France and Croatia are looking to get back to winning ways as they lock horns at Stadion Poljud on Monday.
France’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Denmark on the opening matchday of the UEFA Nations League came as quite a shock. Regarded as one of the strongest teams in international football and seemingly the favourite for the upcoming FIFA World Cup, the current world champions looked out of their depth in their opening fixture.
Amassing just six shots on target, France lacked the cohesion and struggled to impose their dominance, up against a spirited Denmark side. With the opening day defeat, Didier Deschamps’ men will face enormous pressure to turn the tide as they take on Croatia on Monday.
Much like France, Croatia had also succumbed to opening day defeat despite being tagged as the absolute favourite. They lost 3-0 to an Austria side led by former Manchester United boss Ralf Rangnick, with Marko Arnautovic, Michael Gregoritsch and Marcel Sabitzer finding the back of the net.
While the Croats admittedly did not field a particularly strong eleven, they will have to regroup and strengthen as a unit as they take on France on Monday, in what will be the rematch of the 2018 FIFA World Cup final.
Neither team can afford to lose as it will see them lag behind significantly in the earlier stages of the UEFA Nations League. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their enticing matchup at Stadion Poljud in Split.
Team News & Tactics
Following a dismal performance against Austria, Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic will be keen on fielding a much stronger starting eleven on Monday. One of the changes could see the highly experienced Luka Modric returning to midfield, most likely at the expense of Marcelo Brozovic, who is nursing fitness issues.
#Croatia squad lands in Split! 🛬
— HNS (@HNS_CFF) June 4, 2022
Modric should form the double pivot in Croatia’s 4-2-3-1, along with Mateo Kovacic. The two will play a key role in helping the hosts retain possession and offer the creative essence with their ability to thread balls in behind the backline.
Another key player, in that regard, could be Lovro Majer. The Rennes playmaker could occupy the number ten role, at the expense of Mario Pasalic. Other changes in the attack could see Mislav Orsic and Nikola Vlasic return to the setup. They are set to operate out wide, offering the much-needed creativity and supply for central striker Andrej Kramaric.
Kramaric, though, is more of a modern forward, who relies heavily on his movements and positional intelligence. Dalic has the option of deploying the tall Ante Budimir if he wants his number nine to offer a more physical and aerial presence upfront.
Meanwhile, in the defensive unit, Dalic could strengthen the backline by recalling Domagoj Vida at the expense of Marin Pongracic. The experienced centre-back should accompany the equally uncompromising Duje Caleta-Car at the heart of the four-man backline.
Unfortunately for the home side, the highly talented Josko Gvardiol is facing fitness issues and could be ruled out against France. Dalic may also withdraw Borna Sosa from the starting eleven and give the nod to Borna Barisic, who is a more all-round option at left-back.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Livakovic; Juranovic, Vida, Caleta-Car, Barisic; Kovacic, Modric; Vlasic, Majer, Orsic; Kramaric
It wasn’t a good start for France as they lost 2-1 to Denmark. But more importantly, their star player Kylian Mbappe picked up a knock while Raphael Varane also recently suffered a thigh injury. The latter has been already ruled out, with Ibrahima Konate set to replace him in the squad.
Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konaté has been called up by France to replace Raphaël Varane, after the Manchester United man's thigh injury picked up yesterday.
— Get French Football News (@GFFN) June 4, 2022
The situation of Mbappe still remains unclear and given the strenuous fixture list that awaits, the Frenchman is unlikely to be risked on Monday. It could potentially pave the way for someone like Christopher Nkunku to make an impression on the night.
The RB Leipzig superstar is coming on the back of an incredible campaign. His services could be useful on the left-hand side of France’s three-pronged attack, as he accompanies Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema. Moussa Diaby is another option for the world champions, but Nkunku should get the nod owing to his form.
Moving into midfield, Adrien Rabiot is gunning for a start alongside Aurelien Tchouameni, in light of N’Golo Kante’s recent injury plight. However, it will not be surprising at all to see the Chelsea superstar continue in the double pivot, alongside the more creative Tchouameni.
Manager Didier Deschamps, who is back with the squad after missing the Denmark game due to the death of his father, will not have too many reasons to tinker with the wing-backs in Kingsley Coman and Theo Hernandez as they offer the width and quality going forward. But in order to make up for Coman’s lack of defensive nous on the right flank, Benjamin Pavard may have to bear additional responsibility.
The Bayern Munich ace should feature on the right side of the three-man French backline, consisting of him, Lucas Hernandez and Presnel Kimpembe, who should replace Jules Kounde on the left-hand side of the back three.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Lloris; Pavard, L. Hernandez, Kimpembe; Coman, Tchouameni, Rabiot, T. Hernandez; Griezmann; Benzema, Nkunku
- Croatia have never won against France at the international level, losing six of their eight meetings between the two sides, including the 2018 World Cup final.
- Croatia and France have met each other twice in the UEFA Nations League before, with France winning both the matches on a 6-3 aggregate.
- France’s defeat to Denmark was the first loss in a ninety-minute game in almost three years.
- Croatia’s defeat to Austria was also their first loss on the international stage since their 5-3 drubbing at the hands of Spain UEFA Euro 2020 last year.
- With 127 games in charge of the French national team, Didier Deschamps is one of the longest-serving international coaches in Europe.
Player to Watch
Following the dismal showing against Denmark and the possible exclusion of Kylian Mbappe, the onus will be on Karim Benzema to offer the X-factor going forward for France.
The Real Madrid frontman is coming on the back of an excellent season for his club. He helped Los Blancos win the UEFA Champions League and La Liga, racking up 44 goals in all competitions. Although his link up with Mbappe will be missed, Benzema will still have the services of Antoine Griezmann and Christopher Nkunku as he looks to tear apart the Croatian defence.
Benzema could indeed make life difficult for the opposition backline using his positional intelligence and ability to sniff goalscoring opportunities. Preventing him from making his presence felt in the final third could go a long way in helping Croatia come out with a point in this game.
Croatia 1-1 France
France are not in the best of touch recently, and a game against the 2018 World Cup finalists won’t make life easier for the visitors, regardless of their opponent’s performance against Austria. With Zlatko Dalic set to field a much stronger lineup this time around, Les Bleus could be in for a tough time.
We are expecting a cagey encounter at Stadion Poljud, with chances likely to come at a premium. While France may dominate possession, Croatia will pack a punch on the counter. The two sides may ultimately cancel each other out and share the spoils on Monday.