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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Defensive Slovakia will struggle to get on the scoresheet

England can take another step towards qualification

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could make an impact against Slovakia
1 of 1

World Cup qualifier
ITV, 7.45pm Monday

England have set the pace in Group F since Sam Allardyce led them to a 1-0 victory over Slovakia exactly a year ago and they can move to within touching distance of securing a berth at Russia 2018 by beating the Slovaks at Wembley.

The Three Lions' success in Trnava – secured with a 95th-minute goal from Adam Lallana – was hard-fought and they are likely to face plenty of resistance at the national stadium.

Slovakia must decide how they want to approach the game.

There is the massive incentive of pushing for a victory which would lift them above England with two qualifying games to go.

But coach Jan Kozak will also be mindful that his team could be dragged into a battle for second place with Scotland and Slovenia.

A point at Wembley might be the difference in holding on to second spot and they are in a better position to withstand English attacks with first-choice centre-backs Martin Skrtel and Jan Durica available after suspension.

Skrtel and Durica were key planks of the side who secured a 0-0 draw against England at Euro 2016 but Slovakia were on the back foot for much of that game and lost the shot count 16 to four.

Offensively, Slovakia rely heavily on attacking midfielder Marek Hamsik, who has scored 21 goals in 98 internationals.

Hamsik turned 30 this summer but he remains a class act and was an influential figure for Napoli last season, scoring 12 league goals.

His problem at international level is the lack of quality around him.

Slovakia's first-choice centre-forward Adam Nemec is plying his trade for Dinamo Bucharest in the Romanian top flight.

And wingers Vladimir Weiss and Robert Mak, on the books at Greek outfit PAOK and Qatari side Al-Gharafa, are some distance short of being world-class.

Slovakia are strong at the back so their gameplan is likely to revolve around keeping things tight and hoping for a moment of Hamsik magic.

England would love to have a player of Hamsik's quality in the number-ten position.

With Lallana out injured there is an obvious lack of creativity in Gareth Southgate's squad and the criticism which followed Friday's 4-0 win away to Malta was entirely justified.

Three late goals put a gloss on the scoreline as Malta tired but for 85 minutes it was a disjointed England performance with the odd scare as Malta ventured forward in search of an equaliser.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's performance was one of the few positives and his pace out wide could be the key to unlocking a Slovakia backline who are very solid in central areas.

The hosts will also need to play at a much higher tempo than they did on a warm night in Malta.

There will be no excuses against the Slovaks and Southgate's men are likely to set about their task with more energy and intent.

An experienced Slovakia side will defend with plenty of intelligence but a breakthrough moment should eventually arrive for England and there may not be much of a response from the visitors, who have failed to score in their last three matches against the Three Lions.

England to win to nil
1pt 23-20 Hills

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Team news
Eric Dier returns from suspension and is set to replace Jake Livermore in one of the holding midfield berths.

Preferred centre-backs Martin Skrtel and Jan Durica are available after suspensions.

Key stat
England have lost one of their last 21 competitive fixtures.

Slovakia are strong at the back so their gameplan is likely to revolve around keeping things tight
E.W. Terms
Sky bet