England and Spain will get their UEFA Nations League campaigns up and running when they face off against each other at Wembley on Saturday.

Group 4 of the UEFA Nations League A will kick into action on Saturday, as Matchday 1 of the competition comes to an end. The first marquee clash of the group will witness England and Spain lock horns at Wembley, with the two sides coming into the new tournament on the back of some contrasting form and fortunes.

England had a World Cup to remember, having defied the odds and expectations back home to reach the semi-finals, and finish fourth at the tournament. But, it only seems to be the start for Gareth Southgate, whose methods and playing style have already reaped massive dividends in the short time he’s been in charge of the Three Lions.

Spain, on the other hand, looked destined for disaster before the tournament had even begun, with Julen Lopetegui being sacked in controversial circumstances. Fernando Hierro took charge, but La Furia Roja never quite looked like they were going to go all the way in Russia. With Luis Enrique appointed as the new head coach, Spain will look to start afresh with the UEFA Nations League.

The last clash between the two sides was a keenly contested affair, as Spain came from two goals down to hold England to a 2-2 draw. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Nations League encounter.

Team News & Tactics

England

Gareth Southgate has a confident group of players at his disposal. (Photo courtesy - Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Gareth Southgate has a confident group of players at his disposal. (Photo courtesy – Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Football may not have come home in the summer, but England’s run to the semi-finals has certainly given way to a confident group that has a lot of belief in it. This also shows in the squad that has been selected by Gareth Southgate, with the manager choosing to continue with the successful core group of players while only making minor alterations.

Some of these changes have been forced due to injuries, while a couple have been enforced after Gary Cahill and Jamie Vardy called time on their international careers. The big miss for England though, will be Raheem Sterling, who has become a key part of the attacking unit for the Three Lions.

In his stead, Marcus Rashford could get a couple of opportunities to impress over the next week. The Manchester United superstar is likely to play off Harry Kane, with Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli linking up with him in midfield. Rashford’s role though, will be to make driving runs at the Spain centre-backs to free up space for Kane while also creating chances for himself.

Meanwhile, there have been maiden call-ups for Alex McCarthy and Marcus Bettinelli, while the likes of Joe Gomez, Luke Shaw and James Tarkowski have been recalled as well. Among the aforementioned quintet, Shaw looks the likeliest to return to the starting lineup straightaway, following a month of solid football with Manchester United.

While Shaw should be the left wing-back, the rest of the defensive unit is expected to remain unchanged for the big game against Spain, with Kieran Trippier being the other wing-back, and Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire completing the three-man backline that will look to play out from the back, linking up with Jordan Henderson.

Probable Starting Lineup (3-5-2): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Alli, Henderson, Lingard, Shaw; Kane, Rashford

England

Spain

The summer of chaos has ended for Spain, and Luis Enrique will be eager to make the disappointment of the shambles that was the World Cup campaign a distant memory. And, the UEFA Nations League provides the new Spain boss a chance to do just that, although in the UEFA Nations League clashes against England and Croatia, he has a tough start to his reign.

Unlike England, major changes have been the first order of business for Enrique, with the likes of Jordi Alba, Koke and Lucas Vazquez among several stars that have been dropped. That’s not all, as the likes of Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and David Silva have hung up their boots, while Diego Costa pulled out for the two UEFA Nations League clashes.

All the changes mean that Sergio Ramos will have to guide a largely inexperienced defensive unit in the week to come. The big task will be to replace Pique and Alba, with Nacho and Marcos Alonso, respectively, looking the likeliest candidates to fill the void left by the duo.

Alonso will be a key figure on the left flank with his marauding runs making him a major creative outlet for Spain. In the middle of the park, Sergio Busquets will have similar responsibilities as Ramos, with a young, with Enrique picking a young group of midfielders.

On Saturday though, the Barcelona superstar is likely to be accompanied by Saul Niguez and Thiago Alcantara, with the trio looking to create overloads in midfield while also aiming to recycle the ball quickly. Upfront, Marco Asensio and Isco appear certain to start as inside forwards.

The big decision though, will be regarding the choice of the central striker. With Costa pulling out, the choice is between Alvaro Morata, Rodrigo and Iago Aspas. Against England, Morata might be the one to get the nod, although his form hasn’t quite been inspiring at the start of the season.

Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): De Gea; Carvajal, Nacho, Ramos, Alonso; Saul, Busquets, Thiago; Asensio, Morata, Isco

Spain

Key Stats

  • England and Spain will meet for the 26th time on Saturday, with the Three Lions holding the edge with 13 wins (D3 L9).
  • England are unbeaten at Wembley since March 2016, with Netherlands beating them 2-1 in a friendly (W10 D4).
  • As far as competitive fixtures are concerned, the Three Lions haven’t been defeated in their last 24 matches at Wembley (W21 D3).
  • Spain do have the advantage in recent meetings with Spain, having won four of the last six matches (D1 L1).
  • The Man With The Golden Feet – The UEFA Nations League will be the next tournament targeted by Harry Kane after he won the Golden Boot at the 2018 FIFA World Cup with six goals.

Player to Watch

Luke Shaw

The smile is back, and so is the confidence. (Photo courtesy - Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

The smile is back, and so is the confidence. (Photo courtesy – Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

It has been a stunning turnaround for Luke Shaw at the start of the 2018-19 season. The 23-year-old has arguably been the best player for Manchester United thus far, and is carrying himself with renewed verve and swagger. His exploits have earned him an England recall, and Shaw will now aim to keep the momentum going against Spain.

While his runs down the left flank will definitely be crucial in creating the chances for the Three Lions, Shaw will also need to have his guard up against a confident Marco Asensio. All in all, this could be the game that is the making of Luke Shaw at international level.

Prediction

England 2-1 Spain

The UEFA Nations League is here, and England and Spain are in a tricky group that also consists of World Cup finalists Croatia. And so, every game in Group 4 will practically be a cup final, starting Saturday when the Three Lions and La Roja meet at Wembley.

Confidence is running high in the England camp while Spain are in a rebuilding process under newly appointed Luis Enrique. At Wembley, they rarely end up on the wrong end of a result, and with a few players having a point to prove, Gareth Southgate & co. should edge a close contest on Saturday. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for England.

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