England sit atop their World Cup qualifying group as things stand, but Slovakia are hot on their heels in second place. With just two points separating the sides, an England defeat would see them relinquish their place at the top of Group F with just two further fixtures remaining.
Friday’s edgy win over Malta did little to convince anyone that England are home and dry as they attempt to stay ahead of the chasing pack. The previous qualifying match between England and Slovakia was a narrow and unconvincing win for the Three Lions in Trnava, with Adam Lallana’s last-minute winner sealing victory for Sam Allardyce in his first – and only – match as England boss.
Gareth Southgate will not allow his players to lose focus, especially given Slovakia’s excellent recent form in Group F. After two losses at the start of the qualifying campaign, they have bounced back to win all five of their last qualifiers, including an excellent performance against Slovenia on Friday.
Slovakia coach Jan Kozak has nurtured a young and threatening side, taking players from their under-21 side and handing them real opportunities in the senior team. Milan Skriniar, Ondrej Duda and Stanislav Lobotka are three youngsters to have come though under Kozak’s watch. The undoubted star man, though, is Marek Hamsik, current Napoli captain and the Slovak name most familiar to English fans.
England’s star men have not enjoyed a great start to the season, with Harry Kane even admitting on Twitter that he ‘didn’t like August’. But Kane’s double against Malta will have increased his confidence, and with so much at stake in terms of England’s standing in Group F, he and his teammates will be expected to deliver.