Pitch imperfect, Pope picked, Kane unleashed – Albania v England talking points

Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
·3-min read

England continue their World Cup qualification campaign in Albania on Sunday.

Here the PA news agency takes a look at five of the main talking points ahead of the Group I encounter in Tirana.

Potential pitch problems

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As Gareth Southgate’s men cantered to a 5-0 victory against San Marino on Thursday, stories were swirling around safety and surface at the Air Albania Stadium. State police quickly extinguished stories about safety but there remains questions over the playing surface, albeit the England boss does not seem overly concerned. “I know they’ve had some problems with the pitch, as we did when Wembley first opened,” Southgate said. “But I also know they’ve been doing a lot of work on that so I’m sure it’ll be better than it was for the matches when the stadium just opened.”

Southgate shows faith in Pope

Nick Pope will start England's next two World Cup qualifiers
Nick Pope will start England’s next two World Cup qualifiers (Adrian Dennis/PA)

With established number one Jordan Pickford out injured, it was a toss-up between Dean Henderson and Nick Pope for a triple-header that Sam Johnstone joined as third man. Pope got the nod – and avoided nodding off – against San Marino, with Southgate announcing his plans to stick with the Burnley goalkeeper against Albania and Poland. The Three Lions boss has backed the patient 28-year-old to grab the chance to push Pickford to start at the Euros.

Kane back among the goals?

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Despite failing to find the net in 2020, Harry Kane is well on course to break Wayne Rooney’s 53-goal scoring record for his country. The need to keep the Three Lions skipper fresh saw him reduced to a watching brief against San Marino, denying him a golden opportunity to add to his haul of 32 goals in 51 appearances. Kane will surely be unleashed in Albania on Sunday after Dominic Calvert-Lewin started on Thursday and debutant Ollie Watkins scored from the bench.

Hey Jude, won’t let me down

Jude Bellingham won his second England cap against San Marino on Thursday
Jude Bellingham won his second England cap against San Marino on Thursday (Adrian Dennis/PA)

Having burst through at Birmingham and slotted in well with Borussia Dortmund, 17-year-old Jude Bellingham became England’s third-youngest full international in November’s friendly against the Republic of Ireland. The Football Association expected coronavirus restrictions in Germany to rule him out of this month’s triple-header but called him up anyway and were delighted to belatedly get the green light for him to join up. Bellingham impressed off the bench against San Marino and is pushing for his first senior start on Sunday.

Rejuvenated Shaw and Stones return

John Stones and Luke Shaw are back in the England squad
John Stones and Luke Shaw are back in the England squad (Peter Powell/PA)

Exciting young talent is complemented by some familiar faces in this England squad, with Jesse Lingard putting in a man-of-the-match display on his international return against San Marino. Reinvigorated John Stones came off the bench for his first appearance since November 2019 on Thursday and now looks set to make his first start since that 7-0 win against Montenegro. In-form Luke Shaw is also in line to start in Albania, with the eight-cap left-back having last played for his country in September 2018.