Gareth Southgate will hope for a more serene evening than England’s first trip to North Macedonia in 2003.
It is 20 years since Wayne Rooney scored his first international goal here in Skopje, on a night when David Beckham claimed he was subjected to death threats and spat at.
Emile Heskey, Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell were racially abused that night, too.
With qualification and top seeding for Euro 2024 already assured, England arrived in the North Macedonian capital safe in the knowledge that the result will have no consequence for their chances of glory in Germany next summer.
Not that Southgate is feeling in any way relaxed or blase.
Gareth Southgate’s side will travel to North Macedonia for their final Euro 2024 qualifier
England know that their result on Monday will have no bearing on qualification for the Euros
Back in 2003, Wayne Rooney (pictured) scored his first England goal, David Beckham said he was subject to death threats and other players were racially abused
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‘This is absolutely an opportunity for the players to experience something a little bit different,’ said the national team boss.
‘We won’t have the comfort of Wembley next summer, tournaments are a little bit different because you have got that neutrality and a lot of our fans are always there.
‘But away games are always a good test of individual and team character.
‘When you come to these sort of stadiums… they will be hurting from the result in June (England beat them 7-0 at Old Trafford).
‘They will be disappointed they haven’t qualified so their big opportunity is to beat us. We have to be prepared for that.’
Declan Rice, who will return to the starting XI on Monday night, was three-years-old on that chaotic night. ‘I actually love playing in these types of environments,’ Rice explained.
‘I love playing away from home. I don’t know why, playing in front of a different set of fans — just that feeling of if you win on an away day that feeling you get is really special.’
Declan Rice told the media that he is relishing playing away from home on Monday night
Rice will return to England’s line-up on Monday after having a goal disallowed against Malta
While nothing as monumental or controversial is likely to happen two decades on, there is plenty Southgate can learn about his team.
Following Kieran Trippier’s withdrawal from the squad on Sunday morning due to a personal issue, the England head coach was left scratching his head with regards to who he might pick at left back.
Generally speaking, it has been a problem position for Southgate. Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell are injured and without Trippier, England are short.
Fikayo Tomori started at left back against Malta on Friday night but was hooked at half-time.
So, here in Eastern Europe, Southgate is considering handing Manchester City youngster Rico Lewis his full debut in a position he has played only sporadically under Pep Guardiola.
England have a left-back problem with Southgate admitting Rico Lewis is a potential solution
Lewis has rarely played left-back for Manchester City but Southgate praised his versatility
‘He is an option. He’s a versatile player. I’m really pleased with how he’s trained, he’s settled really well. He’s very comfortable with the ball,’ said Southgate.
‘He’s played there a few times —he’s played everywhere for City.’
Asked whether Lewis’ long-term future will be as a central midfielder, Southgate added: ‘Quite possibly, that’s where he sees himself at the moment. He’s very comfortable receiving in those areas.
‘It’s hard to say because City are quite unique in how they play. At junior level, he’s come through their academy at full-back, then this hybrid midfield role since then.
‘Sometimes with young players it’s great for their development to play different positions and in a couple of years maybe that will be a little bit clearer.’
What is clear is that Lewis will gladly answer Southgate’s left back conundrum on Monday night against a team who have lost four of their seven Group C games.
Lewis said that he would ‘relish’ playing ‘anywhere’ as he aims to make his international debut
‘Of course (I’d play left back). Anywhere I play, I would relish it,’ the 18-year-old Lewis said.
‘Whether it is right back, midfield, left back — I am not really bothered. I just love playing football and at the moment it is going really well. Any opportunity I get, I will do my best to take it.’
Given the opposition, Southgate is likely to be more expansive in his tactical set-up on Monday — which could mean another run out for full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold in a midfield role after impressing in England’s engine room against Malta.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (left) could play in midfield again after impressing there against Malta
That said, when Euro 2024 swings around next summer Southgate will be tempted to revert to his tried and tested double pivot system that has served his tournament approaches so well.
‘I understand Gareth — how he works, wanting two holding midfield players,’ added Rice.
‘I know the public wants to see so much attacking flair, but as a manager, I’d be the same, in terms of wanting that security and protection, whether it is me or someone else, who can gets forwards as well.
‘The balance has been really good over the last few years.’
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