World champions France will begin their 2020/21 UEFA Nations League journey this weekend when they take on Sweden in Stockholm.

The second edition of the UEFA Nations League got underway on Thursday, with the first set of fixtures continuing till the weekend. In one of the marquee encounters on Saturday, we will see Sweden play hosts to 2018 FIFA World Cup Champions France in Group A3 at the Friends Arena in Stockholm.

Sweden earned promotion to League A after finishing top of the Group B2 in the inaugural edition of the Nations League. Janne Andersson’s side come into the game on the back of an eight-game unbeaten streak, during which they have picked up six wins. Their last encounter, a friendly against Kosovo, played in January this year ended in a 1-0 win.

France, on the other hand, did not fare all too well in the Nations League last time out. But, the World Champions have been in top form of late, having cruised through the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers. Les Bleus come into the game on the back of a seven-game unbeaten run (W6 D1), with their most recent fixture culminating in a 2-0 win over Albania.

Given that Sweden and France have been drawn alogside inaugaral Nations League champions Portugal and 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia, they will be intent on grabbing all points available on Saturday. And ahead of this exciting clash coming our way from Stockholm, The Hard Tackle takes a close look at both the teams.

Team News & Tactics

Sweden

Can Janne Andersson mastermind a win over the World Champions? (Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Can Janne Andersson mastermind a win over the World Champions? (Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Sweden manager Janne Andersson has picked a fairly experienced squad with no uncapped players in the ranks. However, experienced defender Martin Olsson has had to withdraw from the roster due to the risk of spreading infection, with players from his club Helsingborg testing positive for coronavirus.

Sweden, for the most part under Andersson, set up in the 4-4-2 formation and that is unlikely to change against the World Champions this weekend.

Robin Olsen ought to line up in goal for the Blue and Yellows, with Victor Lindelof and Filip Helander likely to operate as the two centre-backs. Seasoned campaigners Mikael Lustig and Pierre Bengtsson should line up as the two full-backs.

The midfield bank of four should have Kristoffer Olson and Albin Ekdal at the centre, flanked by Juventus starlet Dejan Kulusevski on the right and Emil Forsberg on the left. Veteran midfielder Sebastian Larsson is also an option for the manager.

The two-pronged strikeforce should see veteran striker Marcus Berg, who has the most number of goals in the current squad, pair up with Robin Quaison. However, Andersson could also call upon the exciting Alexander Isak and Union Berlin’s Sebastian Andersson.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Olsen; Lustig, Lindelof, Helander, Bengtsson; Kulusevski, Olson, Ekdal, Forsberg; Berg, Quaison

France

Midfielders Paul Pogba and Tanguy Ndombele have been left out of the France squad by manager Didier Deschamps after the duo tested positive for coronavirus. Houssem Aouar, who had earned his first call-up to the national team, has also endured the same fate.

Eduardo Camavinga has earned a call-up to the national team (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

Eduardo Camavinga has earned a call-up to the national team (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano has been called up by the manager after an impressive season, while Mike Maignan and Eduardo Camavinga are the other uncapped players in the squad. Deschamps had set his team up in a 3-4-1-2 formation in their last game, but is likely to revert to the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 on Saturday.

In goal, captain Hugo Lloris should get the nod after a strong end to the 2019/20 campaign with Tottenham. Leo Dubois should get the nod at right-back, while Ferland Mendy should feature on the left ahead of Lucas Hernandez. Raphael Varane and Presnel Kimpembe are likely to start as the centre-backs, with Upamecano having to wait for his debut.

Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, who has been linked with Inter Milan, is a shoo-in in the midfield double pivot for Les Bleus. Camavinga’s brilliant season does put him among the contenders to partner Kante, but Deschamps is likely to go with the more experienced Moussa Sissoko, although Steven Nzonzi is also an option.

Antoine Griezmann will play off the main striker Olivier Giroud against Sweden, while the threat from wide will come from Kylian Mbappe and Manchester United’s Anthony Martial, who is back in the national team squad after a strong season.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Dubois, Varane, Kimpembe, Mendy; Kante, Sissoko; Mbappe, Griezmann, Martial; Giroud

Key Stats

  • Saturday’s contest will be the 22nd meeting between the two teams. France have the upper-hand when it comes to head-to-head record with 10 wins, compared to 6 for Sweden (D5).
  • The last time these two teams met was in 2017, in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Sweden emerged triumphant, beating France 2-1.
  • There have been no draws between the two sides in their last five meetings, with France winning three and Sweden winning two. The last time the two nations played out a stalemate was in February 2005 in a friendly.
  • Out of the eleven matches that France have played since the start of 2019, Les Bleus have lost just the one game (W9 D1) – a 2-0 defeat to Turkey in the Euro qualifiers.
  • Sweden are unbeaten in their last eight matches (W6 D2). They have kept a clean sheet in six of those games, conceding just twice.

Player to Watch

Anthony Martial

Back in the national team picture after a brilliant season (Picture Courtesy - AFP/Getty Images)

Back in the national team picture after a brilliant season (Picture Courtesy – AFP/Getty Images)

The Manchester United forward has been constantly overlooked by France manager Didier Deschamps for a while now. In fact, since 2016, Anthony Martial has featured just three times for the national team and did not play even once in 2019, despite having enjoyed a resurgence at club level.

However, after an excellent 2019/20 season, Martial has now forced his way back into the national team. The 24-year-old was one of the standout players for Manchester United post-lockdown and having ended the season on a strong note, he will be hoping to carry that form and momentum to the international stages.

Prediction

Sweden 0-1 France

Both Sweden and France had been on a good run of form, but given the amount of time that has passed since the two nations last played, that will count for little on Saturday night.

The home team have been very strong and resolute at the back and will frustrate the World Champions. However, they themselves might find it hard to break down the France defence, meaning both teams will need to be at their clinical best.

It promises to be a closely-contested battle, but France’s superior quality across the pitch should just about push them across the line in Stockholm. The Hard Tackle, thus, predicts a narrow 1-0 win for Deschamps & co.

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