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5 talking points ahead of England’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria

There will be almost as much interest in the stands at the Vasili Levski National Stadium as there will be on the pitch.

Gareth Southgate’s (right) England face Bulgaria on the back of a defeat (Vadim Ghirda/AP)
Gareth Southgate’s (right) England face Bulgaria on the back of a defeat (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

By Mark Mann-Bryans, PA, Sofia

England face Bulgaria on Monday night looking to get back to winning ways having lost to the Czech Republic on Friday.

There will be almost as much interest in the stands at the Vasili Levski National Stadium as there will be on the pitch, with potential racism issues one of the bones of contention in the build-up to the Euro 2020 qualifier.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the main talking points ahead of the game in Sofia.

Will England need to make a stand?

Gareth Southgate and his players have been hit with questions surrounding potential racist abuse throughout the week leading into the game.

There will be 5,000 empty seats due to UEFA sanctions after Bulgaria supporters were charged with racism offences in qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Kosovo earlier in the year.

While the messages coming from the England camp have been a little mixed, it is clear they would be ready to push for UEFA to utilise their three-step protocol should more issues occur on Monday – including the game being abandoned.

Fingers pointed

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Coach Krasimir Balakov believes English football has a bigger problem with racism than Bulgaria does (Nick Potts/PA)

Despite their recent sanctions and the fact Ashley Young was the target of racial abuse when England last played in Sofia in 2011, the Bulgarian Football Union has constantly hit out at the suggestion anything similar will take place.

The BFU president Borislav Mihaylov described comments of potential racist abuse as “offensive” and “derogatory” while coach Krasimir Balakov believes English football has a bigger problem with racism than Bulgaria does.

Southgate has tried to downplay any pre-match comments or the potential for problems on the night but relations could be better heading into the game.

A case for the defence

A 2-1 defeat in the Czech Republic on Friday night saw England’s wait to seal their spot at Euro 2020 continue with three games remaining.

Once again it was poor defending that set the tone for a first qualifying loss of any kind in over a decade.

Southgate is aware that he needs to sure things up at the back and has hinted he could be tempted to return to the three-man defensive set-up he used as England reached the World Cup semi-finals last summer.

Mings can only get better

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The England manager could yet turn to untested players in an attempt to improve his defence.

While Joe Gomez is the most likely to be drafted in should he shuffle his pack, uncapped pair Tyrone Mings and Fikayo Tomori are other potential options.

Left-back Danny Rose is suspended so Leicester’s Ben Chilwell is almost certain to start on the left, with Trent Alexander-Arnold pushing to replace Kieran Tripper on the other side.

Qualification still up for grabs

Despite slipping to a rare loss in Prague, England could still be heading home with Euro 2020 qualification secured.

If Southgate’s men can pick up three points in Bulgaria and Kosovo fail to win their game in Montenegro, the Three Lions will be assured of their spot in the finals.

Even if Kosovo do pick up an expected win in Podgorica, England will remain in the driving seat as long as they look after themselves here.

PA

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