England face Slovenia on Tuesday night in their second World Cup qQualifier of the international break and Gareth Southgate’s ad-hoc interim era.
Currently 55 places below the Three Lions in the FIFA rankings, the vast majority see Tuesday’s result as a foregone conclusion, with Southgate’s boys more than likely limping their way to a one or two-goal win as Slovenia reluctantly accept their place in international football’s pecking order.
But Slovenia are a lot more dangerous than they may seem. Whilst England struggled to get past Malta on Saturday, unconvincingly winning 2-0, Slovenia claimed an underdog victory at home to Slovakia, propelling them to third place – just two points behind England in Group F.
With that in mind and a defeat likely to push England fans beyond the point of despair, we’ve listed three Slovenia danger men the Three Lions must be wary of.
Goalkeeper and danger man may seem juxtaposing terms – indeed, it’s usually the former’s job to keep the latter from fulfilling his moniker’s prophecy – but Jan Oblak has just cause to be seen as the exception to the rule. The Atletico Madrid No.1 is an incredibly talented goalkeeper, claiming the most La Liga clean sheets since the start of last season with a whopping 29 in his last 45 appearances, and his shot-stopping ability borders upon world-class. Considering England’s eternal struggles to put the ball into the back of the net, the 23-year-old’s performance could well be what decides the outcome of Tuesday’s clash.
The Fiorentina star was in fantastic form last season, claiming 13 goals and five assists in 30 Serie A appearances whilst averaging 1.6 created chances per match. Josip Ilicic hasn’t quite managed to match that output in 2016/17, producing just two set-ups in the Italian top flight thus far, but remains his country’s standout creative influence and is one just five players in the Slovenia squad to have scored more than once at international level. The attacking midfielder can operate out wide or centrally and will look to occupy space between England’s defensive lines.
Milivoje Novakovic may now be 37 years of age but he’s still a crucial part of Slovenia’s starting XI, as the second-top scorer in the country’s history and the 6 foot 4 focal point of their attack. The veteran target man’s return at international level, 31 goals in 78 appearances, is certainly nothing to be sniffed at and with Phil Jagielka out injured, it will be Chris Smalling’s duty to match Novakovic physically. That being said, the Maribor man’s not found the net for his country since September 2015 – although one of his goals did come against England three months prior.