Sam Allardyce is ready for the biggest game of his life as he kicks off his England tenure tonight.
The Three Lions begin their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign where Slovakia are their opponents to begin Group F.
New manager Allardyce will hope that his squad can fare better than England’s last clash with Slovakia back in June, when Roy Hodgson’s men could only manage a 0-0 draw in their Euro 2016 group.
The clash in Trnava is arguably Big Sam’s toughest of the campaign where a win would get the new boss off to the best possible start.
Here is all you need to know ahead of the game…
1. When is the match and where can I see it?
The match, taking place at the Stadion Antona Malatinskeho (try saying that fast) in Slovakia. Kick-off is at 5pm UK time on Sunday September 4 and will be broadcast live on ITV and ITV HD.
2. Team news
Slovakia Coach Jan Kozak has rung the changes to the squad that faced England at Euro 2016, losing the likes of Vladimir Weiss, Jan Mucha, Miroslav Stoch and Stanislav Sestak- players that have a combined 223 international caps between them. Among those included in Kozak’s side are Napoli’s Marek Hamsik, and Slovakia captain/former Liverpool stalwart (ish) Martin Skrtel. There are also call-ups for uncapped pair Jakub Holubek and Jackub Povazanec.
Big Sam sprung a few surprises with his first squad announcement, most notably with the omissions of Ross Barkley and Jack Wilshere.
Michail Antonio could earn his first international cap and Leicester’s Dany Drinkwater has been recalled to the squad, after his Euro 2016 disappointment.
An arm injury for Southampton keeper Fraser Forster which forced him to withdraw from the squad, has given Joe Hart a reprieve and the former Manchester City man now looks set to start in goal, despite missing England training this week to finalise his loan move to Torino.
3. Predicted sides
Slovakia: Matus Kozacik, Peter Pekarik, Martin Skrtel, Jan Durica, Tomas Hubocan, Juraj Kucka, Viktor Pecovsky, Marek Hamsik, Ondreji Duda, Robert Mak, Michal Duris
England: Joe Hart, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Gary Cahill, Danny Rose, Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling, Wayne Rooney, Adam Lallana, Harry Kane.
4. Reasons for Slovakia fans to be optimistic
- Slovakia earned themselves an impressive draw against England in June, up against all odds, so why can’t they expect the same result or, even go one better this time?
- Star man Marek Hamsik is certain to produce an impressive performance on the night, and may be able to exploit an England side still getting to grips with their expected defensive structure under Sam Allardyce.
- Considering Slovakia’s ability when compared to the other sides in the group, should it go wrong on Sunday, there remains plenty of points still up for grabs and you would fancy Slovakia’s chances to snatch some.
5. Reasons for England fans to be optimistic
- Let’s all pretend World Cup 2012, Euro 2016 and Roy Hodgson just never happened… we now have proud Englishman Sam Allardyce at the helm, and there seems to be a new feel good factor reinstalled amongst the squad.
- A debut for West Ham’s Michail Antonio could be on the cards on Sunday, with the powerful winger set to be let loose in an attacking role, and will want to impress given the chance in his preferred position, as opposed to being locked in defensive shackles under Slaven Bilic with the Hammers.
- Although Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge are both yet to get off the mark so far domestically, Jamie Vardy opened his account impressively against Swansea last weekend, and will certainly have unfinished business with Slovakia after failing to impress in the last meeting in June.
6. Previous meetings
Slovakia 0-0 England (Euro 2016)
England 4-0 Slovakia (International Match, 2009
England 2-1 Slovakia (Euro 2004 qualifying, 2003)
Slovakia 1-2 England (Euro 2004 qualifying, 2002)
7. Recent form
Slovakia last 5 games:
0-3 vs Germany (Euro 2016)
0-0 vs England (Euro 2016)
2-1 vs Russia (Euro 2016)
1-2 vs Wales (Euro 2016)
0-0 vs Northern Ireland (International Match)
England last 5 games:
1-2 vs Iceland (Euro 2016)
0-0 vs Slovakia (Euro 2016)
2-1 vs Wales (Euro 2016
1-1 vs Russia (Euro 2016)
1-0 vs Portugal (International Match)
8. Slovakia’s key man
It’s hard to look past attacking midfielder Marek Hamsik when pointing out a danger man for Slovakia. Despite a questionable haircut, the Napoli man continues to impress both domestically and for the national side, chipping in with a stunning goal against Russia, during Slovakia’s run to the round of 16 at Euro.
Amid persistent links away from Napoli, Hamsik has frequently reaffirmed his commitment to the side, despite the fact his talent could be enjoyed at a club bigger than the Serie A side.
Allardyce will hope his side can remain defensively tight, plugging any gaps between midfield and defence, that Hamsik often loves to exploit.
9. England’s key man
Fresh off the back of announcing his international retirement, albeit three years in advance, Wayne Rooney will be hoping to impress in his first outing under Allardyce, and is likely to feature in a role similar to the one he has opened the season with under Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.
Rooney had an average Euro 2016 campaign by his own high standards, having his leadership credentials severely questioned in the process, with suggestions he could lose the captaincy as a result. Allardyce’s direct show of faith in the Manchester United man after awarding him the armband once more, will be in the spotlight on Sunday, but, a player with the talent of Rooney is more than capable of silencing any critics.
10. Betting odds from Unibet
11. Quote corner
Sam Allardyce: “I didn’t watch them (Slovakia) in the Euros because I think different tactics will be used by Slovakia when they are playing at home. They only needed a point in the Euros, so they sat back and were very defensively minded and really chose not tot attack at all because they only needed a point.
“I think the onus is on them to come and attack us and win their home game, it will be very important for them and their manager and that might hopefully leave our creative players a little bit more space to break them down where they failed in the Euros.”