15 November 2014 1700 hours UTC
England resume their Euro 2016 Group E Qualification campaign when they take on second placed Slovenia on Saturday at Wembley. After the disaster that was their World Cup campaign earlier in the year, England have been fairly consistent in friendlies as well as competitive matches. While The Three Lions may not have impressed anyone, they did notch a vital win against Switzerland who were perceived to be the toughest team in their Euro Qualification group. England currently top the group with 9 points with Slovenia and Lithuania both sitting in second spot with 6 points. The game has more significance, obviously, to Slovenia from a qualification perspective but England would not want to lose their top standing in their group especially in front of what promises to be a capacity crowd at the home of English football.
Team news, formation and Tactics
The game on Saturday will be marked by England and Manchester United captain, Wayne Rooney, winning his 100th international cap leaving him 25 shy of Peter Shilton as the most capped English player. Rooney, with 43 international goals for his country, is also chasing Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 goals. He will most definitely be one of the first names to go onto Roy Hodgson’s team sheet come Saturday.
Joe Hart will be entrusted with goalkeeping duties as England look to get a sixth successive clean sheet, a national record. In front of Hart, Chelsea man Gary Cahill and Everton defender Phil Jagielka should be able to start in their regular centre back pairing. The pair have worked well for England and with Phil Jones injured and Chris Smalling not favoured by the manager for the central defensive pairing, the duo of Cahill and Jagielka have little to worry about in terms of job security. Right back would be an interesting choice to make for Roy Hodgson. Liverpool right back Glen Johnson is ruled out due to injury and in the absence of his first choice, Hodgson will have Arsenal’s Calum Chambers, Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne and Manchester United’s Chris Smalling to choose from for the position. Clyne has been instrumental in The Saints having the meanest defense by far, having conceded only 5 goals in 11 games. Clyne is currently playing as part of a well tuned defensive line at his club, has made more successful tackles than any other player in the league (37 in 11 games), and is a potent force going forward. Calum Chambers on the other hand seems to be exactly what he is, a 19 year old being played out of position in a floundering team. Smalling is good in one on one situations but his spatial awareness and reading of the game is severely lacking. He is easily drawn into fouls. On this evidence alone, it would seem obvious that Clyne would start on the right side of defense. The only thing that might upset this selection would be Hodgson’s predilection towards playing the Arsenal man, as has been evidenced in previous English games. The choice on left seems to be simpler. Both Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw are in decent nick and have fairly similar games. Expect Hodgson to give preference to experience and choose Leighton Baines over Shaw. It does not hurt matters that the Everton player is an expert at scoring off set pieces.
Midfield is again a mixed bag for Roy Hodgson and his England side. Given the lack of top class wide midfield or wing options, a diamond formation in midfield seems more likely as well as feasible. The injury to Spurs winger Andros Townsend is particularly hurtful to England in this case. Gerrard and Lampard, who had been mainstays of the English midfield have both retired from international football. Michael Carrick was recalled to the squad on his return from injury but has suffered a groin injury and will not participate in any of the games on this international break. In effect, this leaves the English midfield devoid of a lot of experience. Hodgson must chose his four man midfield from Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), James Milner (Manchester City), Stewart Downing (West Ham), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), and Ross Barkley (Everton). On evidence of current form Milner would slot into the right side of midfield while Oxlade-Chamberlain can play the corresponding position on the left. Wilshere will play the deeper midfield role allowing Henderson to play the attacking midfield role. Upfront England would look to play a two pronged attack with Rooney and Welbeck. It would truly be a travesty if Rooney were pushed to the left and Welbeck asked to fetch the ball from deep in the midfield in order to increase one more body in midfield since that is a waste of both the aforementioned players’ strengths. In fact, if it does seem like either is unable to break the deadlock, then in form West Brom striker Saido Berahino may be substituted on in the last 30 minutes or so to give some more bite to the English attack.
Probable XI (4-4-2 diamond): Hart; Baines, Jagielka, Cahill, Clyne; Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Milner, Henderson; Rooney, Welbeck
The good news for England is that Slovenia would be without a lot of their stars. Players like Bojan Jokic, Rene Khrin, and Tim Matavz who play for sides in La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A are missing for a variety of reasons. Slovenia will however still be able to play their impressive backline marshaled by experienced captain Bostjan Cesar of Chievo in the Serie A. However, the absence of their star players has left Slovenia a bit hamstrung going forward. The four strikers picked in the squad to face England have a grand total of 34 goals between them, 28 of which belong to 35 year old Shimizu S-Pulse striker, Milivoje Novakovic. Midfield duties would rest chiefly on Maribor’s Damjan Bohar and Fiorentina’s Jasmin Kurtic.
Probable XI (4-4-2): Handanovic; Struna, Cesar, Illic, Brecko; Kirm, Bohar, Kurtic, Kampl; Ljubijankic, Novakovic
Key Match Facts
- England are on a five match clean sheet streak. Getting a sixth one against Slovenia would set a national record.
- The two sides have only played each other twice with the English side winning both times by a solitary goal.
- Wayne Rooney will play his 100th game for England, becoming the youngest English player (at 29 years) to receive as many international caps.
England 1 – 0 Slovenia
England may be able to secure their clean sheet for the match thanks to the relatively limited threat of the Slovenes especially through the creaking legs of Novakovic. However, the Slovenian defense could prove a hard nut to crack especially given England’s own ineptitude going forward. The game might very well come down to a scrappy goalmouth finish by Jagielka off a corner or a Leighton Baines special freekick buried into the goal from some way out.
Blast from the past
England met Slovenia in the 2010 World Cup Group C clash at Port Elizabeth. This was a must win game for England and they won 1-0 thanks to a Jermain Defoe goal in the first half.