England v Croatia: Tactics and where the game will be won or lost

England will play Croatia in the semi-final of the World Cup on Wednesday evening, which is surprising for a number of reasons. Firstly, Croatia haven’t made it out of the groups since 1998, when they placed third in France and were utterly majestic. Secondly, England haven’t reached a semi-final since 1990. This is the best opportunity both sets of men have had in decades to lift the World Cup. Thirdly, England have played quite attacking football, which is rarely rewarded on the international stage. Playing out from the back with players who only train together a few weeks every year is usually a recipe for counter-attack goals from well-drilled defensive sides who play to their limitations.

Croatia have followed this mould a little this tournament. They’re not afraid to attack, but they certainly love to counter wide and quickly. They’re defensively compact and endeavour to be very hard to break down. Two goals conceded to Russia suggests they’re not as invincible as the single concession in the group stage suggested.

Tactically, it seems like a script has already been written, England attack, get sprung by a world-class Croatian midfield distributing to quick wingers who exploit England’s advanced wing-backs. 2-1. We shall see if that’s the case on Wednesday, or if both sides attempt to spring a surprise. In the meantime, here are some things you can look forward to watching.

Domagoj Vida More commonly a centre-back, which is where he plays the majority of his games for his country, Vida has been shifted to right back to accommodate Vedran Corluka in centre-back and replace the injured Šime Vrsaljko. He’s not the quickest, and it will be a test of his fitness to see how he gets up and down the right byline. He’s a talented defender, and he has played in wide roles before, but nonetheless, this should be an area for the likes of Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young and Raheem Sterling to exploit.

England’s 3-5-2 requires a lot of off-the-ball movement from Alli, Sterling and Lingard to pull defenders out of spaces. Harry Kane on occasion will also drop deep and bring the ball forward. Vida does not possess Vrsaljko’s ability going forward, so will likely sit back more, meaning England will have a bit more freedom to play no the left wing.

The best way England can hope to exploit Vida’s likely hesitance in the role, is to push Ashley Young further forward in attacking runs and encourage him to cross from the byline more frequently, than from deep as he has been doing in previous matches. Young has the pace and skill to threaten outside and past Vida, in conjunction with players like Sterling, Alli and Lingard keeping him honest by offering more central attacking runs. Split his decision making as often as possible.

Croatia make use of width well. They play a 4-2-3-1 which shifts to a 4-1-4-1 with a pretty aggressive and wide attacking line, which occupies the attention of defenders. They don’t swamp the midfield with the ball, they look to push it wide to channels quickly to make use of Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic on the counter attack, trusting in the passing ability of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. This is where England’s press will be tested. If you allow the tireless Modric time on the ball, either to distribute or work upfield, he will punish you. He’s a fantastic playmaker. Rakitic, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic are also enormous threats in central midfield. England’s defence will need to work hard and trust their centre-backs ability to cover wide channel balls, while pressing hard centrally, to restrict the Croatian midfield’s time as much as possible. Jordan Henderson will work back hard, as will the likes of Sterling, Lingard and Alli. With the ball, England need to retain possession and test their defences patiently. Above all, don’t lose the ball in the midfield when our wing backs are committed forward. Croatia tend to sit deep and counter. England need to break them down early and then possibly even force Croatia to attack a bit, to bring forward their more suspect defence and catch them on the break.
Danijel Subasic The first-choice goalkeeper suffered a clear hamstring tug against Russia and was uncomfortable throughout extra-time. If he starts, it might be advisable for England to let off one-or-two shots from range to test how springy he feels.

Source : inews

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