeat against France in June 2017. The Three Lions have shipped just two goals in those eight matches.

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