Slovenia v England preview: the visitors look to continue their 100% record

Slovenia v England preview: the visitors look to continue their 100% record

England will be hoping to build upon their 2-0 victory over Malta on Saturday.

Chris Lincoln

2-0 win, perfect record after two games and top of the group. A satisfactory start to 2018 World Cup qualification? Not for the hardest fans to please in the World's most popular sport.

In truth, England never looked in doubt of conceding against Malta, let alone dropping points. Yet England fans expect victory in every game, particualrly against so-called "lesser opposition" where a goal feast is the only mark of success. Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli conjured up a goal apiece but the 82,000 strong Wembley crowd endured a lacklustre performance with a disappointing number of goals, despite earning another three points.

Are the media and fans correct in their criticism of captain Rooney?

The man who has come under the most criticism after that performance is a familar target of the cynics. He may be England's all-time top goalscorer and the captain of the nation but Wayne Rooney seems to have been the scapegoat for both club and country lately. The argument is that he no longer scores enough goals, though naturally he will find the back of the net less from a deeper position.

His colleagues have been fast to jump to his defence, with Saturday's man of the match Jordan Henderson explaining the instructions for "one of us to hold back when we attack so we don't get left short numbered if we lose the ball".

Rooney rarely lost the ball, often "winning it back" as Henderson explained, before laying it off to the Liverpool man who spent the entire evening spraying the ball into dangerous positions. Yet Rooney is expected to drop to the bench on Tuesday when the Three Lions take on Slovenia.

What tactics will Southgate employ?

Interim boss Gareth Southgate is set to ensure he surpasses the grand total of one game in charge, as attributed to Sam Allardyce, with England finally able to say they have played more matches than had head coaches. On Saturday it was three from three.

A keen note of interest will be what team and in which formation Southgate will start with in Slovenia. Employing a defensive outset by nature following his career as a centre-back, the former England international was arguably too defensive against Malta, preceeding with two defensive midfielders against such lowly ranked opposition.

Southgate got off to a winning start on Saturday (photo: Getty Images)
Southgate got off to a winning start on Saturday (photo: Getty Images / Bryn Lennon)

100% record against Slovenia

England have a perfect record against Slovenia, with four wins from four, including a 3-2 victory in June 2015 after a Jack Wilshere masterclass. That game was the only one of England's last seven qualification games where they have not kept a clean sheet, whilst the hosts have netted on three out of the four occassions they have taken on the Three Lions.

It was also the only one of nine home games that Slovenia suffered a defeat. Though England travel to the Stadion Stozice on the back of an excellent unbeaten qualification record that spans 31 matches, including 14 consecutive wins. However only one of England's squad has netted against Slovenia. That man? Wayne Rooney.

The engine room battle

Tuesday's game is likely to be won and lost in midfield. England conjured a mammoth 832 passes against Malta and have also fired 87 shots in their past four matches, scoring just four. A tough Slovenia outfit will not allow Engand as much time and space, thus the visitors will have to take any chances they can create from midfield.

If anyone is in doubt of Slovenia's capabilities, they defeated Slovakia on Saturday, the side that held England to a 0-0 draw at Euro 2016 - and only a 95th minute winner from Adam Lallana could defeat them last month. Defensive midfielder Rene Krhin kept Marek Hamsik quiet at the weekend, whilst the creative forces of Valter Birsa and Josip Ilicic will use their Serie A nous to put a shaky England defence under pressure.

England will be expected to make it three wins from three qualifiers on Tuesday but Slovenia could be a potential early banana skin for Gareth Southgate to deal with.