England vs Slovakia preview, betting tips and predictions: Three Lions to flex their Group F muscles
England in both halves @ 11/10 with Betfair
England to win and BTTS @ 13/5 with Betfair
England to win with a -2 handicap @ 7/2 with Betfair
England are on course to qualify for another tournament with ease, but the only team who are looking like challenging for top spot in Group F are Slovakia, at the time of writing, ahead of the first set of fixtures, the hosts are just two points ahead at the top and level on plus eight goal difference. England have won four of six games, drawing the other two, and are very much expected to beat Malta on Friday evening. Slovakia host Slovenia, in third place, so this weekend double is crucial for their hopes of clinching second and the play-off place. A shock victory at Wembley, though, and suddenly they could be in the driving seat to win the group with two games left.
The pressure to win should be much greater on England than on Friday. Slovakia cannot be underestimated, because they will cause problems having won as many games as England in the first six. At Wembley, they will hold a shape but pose threats in the midfield and on the counter attack. Dele Alli has not yet hit the heights in an England shirt, certainly not as much as he has for Tottenham, but this would be the perfect game to start. A win for England should cement top spot, and his creativity, not to mention his 45-goal partnership with Harry Kane last season, make him good value to score anytime in an England win.
Former captain Wayne Rooney has now officially retired from international football, just as his form was picking up at Everton. But Gareth Southgate has not selected him for some time, meaning the outlook of the team, particularly in attack is completely different and he a shouldn’t be missed. In the likes of Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Harry Kane, Southgate has a lot of creativity and potency to call upon. He will hope their dynamism will be too much for Slovakia.
Jermain Defoe will offer another option, most likely from the bench, and he is the perfect kind of striker to take chances from close range and in tight spaces. England should have enough ammunition to ease past Slovakia at home, but they must be patient.
Key battle: Eric Dier vs Marek Hamsik
Talking of Slovakia’s threats, their talisman is one of Europe’s most underrated midfielders. Hamsik can play as a number ten or a deep playmaker and will be more than capable of causing problems in transition. Dier is likely to play at the base of the England midfield and it will be his job to keep the Napoli man quiet.
Hamsik’s main strength is his impeccable ball control, but he is also very adept at picking a pass, so must be closed down at all times. Marking him too tightly, though, will make it easy for him to skip away from Dier, and with the way the game is likely to play out there will be a lot of space for him to play into. Before England can think about winning, they must figure out a way of shackling Hamsik, and that responsibility will likely fall on the Tottenham man.