England v Ivory Coast
Tuesday 29 March, 19:45 kick-off
Live on Sky Sports
England to make changes for Ivory Coast
It was job done again for Gareth Southgate as his England side came through a thorough test by Switzerland to secure a new record 21-game unbeaten run (90 minutes). Harry Kane joined Bobby Charlton on 49 goals to sit in joint-second on the all-time England scorer list.
Southgate got to try out new faces, see his team put under pressure and find a way to win a tough game while not at their best. In many ways it was an ideal World Cup warm-up game.
Changes will come for the visit of Ivory Coast though, with Kane not starting but the likes of Harry Maguire, Tyrone Mings, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham, Declan Rice and Emile Smith Rowe all in contention for starts.
England have great options running throughout their squad, but defence still seems the weak point. Southgate may try a couple of different formations to try and work on just how he wants his side to set-up for Qatar, when after their two recent tournaments they’ll expect to go close again.
Elephants will come to play
Ivory Coast won’t be involved in the World Cup this winter but that doesn’t mean they’ll be a soft touch, as France found out as they needed a 93rd-minute goal to beat them 2-1 in Marseille on Friday.
There’s some familiar Premier League talent in Patrice Beaumelle’s squad, including Arsenal’s £70m man Nicolas Pepe and former Spurs defender Serge Aurier.
Man Utd’s Eric Bailly and Wolves’ Wily Boly play in defence, with Milan’s talented Franck Kessie in midfield and Ajax’s prolific striker Sebastien Haller up front.
So the talent is there, and they’ll come to Wembley to play as they aim to become the first African side to beat England in 20 attempts (L16 D3).
Shuffled Three Lions pack still favourites
Despite Southgate making changes, England are still the big 1.42/5 favourites with Ivory Coast out at 8.07/1 to produce the upset.
You can get the draw at 4.57/2 which could come into play given how the expected changes could upset the game.
It’s now six wins and a draw since England lost the Euro 2020 final. That Swiss victory showed their character, and with that Wembley defeat to Italy their only loss in 21, the hosts have a nice air of confidence growing.
England have also belted in an average of four goals a game in their current unbeaten streak, while Ivory Coast have only kept two clean sheets in their last eight.
The bookies just about fancy an England clean sheet as both teams to score is priced at 2.26/5 with ‘no’ at just 1.748/11 – with the likes of Harry Maguire, John Stones and Declan Rice set to start.
Both over and under 2.5 goals is priced at 1.9420/21 as punters just can’t decide whether, without Harry Kane starting, England can still bang in the goals.
Sterling to lead the way for England
Harry Kane remains the 1.84/5 favourite to score even though he probably won’t start, but Raheem Sterling should and at 2.89/5 anytime he’s the pick of the England pack to find the net.
Former West Ham striker Sebastien Haller’s form has been frightening for Ajax, with 20 league goals and a more eye-popping 11 Champions League goals in just eight games.
He’s 4.57/2 to score here, while Pepe is 5.59/2 and Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha, who will be keen to impress against England, is 5.04/1 to score his fifth goal for Ivory Coast.
Zaha and Pepe both started against France but they’ll want to play at Wembley, especially with inexperienced duo Kyle Walker-Peters and Tyrick Mitchell possibly both playing at full-back or wing-back.
We could get a game if Ivory Coast use their attacking talents as England’s major weakness is at the back, but the visitors aren’t great defensively either.
So we’ll back Sterling to hit the target a couple of times at 2.56/4, something he’s managed in five of his last 10 England games, but add in Ivory Coast’s wide men for a bit of added spice.