World Cup 2018: Key tactical battles from the third round of fixtures
Alex Keble picks out four key battles from the third round of World Cup fixtures and predicts Brazil and Argentina to struggle.
"Milinkovic-Savic is excellent at dribbling in tight spaces and wrestling control of a contest, which is precisely the sort of commanding performance that would see a nervous Brazil midfield crumble. If he turns up, and looks to get in behind Paulinho, then Serbia could just nick the three points they need."
Musa to hit desperate Argentina on the counter
Nigeria v Argentina
Tuesday 26 June, 19:00, Live on BBC One
The outburst of emotion following Argentina's 3-0 defeat to Croatia made it easy to forget Jorge Sampaoli's side could still qualify - although the pressure on these players should make for another wild, desperate day for Lionel Messi and company. They most likely need to win by two or more goals, and therefore will pour men forward throughout the game. Nigeria can definitely catch them on the break.
Gernot Rohr's unexpected switch to a 3-5-2 formation worked superbly against Iceland. Nigeria patched up their defence with an extra body, freed Victor Moses to play in a more familiar wing-back role, and injected pace on the counter all at once. Ahmed Musa scored twice from quick breakaways, capitalising on his place in a system that allows for two forwards to stay high and at least one wing-back to freely charge forward.
Argentina will no doubt be vulnerable to Musa's movement. Sampaoli will abandon the shambolic 3-4-3 used against Croatia in favour of a more structured 4-3-3 formation, but chasing a big win the two full-backs will hold very high starting positions. Without an obvious defensive shield, Nicolas Otamendi and Marcus Rojo will be left two-on-two with Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho (or Odion Ighalo). The trial-and-error chaos of Sampaoli's sections suggests Nigeria will find the gaps they need.
Milinkovic-Savic has the chance to shine against Paulinho
Serbia v Brazil
Wednesday June 27, 19:00, Live on ITV
In direct contrast to Argentina, Brazil celebrated their late victory over Costa Rica as if they had secured qualification, when in fact they face the toughest game of the group this week needing a win. Brazil are playing under far too much pressure to find fluency and, with Paulinho and Philippe Coutinho pushing forward from midfield, they leave plenty of gaps for a physical Serbia team to exploit.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was many pundits' choice to be the breakout star of the competition, but the Pogba-esque Serbia midfielder is yet to make an impact. This is precisely the sort of game in which he could make his name; as Serbia look to hurt Brazil on the counter with long balls forward towards Aleksandar Mitrovic, Milinkovic-Savic will be trusted with getting alongside the target man.
The 23-year-old is excellent at dribbling in tight spaces and wrestling control of a contest, which is precisely the sort of commanding performance that would see a nervous Brazil midfield crumble. If he turns up, and looks to get in behind Paulinho, then Serbia could just nick the three points they need.
Goals for both sides in mismatch at both ends
England v Belgium
Thursday June 28, 19:00, Live on ITV
Gareth Southgate is mulling over whether to rest key players for this match, making the tactical battles difficult to predict, although there should be goals whoever lines up. Belgium are very open defensively, and in areas England's quick, incisive counters will expose, while England's fairly slow defence is unlikely to withstand Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, and Romelu Lukaku.
Kieran Trippier has been the tournament's outstanding right-back so far, completing more crosses per game (4.5) than any other player at the World Cup. His excellent overlapping runs should hurt Belgium in the huge patches of grass left uncovered by Yannick Corrasco, who functions (somewhat badly) as a left wing-back in Roberto Martinez's system.
This obvious mismatch should allow England to get in behind, particularly with Jesse Lingard making arching runs into this space. Harry Maguire and John Stones could struggle to cope with Lukaku's movement at the other end, while England's lack of solid defensive midfielders should allow Hazard and De Bruyne to conquer the half-spaces.
Head-to-head on Colombia's left should decide open game
Senegal v Colombia
Thursday June 28, 15:00, Live on BBC One
Both Colombia and Senegal are beginning to play with swagger, which should make this a highly entertaining playoff. Both nations possess talented, technical central midfields that look to spread the play to quick wide men, which should make for an interesting battle down Colombia's left.
James Rodriguez looked confident in the 3-0 victory over Poland, assisting twice and generally causing problems from an inside left position. He frequently combined with Juan Quintero on the turn to create slick counter-attacking moves. James will certainly test Senegal's young duo on the right, Ismaila Sarr and Moussa Wague.
These two created five chances and attempted 11 crosses against Japan, with Wague in particular overlapping menacingly. Given that James won't track back, and Wague will get caught too high up the field (as he was by left winger Takashi Inui), this game should have plenty of goals.