By Michael Stafford-Jones
- England play Slovenia in World Cup Qualifiying Group F on Tuesday evening
- Wayne Rooney is set to be dropped for the game, with Eric Dier replacing him
- England are hoping to extend their run of 31 qualifiers unbeaten
LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA – England take on Slovenia in their third World Cup 2018 qualifier on Tuesday, and Gareth Southgate is set to drop Captain Wayne Rooney to the bench.
The Rooney Issue
Most of the talk about the England football team recently has focused on Wayne Rooney. Many fans have been particularly vocal in their calls for him to lose his place in the side, and criticism of the captain seemed to reach its zenith on Saturday when he was booed by sections of the crowd during the Malta game.
Caretaker manager Gareth Southgate condemned the booing, and said to skysports.com after the match: “I don’t understand it but that seems to be the landscape. I have no idea how that is expected to help him.”
Despite this show of support for his captain, Southgate clearly believes it is the right move to drop him to the bench against Slovenia. Eric Dier is set to take Rooney’s defensive midfield role and has a great opportunity to continue the good form he showed in the position at Euro 2016.
The Tottenham player will line up alongside Jordan Henderson, who put in man-of-the-match display against Malta on Saturday. The Liverpool skipper and Gary Cahill are said to be the frontrunners to be named England captain for the game.
England’s New-Look Midfield
When it comes down to it, the over-riding reason why Rooney is set to be left out is the recent performances of Dier, Henderson and Dele Alli for club and country. All have excelled and deserve their places. If they play well together on Tuesday, Rooney may find himself warming the bench more frequently in future internationals.
Bayern Munich manager Carlo Ancelotti believes the future is bright for England, particularly if they continue to pick Dier and Alli. During Euro 2016, he told the Evening Standard: “This England team has a lot of potential. I like these young players that Roy Hodgson picked. I think Eric Dier has been one of the best players in the tournament.”
Ancelotti continued: “Dele Alli will be playing Champions League football next season and he will be one of the best young players in the competition.”
These are very encouraging words from arguably one of the world’s best managers and Tuesday evening’s match against Slovenia is an exciting opportunity to watch England’s new-look midfield in action.
Dier, Henderson and Alli have started together once before, when England went to Berlin in March and beat Germany 3-2 in a friendly ahead of Euro 2016. Dier headed the winner that night to cap a superb second-half comeback by the young team and, if the players can perform like that in Slovenia, England fans are in for a treat.
Will Southgate make any other changes?
Ryan Bertrand suffered a hamstring injury against Malta and was replaced by Danny Rose. The Tottenham left-back is expected to retain his place, as are the rest of the defence, who were hardly ever troubled in Saturday’s match.
Joe Hart will start once again, but there will be a new goalkeeper on the substitutes’ bench after Tom Heaton was ruled out with a minor injury. Sunderland’s Jordan Pickford has been called up for the first time to replace the Burnley stopper in the squad.
Jesse Lingard impressed against Malta and is likely to start again on the left wing. However, Theo Walcott did not play particularly well on the other wing and could conceivably be replaced by Andros Townsend, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Michail Antonio.
After scoring and looking lively on Saturday, Daniel Sturridge will almost certainly lead the line for England against Slovenia. And Marcus Rashford will probably come on at some point during the second-half again, unless Southgate decides to start him on the wing instead of Walcott.
England’s match against Slovenia kicks off at 7.45pm on Tuesday.
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