Gordon Strachan surprised everyone with his inclusion of Leigh Griffiths as part of eight changes from the side which fell flat in a 3-0 defeat to Slovakia last month. Gareth Southgate named a more predictable XI, the one surprise being Daniel Sturridge starting ahead of Harry Kane, although the latter has had his recent injury woes.
IKECHI ANYA V RAHEEM STERLING
Pep Guardiola has rejuvenated Sterling’s career at Manchester City as he stagnated under Manuel Pellegrini and hit his lowest ebb during the summer’s European Championships. He has been one of the Citizens’ stand-out performers. However, he is unlikely to reprise his club role on the right of the attack. That means he will go up against surprise right-back Anya.
Anya is one of few players who has the pace to not only match but beat Sterling. This means that he will have to be aware of Sterling’s dribbling and trickery as he looks to move infield. Anya will need to be sensible and communicate with Grant Hanley because if he tucks in too much he leaves an abundance of room for Kyle Walker to exploit.
Walker is a potential weak link for England and Strachan may see this as an avenue for Anya to take Sterling deeper, linking up with James Forrest to get in down the flank.
SCOTT BROWN V JORDAN HENDERSON
Brown is back in after his retirement u-turn and will take his place in what will be a competitive midfield battle with not much between the respective midfields. With the protection offered by Eric Dier and Darren Fletcher for England and Scotland respectively, it will allow Jordan Henderson and Brown to offer support from deep.
It is arguably Henderson’s preferred midfield role, although he has performed admirably as the base of Liverpool’s rise to the top of the Premier League. He will meet his match in a revitalised Brown. The Celtic player shows little respect to opponents and will not be overawed by what he sees in front of him. If he can get the better of Henderson, shutting off any passes forward, while using his tireless energy to move into the England half it could cause Wayne Rooney to drop deeper and England to become disjointed. Frustrating England will see the crowd grow restless and the Tartan Army more boisterous.
LEIGH GRIFFITHS V GARY CAHILL
Griffiths would be wise to look to the Chelsea centre-back as the most vulnerable. John Stones is best when the ball is played on the ground. That’s where Griffiths wants it, to feet and between the centre backs and full backs.
England’s full backs push high which leaves space down the flanks for Griffiths to thrive. Earlier in the season Cahill was struggling in a back four before Antonio Conte changed to a back three. Griffiths has the pace and ability to create space and get a shot off, while stretching the defence. Cahill would prefer a physical battle rather than one in which he will have to turn and face his own goal. An early sighter for Griffiths will have his tail up and Cahill on the back foot.