England vs Slovenia: Why Three Lions' left side is a cause for concern in final Euro 2024 Group C game

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football Tuesday 25 June 2024 09:14, UK

England vs Slovenia: Why Three Lions' left side is a cause for concern in final Euro 2024 Group C game

Going into Euro 2024, Luke Shaw's injury issues made left-back an area of concern for England supporters. Phil Foden's struggles further up that flank have added to Gareth Southgate's problems on that side of the pitch.

In Slovenia, England will come up against a side whose strength is down that wing.

The Three Lions' final Group C game was billed pre-tournament as their most straightforward of this phase. But after worrying performances against Serbia and Denmark, Slovenia cannot be underestimated - and the signs are they could hurt England where they are weaker.

Makeshift left-back Kieran Trippier looks likely to play in that position again, with Shaw missing training sessions in recent days, and the Newcastle man, along with whoever Southgate selects on the left wing - whether that is Foden or an alternative - will have their work cut out.

They will need the support of Declan Rice and a fellow midfielder to come across on the cover, placing more emphasis on England's midfield balance which has been out of kilter so far.

Slovenia's right-side strength was underlined in their 1-1 draw with Serbia on Thursday. Zan Karnicnik got forward from right-back to slam in the opener. But for a 95th-minute equaliser, it would have taken Slovenia to a first-ever win at a Euros.

Karnicnik had three shots in that game. He's an adventurous full-back, as his club boss Damir Krznar told Sky Sports before the tournament. "He's an excellent player in the offensive phase," said Krznar, who steered Celje to the Slovenian title this past season.

If Karnicnik is less assured going the other way, he has the support of Petar Stojanovic ahead of him. They complement each other well.

"Defensively Karnicnik can have some problems," says Krznar. "But he's a very clever guy and can prevent one-on-one situations.

"He is good in making decisions when he attacks and when he runs back, he waits for support, so he's a very good player. And what is very good for him, in front of him, as a winger, he has Stojanovic, who is also originally a full-back and that is where he plays in Italy for Sampdoria.

"So they're a very good team on this side with Karnicnik and Stojanovic. They were both very good during the qualifying campaign."

You can see how closely the pair work together from this passing network graphic. Note the focus of Slovenia's play around Karnicnik (RB) and Stojanovic (RW).

Slovenia focus their attacks down that right side, with 41 per cent of their forward play coming through that channel.

It's also the side of the pitch England face the most attacks - 42 per cent of the attacking play from Serbia and Denmark came down that side.

So far Trippier and co have largely been able to deal with the danger. But if there is no element of surprise in terms of how Slovenia will attack perhaps the significant factor will be the pace with which they do it.

"Slovenia are very good in defensive shape," says Krznar, also highlighting the quality of goalkeeper Jan Oblak behind the defence. "Offensively they are fast and from this defensive block they can be very dangerous."

The threat of a counter-attack will be in Southgate's mind. England's misfiring press has been in the spotlight since the draw with Denmark - but if their counter-press fails against Slovenia when they lose the ball high up the pitch they could be in trouble.

Karnicnik made four interceptions against Serbia. Stojanovic eight dribbles. Slovenia, like a loaded spring, will be ready to launch.

And in Benjamin Sesko they have a fine finisher to convert any openings they create.

England may be virtually into the knockouts but if they want to go into the last-16 with momentum and rebuild confidence, stemming Slovenia's attacks down that side of the pitch will be key.