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England vs Croatia Preview and Prediction - 3 big talking points

England vs Croatia Preview – 3 big talking points

Playing out a 0-0 draw the last time the two sides met in a behind closed doors encounter last month, Gareth Southgate will see this as a perfect opportunity to gain some revenge on the nation that knocked them out in the semi-finals of this summer’s World Cup.

Picking up a morale-boosting 3-0 win over the USA in midweek, England will be desperate to keep up their momentum ahead of Sunday’s crucial UEFA Nations League clash.

The group winner advances to the Final Four tournament in June. The team that finishes bottom of the group will be relegated to League B.

Spain are currently top with six points but have played all their games. England and Croatia have four points with Sunday’s game in hand.

So, with it all to play for at Wembley, what are the three big talking points?

 

Southgate’s new formation

While England’s charge to the semi-finals out in Russia may have seen Southgate’s 3-5-2 receive plenty of praise, the 48-year-olds decision to tinker with The Three Lions’ formation has seemed like a smart one.

Using a 4-3-3 in England’s historic 3-2 win away in Betis last month, Sunday’s hosts appear to be relishing their new attacking identity.

With Southgate looking to utilize the 4-3-3 almost exclusively now, England’s new set-up should give the likes of Raheem Sterling a chance to showcase his talents in a formation he is more accustomed to.

Scoring twice in October’s victory over Spain, the Manchester City forward will be given more space to operate working off the right-hand side of England’s attacking trio.

One of the key problems with their semi-final defeat to Croatia was that they lacked pace and creativity in the final third, especially during the second half.

Now operating in an almost identic layout to the likes of Chelsea and City, the 4-3-3 will allow them to put teams under pressure starting from the front, similar to what they did at the Estadio Benito Villamarín last month.

 

Keeping Modric quiet

While England fans will be glad to see that Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic will not be available on Sunday due to an injury, they will have another La Liga all-star to deal with.

Although Luka Modric’s domestic season with Real Madrid couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start, Croatia’s iconic captain is undoubtedly the biggest threat to The Three Lions.

The man behind their push to the World Cup Final, the 33-year-old pulls the strings for Zlatko Dalić’s side.

Picking up a very impressive assist for Tin Jedvaj’s late winner in their 3-2 win over Spain, the Real Madrid playmaker is the leading contender to lift this year’s Ballon d’Or.

Named Best Fifa Footballer of the Year back in September, Modric also picked up the Player of the Tournament award out in Russia over the summer.

Finishing his World Cup campaign with a pass accuracy of 89%, England must not allow Croatia’s poster boy time to settle.

Despite making a second-half cameo appearance against the USA on Thursday, Southgate could be looking for Eric Dier to be the man to try and keep Modric quiet.

A firm favorite with the England boss, their decision to play with a 4-3-3 means that they must have a pivot sat in front of The Three Lions’ defensive duo, cue the Tottenham man.

With no midfielder at Spurs winning more tackles or making more clearances so far this season, Dier is likely going to be given the role to try and nullify Modric’s creativity.

 

Harry Kane knows he has competition

While Harry Kane may have received plenty of plaudits on his way to lifting the Golden Boot in Russia, it was another English striker who stole the headlines on Thursday night.

Scoring on his debut and grabbing England’s third, Callum Wilson carried on what has been a very impressive start to the season.

The first player for Bournemouth to score in the famous white shirt, the 26-year-old now has five in his last seven for club and country.

Even though Wilson might be enjoying the most successful spell of his campaign, the same can not be said for Kane.

Failing to score for England since their last 16 penalties victory over Colombia, a run of six games, the Spurs ace has also now scored just one Premier League goal in his last five.

Although it would take a small miracle for Wilson to dethrone the skipper as England’s and Southgate’s #1 striker, having a reliable deputy and someone who can apply some pressure to Kane is only a positive for The Three Lions.

Despite not scoring in his last six matches on International duty, England’s all-time leading goalscorer and the recently departed Wayne Rooney has insisted that it is only a matter of time until Kane breaks his record.

“I look forward to presenting him with the trophy, I asked Harry to present me with the award because I believe he will beat my goalscoring record.”

 

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