With the furore surrounding the release of FIFA’s report into accusations of corruption during the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting process, you shouldn’t be blamed if an England qualifier taking place at Wembley tomorrow evening completely slipped your mind.
Qualification for the 2016 European Championships looks a foregone conclusion for Roy Hodgson’s men. The level of competition within Group E and growing sense of irrelevance towards the England team has severely contributed to the nation’s lack of interest.
The build-up to the match against Slovenia has generally ignored any tactical or selection issues for Roy Hodgson and centred around the all too familiar debate over Wayne Rooney’s standing in the England legend pecking order. The captain is set to make his 100th appearance for the Three Lions against Slovenia on Saturday.
In truth there aren’t any significant problems for Hodgson. Maximum qualification points and three clean sheets highlight the easy start and you would expect the team that has served him well so far to be retained.
Stewart Downing has been rewarded for his resurgent form at West Ham by earning a recall to the squad, and there is a maiden senior call up for Saido Berahino. The West Brom striker is the leading English scorer in the Premier League this season with seven goals, but both he and Downing are likely to start on the bench at Wembley.
The Rooney and Welbeck partnership will continue in Daniel Sturridge’s ongoing absence, with the diamond midfield also being retained despite the temptation to return to a system that incorporates returning Arsenal winger Theo Walcott.
Andros Townsend and Michael Carrick have already been withdrawn from the squad due to injury and without Fabian Delph, recovering from a dislocated shoulder, there is a midfield place up for grabs. Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson should keep their spot so either James Milner or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will get the nod to support Wilshere in his new deeper lying role.
Raheem Sterling’s place may be under threat following recalls for Walcott and Ross Barkley, although they may have to wait until the friendly with Scotland on Tuesday to displace the Liverpool man. A welcome silence around Sterling following last month’s tired debacle should allow him to focus on showing fans why he is there to begin with. Despite not starting the game he made a telling contribution to help England maintain their perfect start to qualification with a 1-0 win in Estonia.
In defence, the only question is at right back. Nathaniel Clyne certainly deserves his chance having been overlooked by Hodgson against both San Marino and Estonia, but Calum Chambers may still start.
Opponents Slovenia are currently England’s main threat in Group E following Switzerland’s slow start. Sitting second on six points, experienced Inter Milan goalkeeper Samir Handanović will be key to their hopes of frustrating England, and with striker Milivoje Novaković scoring three goals in three qualifiers already the home side will need to remain both patient in attack and vigilant at the back.
Predicted Starting XI: (4-4-2) Hart / Clyne, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines / Wilshere, Henderson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sterling / Rooney, Welbeck
Prediction: England 2-0 (Sterling and Rooney)
***This post originally appeared on my blog @boxtoboxfooty. Go check it out over at http://www.boxtoboxfootball.net***