After making a winning start to their UEFA Nations League adventure, Spain will look to build on it when they play World Cup finalists Croatia on Tuesday night.

It will be the clash of heavyweights on Tuesday when Spain face off against Croatia at the Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero in Elche, in Group 4, League A of the UEFA Nations League.

Spain are off to a winning start under new manager Luis Enrique as they beat World Cup semi-finalists England 2-1 at the Wembley Stadium this past weekend. After a dull campaign in Russia, the intensity and the purpose that La Roja showed against Gareth Southgate’s men bodes well for the team, as they look to make it six points in two games in the competition.

Croatia, on the other hand, will be playing their maiden game in the UEFA Nations League. The runners-up in the summer blockbuster in Russia played out a 1-1 draw against European champions Portugal in a friendly last week and will be aiming to kickstart their next competition with a victory against the current group leaders on Tuesday.

Team News & Tactics

Spain

There are no fresh injury concerns for Enrique heading into Tuesday’s game against the Vatreni. The Spaniards will have to cope without the senior pros Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and David Silva, all of whom retired after the World Cup, but the signs from the first game in the new era have been quite positive.

The new manager set his team out in a 4-3-3 formation against England at the weekend and is very much likely to stick with the same setup against the Vatreni. David De Gea is the undisputed No.1 for La Roja despite looking shaky in the recent past. He should continue between the sticks ahead of Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Three of the four spots in the backline will be taken up by Real Madrid players with Dani Carvajal starting at right-back, while Nacho and captain Sergio Ramos are set to feature as the centre-backs. With Jordi Alba not part of the squad, Marcos Alonso is a shoo-in at left-back.

Saul Niguez scored against England at the weekend and should hold on to his spot in the centre of the park, along with veteran Sergio Busquets and Bayern Munich superstar Thiago Alcantara.

Isco started out on the left-side of the attacking trident and should hold on to his spot in the starting XI. Iago Aspas started as the spearhead against England, but failed to impose himself on the game. He is likely to be left out on Tuesday with Rodrigo Moreno, who scored and assisted a goal in the last game, expected to move into the central role. Marco Asensio should get the nod on the right-flank.

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

Croatia

Zlatko Dalic has had to deal with the retirement of veteran players Danijel Subasic, Mario Mandzukic and Vedran Corluka, along with the injury-enforced absence of a few other mainstays in his World Cup squad, namely, Dejan Lovren, Andrej Kramaric and Ante Rebic.

And Croatia have been dealt with another blow, after experienced defender Domagoj Vida was stretchered off in the Portugal game with an injury and is set to miss the trip to Spain. The World Cup finalists started with a 4-2-3-1 setup on Thursday against Portugal are likely to stick with a similar formation against Enrique’s side.

With Subasic not an option anymore, Lovre Kalinic is the new first-choice in goal for the Vatreni. Sime Vrsaljko and Borna Barisic are expected to hold on to their positions as the full-backs on the right and left sides respectively. Matej Mitrovic is another who will be retained, with Tin Jedvaj set to come in alongside him for the injured Vida.

Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic did not start in the friendly fixture but is a guaranteed starter on Tuesday against the Spaniards. He will take up one of the pivot positions in the middle of the park, with the second one likely to be occupied by Inter Milan midfielder Marcelo Brozovic, who also did not start in the last match.

Captain and UEFA Player of the Year, Luka Modric will slot in the No.10 position and look to dictate play for his side in the final third. Support will be provided by Marko Pjaca and Ivan Perisic on either flanks. Marko Livaja started as the lone frontman, but is likely to be replaced by in-form Ivan Santini in Elche.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Kalinic; Vrsaljko, Jedvaj, Mitrovic, Barisic; Rakitic, Brozovic; Pjaca, Modric, Perisic; Santini;

Key Stats

  • The two teams have clashed against each other on six occasions, with Spain emerging triumphant in three of those games and Croatia winning two.
  • The last contest between the two teams came in the group stages of the 2016 UEFA EURO, which Croatia won 2-1.
  • Despite having made it to the finals of the World Cup, Croatia’s last win in ninety minutes came in the group stage of that competition against Iceland.
  • Since their exit to Italy in the UEFA EURO 2016 Spain have lost just once in 25 games, which came in the summer’s World Cup against Russia, via penalty shootouts.
  • Ivan Perisic has been in hot-form for Croatia, scoring in their last three fixtures on a trot.

Player to watch

Rodrigo Moreno (Spain)

Spain's match-winner against England - Rodrigo Moreno (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Spain’s match-winner against England – Rodrigo Moreno (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The Valencia forward was La Roja’s most impressive player on Saturday night against England at Wembley as they came out victorious. The 27-year old caused all sorts of problems to the English defence with his pace and movement and capped off a fine display with the assist for the first goal, before scoring the winner himself.

Rodrigo has just nine caps for Spain so far, in which he has scored twice. But judging by his performance against the Three Lions last weekend, he will have a crucial role to play for the national team in the Luis Enrique era. Expect him to pose a serious threat to the Croatian defence on Tuesday.

Prediction

Spain 2-1 Croatia

Spain put behind the disappointment of the World Cup, as they picked up a win in Enrique’s first match in charge of the team, despite going behind against England. They showed good energy and intent on the field and looked like a side that meant business.

On the other hand, Croatia are considerably weakened at both ends of the pitch, with the retirement of Subasic and Mandzukic, while their first-choice defensive pairing of Lovren and Vida will also be unavailable for the upcoming game. As a result, we at the Hard Tackle expect Spain to emerge victorious and extend their lead at the top of the group on Tuesday.