The Numbers Game: England desperate to build momentum against Slovenia ahead of last 16

By Sports Desk June 23, 2024

England know a win, but more importantly, a performance is needed when they face Slovenia in Cologne on Tuesday. 

The Three Lions squandered the opportunity to secure qualification to the knockout stages of Euro 2024 after a lacklustre display against Denmark last time out.

Harry Kane's 18th-minute opener had given Gareth Southgate's side an early advantage but, much like in their opening 1-0 win against Serbia, England then failed to capitalise on an early lead.

This time they were punished on Thursday when Morten Hjulmand's effort from distance levelled proceedings, with Denmark perhaps unfortunate to not claim all three points. 

Many involved with England have already acknowledged they must improve and alterations are expected in an attempt to build momentum heading into the last 16, should they get there. 

Here, we use Opta data to preview the Three Lions' final Group C clash.

What's expected?

England are expected to win and top Group C, with the Opta supercomputer handing them a dominant 75.5% chance of getting the job done in Cologne.

Slovenia are predicted a meagre 10.4% likelihood of claiming a maiden triumph against their opponents in the same data-led simulations, with a draw forecast slightly higher at 14.1%. 

This will be only England and Slovenia’s second encounter at a major tournament, with the Three Lions winning 1-0 in the group stages of the 2010 World Cup, but Southgate's men have a fine record in this meeting.

Slovenia have failed to win any of their six matches against England across all competitions (D1 L5). Greece and fellow Group C side Denmark are the only opponents they have faced on more occasions (seven) without ever winning a single match.

Yet Matjaz Kek may fancy an upset here as the normally resolute England defence has come under fire at Euro 2024. The Three Lions have faced five more shots than they have attempted in Germany (17 shots, 22 faced).

They have failed to have more attempts than their opponents in five of their last seven Euros group stages (1992, 2000, 2004, 2012, 2020), something that hasn't happened in any of their last seven World Cup group stage appearances between 1998 and 2022.

England are also averaging just 8.9 shots per game at the Euros under Southgate (80 in nine games). Going into Matchday 3, that is the lowest shots per game any nation has had under a manager to take charge of them in more than five matches at the European Championship on record (since 1980).

Southgate will be desperate for his side to rediscover the creative spark that some of their star players have found so easy to muster with their clubs. 

Changes expected for England, but who will Southgate turn to?

With a plethora of attacking talent, the right blend of experience and youth, along with players picked to travel to Germany based on current form, England arrived at Euro 2024 among the favourites to win the tournament. 

However, any form of cohesion and fluidity is yet to transpire for Southgate's side as jeers echoed around the Frankfurt Arena from the travelling contingent after their underwhelming display against Denmark. 

Kane, who scored 44 goals in all competitions in his debut 2023-24 season for Bayern Munich, had the least touches (22) of any England player who started the game on Thursday, while also managing just one touch in the Danes' penalty area. 

England's attacking quartet of Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham and Kane managed 114 goals between them in all competitions last season, yet Southgate's men managed just two shots on target, forcing the Three Lions boss into a triple change with 20 minutes to go.

Eberechi Eze, Jarrod Bowen, and Ollie Watkins were introduced but created just one opportunity of note. Meanwhile, Anthony Gordon and Cole Palmer are still yet to make an appearance in the tournament, despite combining for 33 Premier League goals for Newcastle United and Chelsea respectively last term.

Despite creating more chances (three) and playing more line-breaking passes in the final third (five) against Denmark, it looks likely that Trent Alexander-Arnold's time in midfield could be up, but it remains to be seen who will replace him. 

Chelsea's Conor Gallagher has replaced him in England's last two games, but only completed 82.4% of his 17 passes against Denmark, also collecting a yellow card for his troubles. 

Kobbie Mainoo and Adam Wharton are possible replacements and have shown in the Premier League they are more than capable of stepping up, yet an appearance alongside Declan Rice in midfield would mark both's first feature at a major tournament.

All or nothing for Slovenia

Slovenia know they must achieve the unlikely to keep their Euro 2024 journey alive, with their confidence taking a hit after coming inches away from securing a maiden success at the European Championships. 

Luka Jovic's leveller in Thursday's 1-1 draw with Serbia marked the latest result-altering goal in a Euros match of all-time (excluding extra-time), with his equaliser timed at exactly 95 minutes.

That late heartbreak leaves Slovenia winless across five matches at UEFA's flagship international tournament (D4 L1).

It had started well for Kek's side when Zan Karnicnik netted his second international goal, but Slovenia succumbed to a familiar fate.

Their opener was only the second time they'd gone ahead in a game at the finals, with the other instance coming against Yugoslavia at Euro 2000 when Slovenia led 3-0 before collapsing to a 3-3 draw.

Benjamin Sesko showed the greatest promise for Slovenia, having the joint-most shots (two) and shots on target (one) for his side, but was loose in possession, ending the game with a pass accuracy of 55.8% – the second-lowest in the team. 

Yet there is still hope for Kek as Slovenia are unbeaten in their last eight games in all competitions (W4 D4), only enjoying a longer such run once in history (nine games between September 2020 and March 2021).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

England – Harry Kane

While much was made of Kane's performance against Denmark, there is no denying the quality he offers the Three Lions in and around the penalty area.

The Bayern Munich striker has only managed two touches in the opposition box at Euro 2024 so far, the same total as both Kyle Walker and Alexander-Arnold.

Yet Kane still scored his fifth goal in his last six appearances at the tournament, with only Wayne Rooney (six) and Alan Shearer (seven) managing more Euros goals for England.

Slovenia – Petar Stojanovic

With England expected to dominate possession on Tuesday, Slovenia's defence will have to be at their best to give them any chance of getting something from the game. 

Right-back Petar Stojanovic won possession 11 times against Serbia, with only Ales Ceh at Euro 2000 against Spain (14) managing to win the ball back more often for Slovenia in a major tournament game.

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    For the second consecutive European Championships, England booked a place in the final after beating the Netherlands 2-1 in the semi-finals on Wednesday.

    In Euro 2020, the Three Lions lost 3-2 on penalties to Italy after playing out a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes. This year, they will face Spain in the showcase match in Berlin on Sunday.

    England have never won the Euros, with their last major tournament win coming in the 1966 World Cup.

    Eriksson took charge of the national team between 2001 and 2006 and was in charge of their so-called 'golden generation', though they failed to make it past the quarter-finals of either the World Cup or the Euros while he was in charge.

    With England now one match away from ending a 58-year wait for a trophy, Eriksson has backed Southgate to get his hands on the trophy.

    "Gareth, do it for me, Sir Bobby and England," Eriksson told The Telegraph.

    "The job of England manager brings with it a beautiful pressure. You hear so much about 1966 and what Sir Alf Ramsey's team did, and you know how much expectation there is on you to end all those years of hurt.

    "I felt it. Sir Bobby Robson felt it. Every one of the 13 managers since Sir Alf [Ramsey] will have felt it. None of us succeeded, but no one has come closer than Gareth Southgate.

    "Gareth is certainly the best English coach since Sir Alf. Win in Berlin on Sunday and I believe he should be considered better.

    "Gareth has learnt from the mistakes we made – handling the mental block of penalties, in particular – and has gone further than any of us ever did.

    "Now he, his players and the entire nation must know England can win. If you believe in something, it can happen, and that includes beating Spain in the final."

    In Eriksson's final tournament in charge of England, the 2006 World Cup, the team lost 3-1 on penalties to Portugal.

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    Eriksson admits he should have prepared the team better during his tenure, but is proud of how the current manager has addressed the problem.

    "One of my biggest regrets as England manager is that I did not appoint a psychologist to deal with that," Eriksson added. "I thought we were grown up and could handle the pressure of penalties, but unfortunately, it was not like that.

    "I never thought I would see the day when England were so good at penalties. During my time, before it, and even a little bit after it, we were not good at them.

    "I still hope the final does not go to penalties like the Italy match and is settled in normal or extra time. If there are penalties, though, there is absolutely no fear.

    "I would love to see England win. So would every one of the managers who has tried and failed to win a major trophy since 1966. Come on, Gareth. Do what we never could."

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    Spain's Dani Olmo has said he is not afraid of England's Jude Bellingham ahead of their Euro 2024 final in Berlin on Sunday. 

    Olmo has starred for La Roja in Germany, notching three goals and two assists, which crucially gives him the edge in the race for the Golden Boot ahead of Harry Kane. 

    The Spaniard's statistics are more impressive having only started one of their first four games at the tournament. 

    Olmo's goal against France made him the first Spanish player to score in three successive games at the European Championships. 

    His five goal involvements for Luis de la Fuente's side is also the most by a Spaniard at a major tournament since David Silva at Euro 2012 (two goals, three assists). 

    However, Bellingham has also shone at Euro 2024, carrying on his impressive form that saw him net 23 times in all competitions during his debut season for Real Madrid. 

    Bellingham has scored twice for England at the tournament, including the Three Lions opening goal of the competition against Serbia. 

    The 21-year-old's late strike against Slovakia in the last 16 was England's latest-ever goal scored in normal time at a major tournament. 

    However, Olmo has insisted that he does not fear Bellingham ahead of their showdown for the Henri Delaunay Cup. 

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    "He is a player to be taken into account, but I don't fear anyone.”

     

  • Spain's Olmo dismisses Bellingham's fear-factor ahead of Euro 2024 final Spain's Olmo dismisses Bellingham's fear-factor ahead of Euro 2024 final

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    Olmo has starred for La Roja in Germany, notching three goals and two assists, which crucially gives him the edge in the race for the Golden Boot ahead of Harry Kane. 

    The Spaniard's statistics are more impressive having only started one of their first four games at the tournament. 

    Olmo's goal against France made him the first Spanish player to score in three successive games at the European Championships. 

    His five goal involvements for Luis de la Fuente's side is also the most by a Spaniard at a major tournament since David Silva at Euro 2012 (two goals, three assists). 

    However, Bellingham has also shone at Euro 2024, carrying on his impressive form that saw him net 23 times in all competitions during his debut season for Real Madrid. 

    Bellingham has scored twice for England at the tournament, including the Three Lions opening goal of the competition against Serbia. 

    The 21-year-old's late strike against Slovakia in the last 16 was England's latest-ever goal scored in normal time at a major tournament. 

    However, Olmo has insisted that he does not fear Bellingham ahead of their showdown for the Henri Delaunay Cup. 

    “I'm not afraid. Bellingham is a reference point there, football is played through his boots. He is always in the thick of things," Olmo said. 

    "He is a player to be taken into account, but I don't fear anyone.”

     

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