Netherlands v England
Friday March 23, 19:45 GMT
Live on ITV1
Only four games left before the World Cup and while there hasn't been much hype ahead of the next two games, they are absolutely crucial for the players involved in terms of trying to nail down their places in the team. While obviously club form will be a huge decider as well, the players will be aware that if they can perform in these friendlies then they will go a long way to making it to Russia.
It's a fine line between experimenting and giving your core squad game time together because it's one of only four games left so it's a really important period and there's nothing 'Friendly' about these games from an England perspective.
They've got a young squad and the core of them - six or seven you would think - are pretty sure of making it to Russia, but there's also a few positions where there are question marks.
Key positions for England
The goalkeeper is a particularly interesting position to look at. There is no stand-out candidate right now and you've got the incumbent Joe Hart, who despite being one of the most experienced players in the squad, isn't even playing for West Ham at the moment, so that's a real problem for England. Because there is not a lot of experience in the squad, Hart could be seen as really valuable but it's a dilemma for Gareth Southgate.
Also key will be the battle of the centre backs where they will need to build good partnerships that can adapt to a back three or a back four and the central midfield area which will be a balance of protection and creativity. Who he will take as squad players is also a key question right now and it's a case of versatility and experience versus young players with flare.
England need belief
The staggering fact that neither Italy or the Netherlands have qualified means that both of them will be incredibly tough to beat as they have massive points to prove.
The biggest challenge for the England manager is getting the squad believing in themselves, the team and their ultimate plan. It might seem straight-forward but it's the hardest thing to do.
These games are going to be very tight and it's not just about playing the perfect game, but how resilient you are when things are not going well and it's whether you are able to deal with that and go on to win games, something they just couldn't do in France two years ago at the Euros and ultimately the reason for the humiliating loss to Iceland. You could see the fear in every player's eyes in that game and you had guys who perform week in week out in the premier league, barely able to even pass a ball by the end of the match.
The players are under a totally different pressure when they play for England and it's a very different environment. A lot of players fear the consequences and are worried even before a game kicks off and all they can think about is if they make a mistake then they'll be hammered for it by everyone.
Fans must keep expectations realistic
A prime example of that is Raheem Sterling who gets such a hard time when he plays for England. When he plays for Manchester City he's comfortable, fans and the media are not looking for every single mistake, so he can play freely but for England he is very inhibited and he's been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism and that has been a big part of why he hasn't played to his potential at international level.
I've felt that pressure myself and remember in a World Cup game against Romania in 1998 I made an error and was taken to task massively for it. The next time I ran out on the pitch my mindset was such that I was didn't want to risk too much and wanted to play it safe, which of course is not the greatest approach to a World Cup game but that's what happens when every mistake is analysed and players are demonised for doing something wrong.
In saying that I totally understand the fans' frustration in recent years and the players have to do a lot better than they did two years ago in France of course. England's fans are magnificent when they're behind you and they will also play a big part in how well the team does in Russia.
The other side of that is raised expectations after good performances in games leading up to the World Cup and we've seen that happen too. So perhaps we need to be measured in our response to whatever happens on Friday against the Netherlands and against Italy next week, although that's not always easy.
A point on Friday would be a good result
I think this game against the Netherlands will be tough and my prediction is a 1-1 draw, which wouldn't be a bad result, but it's all about the performance and the confidence the team needs to start building over the next couple of months.
England have a reasonable group at the World Cup and there should be no excuse this time for anything that less than comfortable passage into the next round. Friday night's game represents the start of that journey towards making it out of the group.