England host Slovenia in the next round of EURO 2016 qualifiers, England currently top the group after making an impressive start and have a 100% record in the group by winning all their three games. Slovenia are surprise contenders in the group and are second behind England with 6 points from as many games.
The game will come as a litmus test for the Slovenian side who haven’t been able to muster much in International football but an England team blighted by injuries could give them an opportunity to do some damage at Wembley.
Both teams had to work hard against Estonia, with England only scraping through and Slovenia losing their only game of the campaign to the lowly ranked European nation.
The last time the two teams met was in the World Cup in 2010 when a solitary Jermaine Defoe goal gave England the victory.
Leighton Baines has been ruled out from this fixture, the Everton and England left back sustained an injury during qualification and has returned to Everton to treat the hamstring injury that he picked up, he will also miss the friendly against Scotland in Glasgow on Tuesday. Luke Shaw would have been handed a start but England did not register him in time in the 23 man squad and Kieran Gibbs would get the nod to play in the left back role.
Michael Carrick and Andros Townsend miss out on the squad due to injury and Daniel Sturridge still has not recovered from various injuries to get back to the English setup.
West Bromwich Albion’s impressive striker, Saido Berahino could get a chance to make his debut at some point during the game; the striker has been on form for the past 18 months and should play a part at Wembley if things go according to plan.
Raheem Sterling, who was in the news for all the wrong reasons in the last international break should start, he would be playing behind the two strikers, Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney and Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck. Rooney will be looking to join the 100 international caps club, this would be his 100th international appearance for England and he would be the 9th player to achieve the feat.
There could be a surprise inclusion of Stewart Downing who has started this season brilliantly for West Ham United. The winger has been away from the England national team since 2012 but some great performances for the Hammers has brought the winger back in contention and could get the nod to play in Hodgson’s 4-2-3-1.
Slovenia face no major injury concerns and would be looking to play the same XI that beat Switzerland earlier in the competition. They have also been bolstered by the news that Palermo defender Sinisa Andelkovic has returned to the squad after a year and a half out while Mirai Samardzic also returns.
England’s strike force vs. Handanovic
The Slovenian goalkeeper could have his hands full dealing with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, Rooney will be looking to continue his goal scoring for the England team after helping them to a narrow 1-0 win over Estonia last time around. The Inter Milan goalkeeper would have to be on top form to keep the pair out and give Slovenia a chance of a point against the group leaders.
Sterling vs. Cesar
Raheem Sterling has not been on form since the start of the season and was in the middle of an unwanted discussion regarding the tiredness of the 19 year old. The Liverpool attacker would get another chance to do well against a Slovenian side who are looking to script an upset, Cesar, a centre back for Chievo would be up for that and would be looking to stop the English attacker.
The English midfield vs. The Slovenian midfield
Steven Gerrard has long gone and the youngsters are now getting an opportunity to play, Henderson, Milner and Wilshere would be the 3 men in midfield and it would be a test to see how they can cope with a well drilled and disciplined Slovenian midfield. England do not have much creativity stemming out from the midfield. The runs by Henderson and Milner would become all the more critical against the team who would want to hit on the counter.
England are ranked 20th according to the FIFA rankings, this is their lowest rank since June 1996 when they were 24th.
England, along with Iceland and Croatia are the only teams who have not conceded a goal in EURO 2016 qualification.
Novakovic, the 35 year old for Slovenia has scored all their goals in the qualifying campaign.
A win for England would be their 5th in a row; this would be the national team’s longest winning streak since 2008.
A shut out by England would attain them their 6th clean sheet in a row, their best streak since 2006.
There has been a lot of pre match talk about the condition of the Wembley pitch with an NFL game being played there only 6 days ago.
Roy Hodgson had sent his assistant, Gary Neville to inspect the pitch, the England manager stated
“It wasn’t as worrying as some of the other reports which have come my way. The bottom line is the pitch is the pitch. We’ve prepared to play the game tomorrow. I’ll leave any further discussions until after the game. I will wait and see, but I was encouraged by Gary – who is instinctively a critical person – not coming back damning its condition totally. We’ve been all week preparing for the worst, but let’s see.”
The Slovenia coach is hopeful of exploiting the conditions of the pitch as he takes his 36th ranked team to face the three lions.
“The pitch will be in the same condition for both teams,” he said. “Even if it is not in perfect condition the better team will still have an advantage. If there is rain or it is muddy it is, up to a point, an advantage for the team that is defending because the ball is harder to control. I don’t care, we must play here and we can’t change.”
Possible Line ups
England Starting XI: Hart, Jagielka, Gibbs, Cahill, Chambers, Henderson, Milner, Wilshere, Sterling, Rooney, Welbeck
Slovenia Starting XI: Handanovic, Brecko, Cesar, Ilic, Struna, Kampl, Mertelj, Birsa, Kirm, Novakovic, Ljubijankic
Quotes courtesy: The Guardian
Picture courtesy: Sky Sports