England go into their penultimate World Cup qualifier at home to Slovenia on Thursday knowing victory will be enough to take them to next summer’s tournament, while a point could still do the job depending on Slovakia’s result against Scotland.
Here, we assess five key areas of debate.
England are healthily placed five clear at the Group F summit and it would take a remarkable turnaround for them not to exit this double-header with their tournament slot settled. But it would be a big boon to get the job done at Wembley on Thursday – giving the home fans something to celebrate on the night, allowing a head start on logistical arrangements for the tournament and affording Gareth Southgate the chance to experiment somewhat with his line-up in Lithuania.
Can Kane keep going?
Harry Kane had his usual barren August and then followed up with an unstoppable September, during which he plundered 13 goals in eight games for club and country. What will October bring for the Tottenham marksman? Southgate will be hoping for a continuation of the 24-year-old’s hot streak and it would be a brave man to bet against him. Having been given the captaincy he produced compelling evidence that being named as skipper for the tournament would not dull his goal threat.
Raheem Sterling’s impactful start to the season with Manchester City, with six goals already despite not being a regular starter, is at odds with his international form. He has netted only twice for his country, the last time against Estonia in 2015, and was substituted at half-time against Malta last month. He is overdue a star turn and the management and team must help him deliver.
Clean sheets more important than caps
Joe Hart is set to make his 74th appearance against Slovenia, equalling David Seaman and topping Gordon Banks’ tally. Only Peter Shilton, with a record 125 caps, has won more among English goalkeepers. But Hart’s World Cup prospects hinge on form and performances, not past pursuits. He has conceded just three times in eight matches and produced a wonder save in the reverse fixture in Ljubljana. Another shutout would stiffen his cause with Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford hovering.
Rashford ready to be a regular
After his whirlwind elevation to full England honours, Marcus Rashford has been eased in relatively gently by Southgate. But genie escaped from the bottle again in last month’s 2-1 win over Slovakia. The youngster was at fault for the opening goal but hit back with skill and confidence, setting up one and scoring a brilliant winner. Another chance and another mature outing would increase his grip on a regular starting spot in the build-up to 2018.
Source: By PA Sport Staff
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