France are desperately looking for a win as they take on Croatia at Stade de France on Monday.

Highly regarded as one of the favourites to win the 2022 FIFA World Cup, France have had an underwhelming start to their UEFA Nations League campaign. The current world champions started the tournament with a 2-1 loss to Denmark, before being held to draws by both Croatia and Austria.

With just two points collected in the first three matches, Les Bleus are currently rock bottom of Group A1 and are in dire need of a win on Monday. However, they are up against the second big heavyweight in the group, in the form of Croatia. Widely tipped to finish second in the group or even compete with France for the top spot, the Croats themselves have endured an underwhelming start to the campaign.

After being humbled by Austria 3-0 in their opening fixture, the 2018 World Cup finalists were held to a draw by France in the reverse fixture. However, they did register their first win of the campaign against Denmark on the weekend.

The result sees them locked on four points with Austria, who have the head-to-head advantage. A win for Zlatko Dalic’s men on Monday could go a long way in helping them move into second place. But achieving the feat could prove to be extremely difficult against a French side determined to get back to winning ways. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over the two sides ahead of this crucial match-up at Stade de France.

Team News & Tactics

France

France have been dealt with a few blows during the international break, with N’Golo Kante leaving the camp due to injury. Lucas Hernandez is unavailable as well due to the birth of his child. Kylian Mbappe, though, is hoping to earn a start after playing a cameo against Austria.

The PSG superstar will hope to accompany his close friend Karim Benzema in the final third. Their partnership alongside Antoine Griezmann could go a long way in helping France breach the Croatian defences, although Christopher Nkunku is also pushing for a start.

Given the front three, Didier Deschamps could be compelled to line up with a back three, with Jules Kounde, William Saliba and Presnel Kimpembe forming the defensive combination.

The return to a back three should offer the French side more defensive balance, especially with Jonathan Clauss and Theo Hernandez serving as wing-backs. It may also lead to more control in possession and that is where the central midfielders come into the fray.

With Kante out of the picture, the onus will be on Matteo Guendouzi and Aurelien Tchouameni to steady the ship in the middle of the park. Guendouzi will serve as the grit to Tchouameni’s grace, but the two have their work cut out against an experienced midfield unit of Croatia led by Luka Modric.

Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Lloris; Kounde, Saliba, Kimpembe; Clauss, Guendouzi, Tchouameni, Hernandez; Griezmann; Benzema, Mbappe

Croatia

Croatia are missing a few key players of their own including Josko Gvardiol and Ivan Perisic. Borna Barisic and Borna Sosa were absent from the last game as well, and if they continue to remain unavailable, we may see once again Josip Juranovic operate at left-back.

Juranovic is expected to accompany Domagoj Vida, Duje Caleta-Car and Sime Vrsaljko in the Croatian backline that will have its task cut out against the world-class French attack led by Mbappe and Benzema.

Midfield, though, remains Croatia’s strongest point, especially with Luka Modric set to return to action, most likely at the expense of Kristijan Jakic. The same can be said for Marcelo Brozovic as well. The Inter Milan star captained his team to a win against Denmark and should retain his place in the team.

West Ham star Nikola Vlasic replacing Luka Ivanusec on the right flank might be the only change in the Croatian attack that is to be led by Andrej Kramaric. Vlasic is set to form Croatia’s creative trifecta alongside Mislav Orsic and Mario Pasalic, who scored the all-important winner in the last game.

In the attack, coach Zlatko Dalic does have a series of alternatives. Ante Budimir, for one, could serve as a more physical and aerially astute alternative to Kramaric in the number nine slot while Lovro Majer is an alternative for Orsic and Pasalic, in case Croatia require more creative firepower.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Livakovic; Vrsaljko, Vida, Caleta-Car, Juranovic; Brozovic, Modric; Vlasic, Pasalic, Orsic; Kramaric

Key Stats

  • Croatia have never won against France at the international level, losing six of their nine meetings between the two sides, including the 2018 World Cup final.
  • Croatia and France have met each other thrice in the UEFA Nations League before, with France winning two matches and the most recent one ending in a draw.
  • France’s defeat to Denmark was their 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 128 games in charge of the French national team, Didier Deschamps is one of the longest-serving international coaches in Europe.

Player to Watch

Luka Modric

Ageing like fine wine. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

Ageing like fine wine. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

It has not been long since Luka Modric won his fifth Champions League title with a splendid performance against Liverpool. As the midfielder looks to return to the side on Monday, he will be looking to replicate that performance for his country this time.

Modric’s experience, coupled with his ability to carry the ball across half spaces could go a long way in helping Croatia dominate a relatively inexperienced French midfield. His creative essence may also serve as the main source of chances for the visiting team, effectively making him the most important player on the pitch.

It will be further interesting to see Modric lock horns with his Real Madrid teammate Benzema, who is gunning for a goal after a couple of poor performances.

Prediction

France 1-1 Croatia

Croatia’s last game against France saw the two sides play out a draw. Given the sheer talent present in both the teams, we have no reason to expect anything else at Stade de France on Monday, especially with both teams likely to fight tooth and nail for a win.

It could ultimately lead to a cagey affair, with France likely to dominate and Croatia set to operate on the counter. Chances, though, may only come at a premium and at the end of the day, the two sides may cancel each other out.

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