Serbia and Switzerland will lock horns against each other in the second round of 2018 FIFA World Cup Group E clashes on Friday.

Kaliningrad Stadium will provide the setting as Group E leaders Serbia will go head to head against against fellow European nation Switzerland in their second assignment of the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup on Friday.

The Serbians kicked things off in Russia with a narrow 1-0 victory over Costa Rica last Sunday, thanks to a stunning strike from captain Aleksandar Kolarov. And manager Mladen Krstajic will be hoping that his side make it two in two on Friday and ease their way through to the next phase of the competition.

Switzerland put in a typically dogged performance against World Cup favourites Brazil to eke out a 1-1 draw in their tournament opener last weekend. Currently in the third place in the Group E standings, Vladimir Petkovic’s side, who are ranked 6th in the world, will be hoping to register a victory against Serbia and boost their chances of qualification to the round of 16.

Team News and Tactics

Serbia

With his side off to a winning start in the competition and no injury issues to deal with, it is unlikely that manager Krstajic will make any changes to the team that took the field against the Costa Ricans last weekend, nor will there be any tinkering with the system.

That would mean Serbia will once again go into the game with a 4-2-3-1 setup, with Vladimir Stojkovic manning the goal, while the back four of veteran Branislav Ivanovic, Nikola Milenkovic, Dusko Tosic and captain Kolarov is expected to remain intact. However, the defenders, especially the full-backs, will be in for a sterner test on Friday, compared to what they had to face against Costa Rica and will need to up their game accordingly.

In the middle, the highly diligent Premier League central midfield duo of Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic will resume duties once again. They will be key in stopping Switzerland from getting into their rhythm and ensuring their back four is well-protected.

Southampton star Dusan Tadic will provide the creative spark from out on the right-flank, while Adem Ljajic will be expected to do the same from the opposite wing, meaning Filip Kostic will miss out again despite a sprightly cameo appearance in the opener. Serbia’s rising star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic will once again start in the No.10 role on Friday and will hope to make a bigger impact than what he did against Costa Rica.

At the tip of the attack, Aleksandar Mitrovic is expected to take the field, which would leave Aleksandar Prijovic, who had a prolific season for Greek side PAOK, out warming the benches once again.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Stojkovic; Ivanovic, Milenkovic, Tosic, Kolarov; Milivojevic, Matic; Tadic, Milinkovic-Savic, Ljajic; Mitrovic;

Switzerland

Just like his Serbian counterpart, Swiss manager Petkovic too is unlikely to make any alterations to the starting XI that featured in their previous game.

Switzerland stopper Yann Sommer is one of the most underrated goalkeepers in the tournament currently and will be hoping to make an impression once again, after his solid performance against the Selecao. Veteran defender Stephan Lichtsteiner, who withdrawn late in the game against Brazil due to cramps, will lead the team out on Friday and take his rightful spot as the right-sided full-back, while the attack-minded Ricardo Rodriguez will continue to feature as the left-back.

Fabian Schar will partner up with the extremely impressive Manuel Akanji at the heart of the defence. How the two defenders deal with the physical threat of Mitrovic and Milinkovic-Savic could have a huge say on the outcome of the game.

Midfielder Valon Behrami, who put on a solid display against Brazil last Sunday, picked up a knock during the game, but is expected to be fit and available for selection against Serbia. He will start in the two-man midfield, with Arsenal star Granit Xhaka taking up the deep-lying playmaker duties alongside Behrami.

Xherdan Shaqiri will look to wreak havoc with his pace and movement from the right-flank, while the goalscorer from the last game, Steven Zuber will look to impress again starting out on the left-side. Blerim Dzemaili will take up the central attacking midfield slot and look to provide the forward impetus. The 32-year old will, however, need to step up after a rather dull display against Brazil.

Haris Seferovic is once again likely to get the nod upfront, ahead of the talented but injury-prone Breel Embolo and Borussia Monchengladbach striker Josip Drmic.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Schar, Akanji, Rodriguez; Behrami, Xhaka; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Zuber; Seferovic; 

Key Stats

  • This will be the first meeting between the two nations, post Serbia’s independence in 2006.
  • The two teams have met 13 times when Serbia was still Yugoslavia, with Switzerland winning five times and Yugoslavia on six occasions.
  • Switzerland have lost only one of their last 23 matches, winning 16 and drawing 6. The defeat came to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal back in October 2017 in the World Cup qualifiers.
  • Serbia have lost just three of their last 14 fixtures – two friendly defeats against Morocco and Chile this year and the other a 3-2 loss to Austria in the WC qualifiers in October last year.

Player to watch

Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)

Can Shaqiri step up for Switzerland? (Photo by PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)

Can Shaqiri step up for Switzerland? (Photo by PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)

The former Bayern Munich and Inter Milan ace grabbed the assist for Zuber’s equalizer against Brazil last Sunday and while he had a number of bright moments, his performance still a lot left to be desired. There are no doubts about Shaqiri’s talent and innate abilities, and when on song he can be a handful to deal with. However, he is often plagued by inconsistency, which Switzerland will hope won’t be the case in Russia.

Shaqiri is the Swiss side’s most potent weapon in attack, with his blistering speed, trickery and the ability to score spectacular goals. And a lot will be riding on the 26-year old attacker heading into the game against Serbia on Friday. Can he deliver though? Or will it be the inconsistent Shaqiri that shows up at the Kaliningrad? Not long before we find out.

Prediction

Serbia 1-1 Switzerland

Both teams are very well organized at the back, but do not possess a lot of quality in their attacks. It is likely to be an extremely cagey affair, with most of the match contested in the middle of the park and not many goal-scoring chances created. It is unlikely that there will be many goals in the game, considering the nature of either teams and a draw seems to be the most likely outcome at the Kaliningrad on Friday.

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