Group H’s top teams meet take on each other in the Euro 2016 qualifiers. With three wins in three games, both the teams are currently joint leaders of the group and in all likelihood, are going to progress to the finals of the competition in France two years from now.
Yet, both teams would want to win the game and won’t be too complacent about the situation. This match would also prove to be the sternest test for Antonio Conte.
Niko Kovac’s men have looked impressive in the past few games. The Croats were expected to have a better World Cup and were everyone’s favorite underdogs. So the group exit would definitely have been a disappointment for the side. The upcoming tournament can prove to be the stage where Srna’s men redeem the World Cup early exit. But first things first, it is still a long way till the finals and Croatia would want to edge out Italy at their home. Here are three things the visitors need to do to get a win.
Croatia’s midfield need to show class and superiority over their counterparts
With Andrea Pirlo and Marco Verrati both out with injuries, Italy’s midfield definitely looks depleted. Daniele De Rossi is likely to line up alongside Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva. Croatia edge out Italy in the midfield as their second third is going to comprise Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and most probably Mateo Kovacic. The Real Madrid midfielder and his Barcelona compatriot were both among the rested senior players from the Argentina friendly that happened at West Ham’s Upton Park earlier this week. Kovac knows the value of this game and it was understandable that the duo were asked to remain fresh for the game. Mateo Kovacic did feature in the understrength 11, and had a good game assisting Anas Sharbini for the opener in the 11th minute. Therefore Kovac can ask the Inter man to take ground against the Italians.
The best part about this midfield trident is that three players can operate in different positions, so it would be Kovac’s big decision where he thinks these three can play their best game. Kovacic played the advanced position in the World Cup and Rakitic’s game got contained as a result of this. If Kovac wants some steel in the centre, it would be wisest to play Modric alongside Kovacic with Rakitic slightly up front. The duo can do a great job in dictating play from the heart of the midfield and linking up with the attackers. However, we can easily envision Kovac playing club rivals Modric and Rakitic in the deep lying midfielder spot, as both can boss the game from there as well.
It would be interesting to see if Croatia fields a three man midfield, but regardless, as how things look on paper, the visitors have a superior midfield compared to the depleted Italians and they need to ensure that things look that way on the field as well.
A two man strike force of Andrej Kramacic and Mario Madzukic for the Croats
The Croatian National Team boasts of one of the best poachers in world-football, Mario Madzukic. But for this game, they can also field a player who already has 25 goals this season. He is arguably the hottest striker in Europe and not much is known about him because the Croatian league is not as competitive or well known as others, but the Rijeka player boasts wonderful goalscoring skills and his great form has interested both Inter and AC Milan. Kovac can think of playing Mandzukic alongside Kramacic. This would also mean that the Atletico man’s goalscoring burdens are lessened. However, a two man strike force could mean a different formation than Croatia’s favored one generally. In this case, we might see a 4-2-2-2 with Perisic and Kovacic right behind the strikers, or a 4-4-2 with Modric and Rakitic in deeper roles and perhaps Perisic and Olic employed in wide roles.
Kovac needs to know what he wants from the game
Every coach wants to win every match and not everyone starts from the beginning to simply contain the opposition and sit on the backfoot. Niko Kovac’s side has every chance of qualifying for the final stage but he would definitely be looking for a win in this game, as it would do a lot for the confidence as well as reputation of the players.
Kovac needs to know, from the outset, what he wants from the game. If he is looking for goals, it would be wisest to start both Kramacic as well as Mandzukic, with Perisic and Olic also included in the starting 11. However, this might leave Croatia a little handicapped and an all out attacking mindset can leave them very vulnerable on the counter as well. The skills of Candreva, Pelle, de Rossi, Immobile among others cannot be put to question. If the Croatia boss wants to his side to outshine Italy, the one place where he can turn to is his midfield. In that case, Rakitic, Modric and Kovacic should start, with Madzukic starting alone up front and two of Olic, Perisic, Rebic, Jelavic and Kramacic (among others) starting wide (4-3-3) or behind in a 4-2-3-1 set up. This set-up will give protection to the defence, and at the same time, it is not very weak in the attack and can still nick a win.