The Three Lions eased to a 4-0 win over Malta on Friday night, while their visitors suffered late heartache against Ukraine in a 3-2 defeat.
The naysayers will point to the calibre of opposition, but the optimists will rejoice in a stellar Trent Alexander-Arnold performance during England’s comfortable win over Malta, as the Liverpool man excelled in the Three Lions’ four-goal success in Ta’ Qali.
Firstly providing an inch-perfect long ball over the top for Bukayo Saka to send in a cross – which Ferdinando Apap diverted into his own net – Alexander-Arnold made the most of his new-found midfield freedom by scoring a peach of a second from long range.
Harry Kane and Callum Wilson subsequently made the net ripple from 12 yards as England picked up where they left off in Group C, having also put Ukraine and Italy to the sword in March to quickly cement their status as group leaders, sitting six points clear at the summit albeit having played a game more than the trio of teams on three points.
With a Harry Styles concert taking place at Wembley on Saturday, England – who are only heading in one direction in Group C – will be expected to put on their own show at the Theatre of Dreams as they go in search of a sixth win from seven games in all tournaments, and their home record in Euros qualifying speaks for itself.
Indeed, the Three Lions have won each of their last 11 continental qualifiers on home soil since a 2-2 draw with Switzerland in 2011 – scoring at least twice in each of their last 10 – and North Macedonia hardly travel to Manchester in the best of spirits.
While England were busy breaking Malta hearts, North Macedonia were also in dreamland during the visit of Ukraine on Friday evening, as Enis Bardhi and Eljif Elmas propelled Blagoja Milevski’s men into a two-goal lead before the half-time whistle sounded.
However, whatever Sergiy Rebrov told his troops at half time worked a treat, as Ukraine came out a different beast in the second half and turned the match on its head through Ilya Zabarnyi, Yukhym Konoplya and Viktor Tsygankov, with Chelsea’s Mykhaylo Mudryk setting up his nation’s equaliser and dramatic late winner.
A red card for Visar Musliu midway through the second half did not help matters for North Macedonia, who are now fourth in the section as one of three sides sitting on three points, having edged past Malta 2-1 on the opening matchday.
With the goal of qualifying for Euro 2024 after making their inaugural yet brief appearance at Euro 2020, the Lynxes head to Old Trafford having scored in their last six games at this stage – while only losing two of their last seven European Championship qualifying games away from home – and England have failed to blow North Macedonia away in their previous four meetings.
The Three Lions are unsurprisingly unbeaten against their upcoming visitors, picking up two wins and two draws since 2006, but they have only scraped a pair of 2-1 and 1-0 victories while being held to a goalless draw in a Euro 2008 qualifier, which coincidentally also took place under the Old Trafford floodlights.
England Euro Champ Qualifying form:
England form (all competitions):
North Macedonia Euro Champ Qualifying form:
North Macedonia form (all competitions):
We say: England 3-0 North Macedonia
Even with all-time top goalscorer Goran Pandev hanging up his boots, North Macedonia rarely have any trouble making the net ripple these days, and the Lynxes have proven to be a stern test for England in meetings gone by.
However, Southgate’s England remained professional in Malta and were able to conserve their energy by taking their foot off the gas in the second half, and a beleaguered North Macedonia crop should be put to the sword with consummate ease.