England head into a World Cup qualification double-header this weekend knowing their place in Russia next summer is still up for grabs.
Manager Gareth Southgate will be taking nothing for granted with the Three Lions two points clear at the top of Group F.
Here, we look at the major talking points ahead of the trip to Malta and Slovakia’s visit to Wembley.
How is the fixture list looking?
England have four games remaining to seal their place in Russia, starting with what should be a simple exercise away to Malta. Pietro Ghedin’s side are ranked 190th in the world and have been eliminated from World Cup contention, losing all six of their games to date. Lithuania are also struggling in Group F and, although Southgate will be hoping the job of qualification is complete before a trip to Vilnius in the final game, the Three Lions boss will fancy his chances if points are required.
Potential hazards along the way
England’s main threats are likely to come from their two remaining home qualifiers against the strongest opposition in the group. Slovakia, who narrowly lost to England in Sam Allardyce’s only game at the helm, visit Wembley on Monday night knowing a surprise win could see them jump to the top of the group. Slovenia occupy third spot but are still in the running and they held England to a goalless draw when the pair met in Ljubljana back in October.
Can England reign without Wayne?
This will be the first game since former captain Wayne Rooney announced his retirement from the international stage. England’s all-time leading goalscorer has been on the periphery of the squad in recent months but could have expected a recall following his decent start to the season at Everton. Instead, it will now be time for other players to fill the void in experience left by Rooney’s now-permanent departure.
Time for young lions to roar
Part of the reason Rooney had found it difficult to break into Southgate’s reckoning has been the manager’s intent to bring through young and precocious talent. The former England Under-21 boss knows plenty of the promising talent from back in the day and the likes of Nathaniel Chalobah and Harry Maguire will be hoping for game time to impress having started life at their new clubs – Watford and Leicester respectively – in fine form.
The gloves are off in battle to be first-choice stopper
It remains to be seen who will be handed the number one shirt for the forthcoming fixtures. Joe Hart is the most experienced of the current crop and could even be a potential pick to captain the side – but there is competition for the man on loan at West Ham. Jack Butland is now back fit and performing well for Stoke while Burnley’s Tom Heaton is another goalkeeper in form while Jordan Pickford is only not an option having been forced to withdraw through injury.