There’s still no Daniel Sturridge, and Fabian Delph is injured but, that aside, Roy Hodgson has pretty much a first-choice squad to choose from. The likelihood is that he will again set England out in a diamond, with Raheem Sterling behind Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck. Jack Wilshere will probably again be deployed at the holding player in midfield, flanked by Jordan Henderson and, in Delph’s absence, James Milner.
With Glen Johnson left out of the squad because of his lack of first-team football (which doesn’t seem a problem for Rickie Lambert), Nathaniel Clyne looks likely to make his debut alongside Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines. Slovenia have the defender Sinisa Andjelkovic back after a long-term injury, while Miral Samardzic has also been added to the squad.
THE ILICIC ISSUE
The biggest story in Slovenia is the decision of Josip Ilicic to make himself unavailable for selection. The Fiorentina attacking midfielder is the highest profile outfielder in the squad, a creative talent who, on his day, can control matches. The problem is that his days don’t come along that frequently, particularly not for the national team.
After the defeat away to Estonia at the beginning of qualifying. Srecko Kataenc took drastic action and dropped Ilicic from his squad. He said he intended the move as a “stimulation”, that he wanted Ilicic to come back, score at Wembley and insult him for having doubted him, but instead Ilicic decided he cannot work under Katanec.
The 51-year-old achieved unimagined success with Slovenia in his first spell in charge, taking them to the finals of Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup, but his relationship with Zlatko Zahovic, the creative star of that time, was never easy and they fell out spectacularly in South Korea. He never got along with Goran Pandev when coach of FYR Macedonia either: steadiness and industry are very much Katanec’s watchwords.
Katanec has opted for a 4-1-3-2 in each of the last two games and, without Ilicic, is likely to do the same again. Milivoje Novakovic is a tall and awkward leader of the line who has scored nine times since being recalled to the side by Katanec last year, but he is the sort of muscular player Cahill is ideally suited to thwarting. Kevin Kampl of Salzburg will probably play just off him, and could exploit any defensive vulnerabilities around Wilshere. Of the line of three, only Andraz Kirm played against both Switzerland and Lithuania. Kirm, the left-sided player, will be a test for Chambers, but on the other flank, Baines may be able to get forward against either Nejc Pecnik or Valter Birsa.
There’s then a choice at the back of midfield between the card-magnet Delibor Stevanovic (three yellows, two equalling a red against Estonia, in just 124 minutes in this campaign) or Ales Mertelj. Or, if Katanec goes particularly defensive, he could bring in the Maribor giant Zeljko Filipovic.
THE PARADOX OF ENGLAND’S STRENGTH
The biggest strength of this England side is its pace in forward areas, something that will become even more pronounced when Sturridge returns to the side, or if Theo Walcott finds a place. That means England should be at their most effective on the break – as they were in Switzerland - but they are unlikely to be able to demonstrate that in the rest of qualifying against teams who will sit deep against them. That probably means a frustrating 18 months that tell us little about England’s prospects at the tournament itself.
THE HEART OF SLOVENIA’S DEFENCE
It’s the centre of defence that might persuade Katanec to add an extra holder. Bostjan Cesar, once of West Brom, will take Zahovic’s record as the most-capped Slovenia player if he starts but neither he nor his central defensive partner, Branko Ilic, are regulars with their clubs, Chievo and Partizan respectively. Cesar is 32, Ilic 31, and neither is the quickest. They will sit deep, but if England can isolate them, they could be vulnerable to the pace of Welbeck or Sterling.
England should win, but at 1.30 look too short. Slovenia are at the very least dogged, so while it’s possible England could win by two or three if they get an early goal, there’s probably some value on backing Slovenia +1.25 at 2.10 on the Asian lines.
Novakovic has scored all of Slovenia’s three goals in qualifying so far and is in rich form, and can be backed at 8.00 to score at any time, although given the likelihood of this being high-scoring, it’s probably worth taking him at 14.00 to score the game’s first goal.