The Big Match Tactical View: Croatia v England

Gareth Southgate
Croatia will be without a key defender, which will be music to the ears of Gareth Southgate
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Croatia stand in England's way as Gareth Southgate's men attempt to reach the World Cup final. Michael Cox and Alan Thompson look at tactics and betting respectively...

"England also have a variety of set-piece routines, which has caused opponents serious problems so far, with Maguire and Stones both major threats."

Croatia v England
Wednesday 19:00, ITV1.
Match Odds: Croatia [3.8], England [2.4], The Draw [3.2].

England are in their first World Cup semi-final since 1990, and have the chance to qualify for their first final since 1966. Croatia are a fine side very much capable of upsetting Gareth Southgate's men, but realistically England start as favourites, against much weaker opposition than you'd usually expect to encounter at this stage.

Croatia likely to be fatigued

Croatia are also hampered by the fact they've played gruelling 120-minute matches against both Switzerland and Russia, and therefore are likely to be exhausted ahead of this game. They're likely to be without Sime Vrsaljko, arguably their star man against Russia, while centre-forward Mario Mandzukic also ended that game too tired to take a penalty. Croatia don't have a particularly deep squad, and this could prove costly.

Manager Zlatko Dalic is likely to reformat his side from the Russia game, reverting from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3. This is slightly difficult as it would involve removing goalscorer Andrej Kramaric, who was teed up by Mandzukic's clever cross. But it seems unlikely Croatia will cope against England's midfield runners with only the - wonderfully talented - Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Marcelo Brozovic seems likely to come into the side as a holding player.

Vrsaljko absence causes major problems

Defensively, Vrsaljko's absence causes a big problem. Domagoj Vida is likely to switch to right-back, with Vedran Corluka coming into the centre of defence. Corluka was hardly the quickest in his younger days, and is now 32, and the speed of England's attack could cause serious problems.

Otherwise this is likely to be a familiar side. Modric and Rakitic spread to the flanks to control the game from wide, while Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic can switch wings but both offer a very direct threat.

Unchanged England XI

Southgate, meanwhile, has shown very little interest in switching his side in terms of formation or personnel so far, and it would be a major surprise if there were any alterations to the side that overcame Sweden with relative ease.

So it's the XI that has become familiar, and may become legendary. Jordan Pickford will be protected by Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire. Kieran Trippier, perhaps this competition's best full-back, will overlap on the right with Ashley Young playing a steadier role on the left.

Jordan Henderson will protect the defence with Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli pushing forward into attack, where Raheem Sterling will start slightly deeper and run in behind while Harry Kane leads the attack but comes towards play.

Key battlegrounds

England have two main areas of concern. One is down their left, where Young and Maguire aren't the most mobile duo and the speed of Rebic (or Perisic) could cause serious problems.

The other is in midfield. Henderson has enjoyed a fine tournament, but with Modric and Rakitic freed by the discipline of Brozovic, they might find gaps either side of him and cause England problems between the lines.

But England should win this game by being speedier. Sterling constantly threatened with his runs in behind against Sweden, even if his finishing was poor, while Alli and Lingard have both made dangerous runs into the channels. Croatia may defend deeper than usual, but the lack of speed at the back remains a serious issue. Dejan Lovren's disastrous performance against Harry Kane at Wembley last year may also play on his mind.

England also have a variety of set-piece routines, which has caused opponents serious problems so far, with Maguire and Stones both major threats.

It wouldn't be a surprise if Croatia dominated in open play, with Modric and Rakitic offering a level of technical quality England cannot match. But speed and set-pieces should be enough for England to qualify for the final, and if the game goes to extra-time, Southgate have more depth and younger legs. I'll back England to qualify at [1.67].

The Betfair Trader's View - Alan Thompson

Gareth Southgate's England side are potentially just two games away from true "legend" status and the first of those games sees them take on a Croatian side that have had to endure the stress and additional fatigue of two penalty shootouts to get to this stage.

The Three Lions have faced Croatia seven times before and have beaten them in four of those meetings, drawing once. However, one of the defeats England suffered was particularly memorable at Wembley in 2007, when Croatia denied England a place in Euro 2008 beating them 3-2. But revenge was gained in their most recent meetings, during qualification for the 2010 World Cup they were drawn against each other and England ran out 9-2 victors across the two games, winning 4-1 in Croatia and 5-1 at Wembley.

These games tend to be close low scoring encounters, both teams have scored in just two of the last eight World Cup semi finals (Brazil 1-7 Germany 2014, Uruguay 2-3 Holland 2010), seven of the eight games were level at half time and six would have paid out on a bet on under 1.5 goals. With the exception of the historic German victory in Brazil four years ago, just a one goal margin or a penalty shootout has separated the teams. I expect this game to follow that trend.

Much has already been written about England's route to this stage but the crucial thing is they are here and they may never get another chance like this to make a World Cup final. Personally, I think the fact that they were fairly easy winners of their Quarter Final (compared to their opponents) is a big advantage and I believe they will win this and set up what will be an incredible Sunday for the nation, something most people (me included) never thought they would see.

I will be splitting my stake backing Draw/England in the Half Time/Full Time market at [6.2] and England to win 1-0 in the correct score market at [7.6].

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