England left it late on Thursday evening as an insipid display against a stubborn Slovenia side threatened to end in a 0-0 draw.
The visitors had the better of the chances during the game as they threatened to take four points from two games against the Three Lions. Joe Hart had to make sure his concentration spanned the entire game as England’s defence fell asleep at the end of the game, but in the end, it was a poor decision from Slovenia’s goalkeeper that cost the visitors.
Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak was too hasty in his distribution as he gifted possession to Kyle Walker, with the right-back able to whip in his first good ball of the evening which was prodded home by Harry Kane. For such a boring game to have such a dramatic ending gave the fans some reward for their faith.
Here are the five things we learned from England’s late win:
England struggle yet again
Gareth Southgate’s team needed a win at the start of the night to secure World Cup qualification for next summer, which would also mean that any sort of wobble against Lithuania on Sunday would be meaningless, while it would also give England the chance to field their younger talents too. All of this meant an attacking display in which England put the result beyond doubt fairly early on was ideal, but it did not ever threaten to materialise.
The Three Lions looked drab and dismal throughout the encounter as they rarely threatened. Slovenia were, as expected, very well organised throughout the game. While they were compact, England were unable to show any kind of cutting edge for 90 minutes or so as passes went astray, loose touches conceded possession and there was a lack of coherence between the players.
Southgate will come up against better sides in Russia next summer which will be better than Slovenia defensively and very strong in attack. It is vital then that his side find a way to break teams down, or they won’t be playing many games in Russia.
Slovenia’s best player lets them down
Of the household names on the pitch, few of them were turning out in the colours of the away side. Indeed, England were crammed full of Premier League names, while the average fan would struggle to name many of Slovenia’s team.
However, one player that would have received a collective grown for fans was goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who plys his trade for Spanish side Atletico Madrid. Atleti are a miserly side in the league and renowned for their hard-working, solid defence. When the backline of such a good team is breached, they are reinforced by an equally talented goalkeeper.
Oblak, who is one of the world’s best goalkeepers, has been forging a name for himself in Spain then, but fingers were pointed at the shot-stopper following England’s late winner. Oblak had already been guilty of being too hasty with his distribution, but he did not learn his lesson as he threw the ball straight to Kyle Walker, who flew down the wing and fired in a cross that Harry Kane bundled past Oblak.
The goalkeeper was left sprawled on the floor, cursing his luck after he cost his side a vital point.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has another poor game in the middle
People keep on giving Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain chances in the middle and he keeps spurrning his big moments. The Ox left Arsenal to chase first-team football in central-midfield, which has not been forthcoming under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. For England, Southgate decided to put the Ox on the right-hand side as opposed to at wing-back where he has been forced to play recently, but he failed to inspire.
With his pace, he should have been offering a constant outlet on the wing, and he should have been linking up with Kane to ensure England’s starman was not isolated. In truth, the Ox was the one that was cut off from the rest of the team. Poor passes and bad decisions saw the Liverpool man hooked soon after the hour.
While some would cite that Southgate was looking to bring on fresh legs, he kept all of England’s best players, who are also most likely to score or create, on the field, with Chamberlain making way. While he has time to improve, the Ox must be careful not to become another talented youngster that failed to realise their potential.
Slovenia were the better of the two sides
With all of England’s talent, it was the visitors that shaded the contest. England had a period of five minutes in which they were fantastic, but this was preceded by a period in which they were awful. Slovenia were able to carve out a few good chances that were ultimately stopped at the last second by England. On a different day though, perhaps the visitors would have made more of their chances.
Indeed, they were indebted to Joe Hart as England’s defence was cut apart, with the goalkeeper forced to rush out bravely before making a fine follow up save as he spread himself well. With the goalkeeper so strong in one-on-one situations he was able to save his team, but a better finisher would have likely punished England.
England’s ‘attacking’ side look toothless again
It was billed as an attacking England lineup before the game, with Kane supported by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. Truthfully, the pace in the attack along with the goalscoring ability of Kane should prove to be an incredibly fearsome attack.
However, the four struggled to have any real impact on the game in the first-half as Slovenia remained tight and compact at the back. Ultimately, Southgate’s gamble to play Sterling in a central role failed to inspire as he was very slow on the ball, while the Ox continued his poor run of form as he failed to make much of an impact on the right. Rashford was a bright spot, while Kane did hit the winner, but the four struggled hugely for how talented they are.
Perhaps their troubles stemmed from their fielding of two defensive-midfielders in Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson. While the two were fielded to anchor a supposedly attacking English side, the presence of both players should have been overkill. While they did end up needing the two centre-midfielders, neither Henderson nor Dier really gives much of a creative spark which was sorely needed against Slovenia. Perhaps Southgate and his coaching team need to spend some time at the drawing board again.
England: Hart 8 – Walker 7, Stokes 6, Cahill 6, Bertrand 7 – Henderson 6, Dier 6 – Oxlade-Chamberlain 5 (Lingard 6), Sterling 6 (Keane 6), Rashford 7.5 – Kane 8.
Unused Subs: Butland, Pickford, Smalling, Trippier, Maguire, Cresswell, Defoe, Livermore, Sturridge, Winks.
Slovenia: Oblak 5 – Struna 7, Mevlja 7, Ceasr 6, Jokic 7 – Bezjak 6 (Repas 6), Krhin 6, Rotman 5 (Matavz 6), Verbic 6 – Ilicic 7.5 – Sporar 6 (Birsa 6.5).
Unused subs: Skubic, Viler, Sirok, Kuric, Belec, Mlinar Delamea, Koprivec, Bohar, Vetrih.
Referree: Felix Zwayer.
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