England face Montenegro in the decisive Group H World Cup qualifier at Wembley Stadium on Friday, with the battle for automatic places still very much up for grabs.
Finishing top of the group would guarantee England their pass to Brazil 2014, while a second-place finish would result in a two-legged play-off next month.
Montenegro are expected to be without captain Mirko Vucinic, goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic, defender Marko Basa and midfielder Miodrag Pekovic due to injury. Furthermore, Miodrag Dzudovic, who has previously felt the aggression—and subsequent red card—of Wayne Rooney during their Euro 2012 2-2 draw in October 2011, is also doubtful with a back and hamstring injury.
However, while Mirko Vucinic's potential omission should be cause for optimism, Roy Hodgson remains cautious regarding such announcements having learnt that Ukraine vs. Poland will not be played behind closed doors, as previously believed, following “racist and discriminatory incidents” during Ukraine's match against San Marino last month.
According to The Telegraph, Hodgson proclaimed: “I get reports about things and people telling me things that should work positively, but it doesn't always work that way, so I’ll wait until Friday night to get the team sheet before I believe Vucinic and Jovetic [are out]."
With a record of three draws (0-0, 2-2 and 1-1) versus Montenegro over the past three years, it may prove to be a tricky fixture for England come Friday night, even though Montenegro boss Branko Brnovic will be without some of his most experienced internationals. Nevertheless, the likes of Stefan Savic and Stevan Jovetic will still cause England problems at both ends of the pitch.
Let's take a statistical look at the pair.
Shortly after the death of his father in April 2011, Stefan Savic made the switch to Manchester City on the back of a growing reputation in European football—dubbed the new Nemanja Vidic.
In spite of this, and having failed to establish himself as a regular in City's first team, the promising defender made the move to Fiorentina a year later.
Having featured in five of Fiorentina's opening seven Serie A matches this season, Savic is currently Viola's second-best (163) player behind Giuseppe Rossi (220), based on Squawka's Performance Score.
Additionally, Savic has the highest pass accuracy (89 percent) of any first team Fiorentina defender—28-year-old Marvin Compper has 94 percent accuracy, however the German defender has missed the last five games.
In terms of his personal duels against opposition players, Savic has won every attempted tackle (three) and take-on (three), but has only won 48 percent of headed duels (15 of 31).
As a result, testing the defender's ability to deal with crosses and direct passes may be one area that England could look to exploit, although Southampton's Rickie Lambert is their only striker who's somewhat proficient in the air.
One final thing to note is that Savic has won four Squawka Best Awards in five matches—Man of the Match, Top Man in Team (twice) and Best Defence.
Stevan Jovetic's last competitive goal was scored in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales on 2 September 2011. Therefore, Manchester City's promising forward will be hoping to find the back of the net at Wembley Stadium, causing panic and frustration to engulf the home crowd.
Following his departure from Fiorentina this summer, joining Manchester City in a reported £22 million deal, Jovetic has played just 79 minutes of Premier League football, achieving a 57 percent duel success rate and a 92 percent pass accuracy, with the majority of his passes travelling backwards (see below).
However, a fairer reflection of 23-year-old's talents would be to analyse his statistics at Fiorentina during the 2012-13 Serie A campaign.
Don your spectacles as I delve deeper into Squawka's archives.
Jovetic had the second-highest Performance Score total and the highest score per game for Fiorentina (playing 2510 minutes over 31 matches) last season.
The gifted forward scored 13 goals with a shot accuracy of 49 percent, laying on five goals for his teammates aided by a pass accuracy of 79 percent and some impressive dribbling skills. Like most skilled attackers, his lack of height is a burden when challenging for aerial balls, winning a mediocre 26 of an attempted 72 headers.
All things considered, England face a tough challenge on Friday, as media expectation—as if that ever changes—public pressure and a tough opposition attack them, both physically and mentally, from every angle.
Montenegro may have a depleted and weakened squad due to a number of injuries, but with the likes of Stefan Savic and Stevan Jovetic raring to go, the visitors still have plenty of players capable of excelling throughout the defensive and attacking third.
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