England will clash against Croatia in a winner-takes-all contest in their final UEFA Nations League group game at the Wembley Stadium.
England and Croatia are set to lock horns in their final Nations League A, Group 4 encounter on Sunday, with the qualification for the next summer’s finals at stake.
A win for the Three Lions would see them finish at the top of their group and qualify for the Nations League Finals next summer, while a defeat would see them relegated to League B.
A goalless stalemate would see Gareth Southgate’s men finish behind Spain in the second spot, with Croatia getting relegated, while a scored draw would mean the visitors qualify for the finals with England facing the drop.
England come into the game on the back of a dominant display in a 3-0 win over USA earlier this week and will be looking to exact revenge against the team that eliminated them from the semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in the summer. They are undefeated in their last four fixtures and will be looking to extend that run to five games on Sunday.
Croatia too will be high on morale heading into the weekend’s encounter, having beaten Spain 3-2 earlier this week. While the last contest between the two nations in the Nations League ended in a goalless stalemate, Zlatko Dalic’s men will draw confidence from their World Cup victory over the Three Lions.
Team News & Tactics
Southgate fielded an experimental side last time against USA, but is expected to bring back his big guns for the crunch tie against the Croatians on Sunday. England are expected to line up in the 4-3-3 formation once again, with Jordan Pickford the obvious choice in goal.
Trent Alexander-Arnold had a brilliant game against the USMNT, capped with a goal. However, the Liverpool man is expected to make way for Kyle Walker at right-back, while Luke Shaw is likely to come into the team at left-back ahead of Ben Chilwell. Joe Gomez and John Stones will line up at the heart of the defence, in the injury-enforced absence of Harry Maguire.
Wholesale changes are on the cards in the middle of the park as well, with Tottenham Hotspur star Eric Dier set to replace Fabian Delph in the holding midfield position, while Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is also likely to get a look in, in place of Harry Winks. His Tottenham teammate Dele Alli should be retained in the team, however.
Jadon Sancho put in a fine display at Wembley earlier this week, but is expected to make way for Raheem Sterling on the right flank, while Marcus Rashford is set to replace fellow Manchester United academy graduate Jesse Lingard on the left, despite the latter scoring a sensational goal against USA. Captain and chief goal-scorer Harry Kane will spearhead the attack.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Pickford; Walker, Gomez, Stones, Shaw; Henderson, Dier, Alli; Sterling, Kane, Rashford;
The Croatians will have to deal with the absence of midfield mainstay Ivan Rakitic, who has returned to his club Barcelona, having picked up an injury. Josip Pivaric is another notable absentee for the Vatreni, heading into the do-or-die encounter on Sunday.
Dalic will mimic England’s tactics and set his team up in a 4-3-3 formation as well. Lovre Kalinic is expected to continue under the woodwork for the visitors at the Wembley and will be shielded by an unchanged back four of Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida and the match-winner against Spain, Tin Jedvaj.
Marcelo Brozovic has been in fine form for Inter Milan this season and will oversee the defensive duties in the middle of the park for Croatia, starting as the deepest of the midfield three.
Luka Modric hasn’t been in the best of form, however, but will look to regain his touch and lead his team to a victory on Sunday. In Rakitic’s absence, Mateo Kovacic should get the nod for the third spot in the centre of the pitch.
Ivan Perisic is a guaranteed starter out on the left flank for Dalic’s side, while Eintracht Frankfurt’s Ante Rebic is likely to continue as the centre-forward once again. Andrej Kramaric is once again expected to pip Nikola Vlasic to the starting spot on the right wing.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Kalinic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Jedvaj; Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic; Kramaric, Rebic, Perisic;
- England have a slight upper hand over Croatia when it comes to head-to-head record between the two countries. The Three Lions have won four of their nine contests, while the Vatreni have picked up three victories.
- England have lost just once in their last four meetings against the Croatians – a 2-1 defeat after extra time in the World Cup semi-final earlier this year (W2, D1).
- Croatia have managed to keep just one clean sheet in their last ten matches. They have shipped in as many as 19 goals in that period.
- England, on the other hand, have managed three shut-outs in their five games since the summer’s World Cup, conceding just three times in these matches.
Player to Watch
Raheem Sterling (England)
After having endured a three-year barren spell for the England national team lasting for 27 matches, the speedy winger ended his international goal-drought last month against Spain. Sterling bagged a double, in what was a scintillating display, to condemn La Roja to a defeat in Seville.
The 23-year-old has been in sensational form for his club Manchester City in the 2018-19 campaign, having already scored seven times in 15 matches across all competitions, while laying on seven assists as well.
Sterling goes into Sunday’s match on a hot streak, having scored and assisted three goals apiece in his last three club games and will look to wreak havoc and inspire England to a victory against Croatia.
England 2-1 Croatia
Southgate’s England are unbeaten in their last four matches and have scored six times in their last two games. There have been positive signs of improvement with each passing game and the win against Spain last month was a clear evidence of how far the Three Lions have come over the past year.
Croatia, on the other hand, had been in disappointing form following their exceptional run to the finals of the World Cup. Having failed to win three games in a row, Dalic’s men picked up a friendly win over Jordan last month, before beating Spain in a dramatic fashion earlier this week to keep their hopes of progression to the finals alive.
With so much at stake, the contest between England and Croatia at the Wembley on Sunday promises to be a belter of a clash. And we at The Hard Tackle believe the Three Lions should have enough to clinch a victory in their final match of the year and seal their spot in the UEFA Nations League finals next summer.