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Slovenia scouting report: Old school strike force, long balls and resolute defence

Zan Karnicnik celebrates scoring for Slovenia against Serbia at Euro 2024

Slovenia have demonstrated in both of their matches at Euro 2024 that they are capable of causing serious problems for England on Tuesday. Matjaz Kek’s side are unbeaten in their last eight matches and were just seconds away from defeating Serbia in their previous game.

Old-school strikeforce

Slovenia’s game plan is built on a tactic which has largely gone out of fashion in modern football: a two-man attack. They play a rigid 4-4-2, with Andraz Sporar and Benjamin Sesko tasked with leading the line and holding onto possession.

When 4-4-2 was at its most popular in English football, the strikers were often a combination of “little and large”. With Slovenia, by contrast, it is a case of “large and large”. Sporar stands at 6ft 1in tall, while the prodigious Sesko will tower above everyone else on the pitch. He is 6ft 5in, and can jump to incredible heights.

How much should England fear this duo? Sesko is the more obvious threat, as the bigger and quicker man. He scored 18 goals for RB Leipzig last season. Sporar is less of a physical danger but he can certainly find the back of the net: in his last two seasons for Greek side Panathinaikos, Sporar has scored 27 goals.

Slovenia are happy to sit back in their own half and leave these two forwards further up the pitch, in the hope that they can produce some quality on the counter-attack. The average positions of the Slovenia team against Denmark showed that only Sesko (11) and Sporar (9) remained in advanced positions.

Slovenia average positions vs Denmark
The average position of Slovenia's outfield players vs Denmark - Opta

Long-ball approach poses awkward questions

As you might expect from a team that plays with just two central midfielders, Slovenia are generally happy to bypass the middle of the pitch. Kek’s side know that their strikers are capable of providing a platform for the other players, and they therefore look to find those forwards as often as possible.

Over the first two rounds of fixtures at this European Championship, only Scotland played a greater percentage of their passes as long balls than Slovenia (16 per cent). Only Scotland and Romania completed fewer passes, and only Scotland and Romania had a lower passing accuracy.

In their first two matches, Slovenia played 106 long passes. Only one team in the entire tournament played more, and that was England.

Gareth Southgate’s central defenders can expect a busy evening, then. John Stones and Marc Guehi, if they both play, will need to compete in more physical and aerial duels than in previous matches. The loss of Harry Maguire has not yet been felt in this tournament, but this could be the day that changes. It would have been the perfect occasion for England’s most physically imposing central defender.

A world-class goalkeeper leads a resolute defence

It could be argued that Slovenia boast the tournament’s most exciting young forward, in Sesko, and also its best goalkeeper. Jan Oblak is a monstrous presence between the posts for Slovenia and Atletico Madrid, where he has been the first-choice goalkeeper for almost a decade.

Oblak is a commanding presence who produced a series of exceptional saves in Slovenia’s second match, against Serbia. He is also aggressive in his penalty area: he has made five punched clearances during Euro 2024, at least two more than any other goalkeeper at the tournament (ahead of Monday night’s fixtures).

With Oblak organising the defence from the back, Slovenia are organised and difficult to break down. For Denmark, it required a moment of individual class from Christian Eriksen. For Serbia, a last-minute corner.

A measure of Slovenia’s resolute and compact shape is that, as a team, they have so far not had to run nearly as far as England. Slovenia’s players have covered a combined 204.7km at Euro 2024, compared to England’s 246.1km.

England should expect the Slovenian defence to be difficult to crack open. The Slovenians have averaged only 32 per cent of possession in their two games, but have allowed only two goals and eight shots on target. In Jaka Bijol, they have a centre-back who has made 21 clearances at the tournament so far — at least six more than any other player at Euro 2024.