England’s five key steps to beating Slovenia
1. Early goal
Entirely obvious, but the first goal this afternoon is likely to be utterly decisive. Should England score early, they could quite easily sit back, pick Slovenia apart on the break and win by three or four goals. More likely, however, is that Slovenia will defend deeply in two disciplined banks of four and simply play for a 0-0 draw. If this tournament has proved one thing, it is that even the most technically limited teams are very difficult to break down. For that reason, it will be essential England retain both their patience and belief.
2. Finding the real Wayne Rooney
England’s best chance of unlocking Slovenia and getting that all-important early goal clearly lies with Wayne Rooney. He has cut a frustrated, angry and isolated figure during this World Cup. It seems to be an issue of confidence and the one consolation is that it is nothing physical. Rooney is a player who has always scored in patches and one goal is all it might take for his World Cup to come alive.
3. Solving Gerrard/Lampard debate
Whatever John Terry says about Joe Cole, the simple truth is that, after Wayne Rooney, it is Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard who are most likely to unlock a defence. Deriving the best from Lampard and Gerrard has been a perennial problem for England, but it was less than a year ago that they were sharing four goals in the demolition of Croatia to secure qualification. Then, as now, they key is to keep them apart on the pitch. Gerrard should retain that free role drifting in from left and leave Lampard to time his runs into the penalty area as a deeper-lying central midfielder.
4. Defensive focus
The big danger lies in England pushing too hard, too early in the match. They have to extract pressure in a measured and calculated way and not leave defensive gaps. They should not panic even if it gets to half-time goalless. The worst possible scenario would be to over-commit and concede an unnecessary goal. Slovenia are pretty ordinary, but Milivoje Novakovic has a decent goal record and is good enough to punish defensive lapses.
5. Fan patience
After the disappointment of the Algeria game, a sense of lingering frustration and anger from the supporters in understandable. This danger has been heightened after Wayne Rooney’s post-match comments. Yet they can still best help England by staying patient. Ideally, the first goal will come early in the match, but they should also be prepared to wait. If the atmosphere starts to turn ugly after 45 minutes or an hour, it could easily transmit itself to the pitch and the England players could become paralysed by fear.