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Croatia v England preview: Tactical analysis & head-to-head battles

Football
Croatia v England in the World Cup semi-finals
Croatia v England in the World Cup semi-finals

Ahead of the huge World Cup semi-final we look at the key tactics and head-to-head battles that will decide whether Croatia or England head to the final.

It's the big one, Croatia are back in the semi-finals for the first time since France '98, for England it's been even longer as Italia '90 was the last time they got to the final four as they continue to try and emulate the boys of '66.

England head into the game as favourites at 7/5 to win in the 90 minutes and 4/6 to qualify. Croatia are 12/5 to win in normal time and 6/5 to make the final.

The draw opened up wonderfully for both Gareth Southgate's side and Zlatko Dalic's outfit, but who will come out on top in Moscow? Here we take a look at the key talking points, tactics and head-to-head battles for the big game.

England are the set piece kings

Harry Maguire gives England the lead against Sweden
Harry Maguire gives England the lead against Sweden

The Three Lions have scored eight of their 11 goals from set pieces, they've caused havoc from corners and when they're not scoring directly from them, or from the rebound or knockdown, then they're forcing defenders to give away penalties - that Harry Kane dispatches for fun.

Croatia will be spending most of their time working out how to defend corners especially, as no team has really found the antidote to the dummy runs, blocks and ‘love train’ as Glenn Hoddle described when players line up in single file before firing off around the box.

Trippier and Young’s service has been excellent, Maguire and Stones really attack the ball and Kane’s movement and reactions are top notch – they really are a threat from dead ball situations and considering Denmark and Russia had joy against Croatia this is a hugely important route for success for England.

Harry Maguire & John Stones are both 12/1 to score in 90 minutes

Keeping a leash on Modric & Rakitic

Luka Modric celebrates after scoring for Croatia
Luka Modric is 4/1 to be named Man of the Match against England

Croatia’s midfield pair are among the best in the business and England will need to limit their influence on the game to have any success.

Modric in particular sets the tempo, pulls the strings, and does everything a true midfield maestro should do.

Jordan Henderson will need to get in among both of them, but Lingard, Alli and Sterling will also need to put a shift in to stop them running the game.

They struggled against packed defences the last two games but England will be a bit more open, and Modric when dropping deep and spraying balls around is especially dangerous.

4/1 - Luka Modric to be voted Man of the Match

Can Croatia got the distance again?

Croatia players celebrate after Domagoj Vida's extra-time goal v Russia
Croatia have twice been to penalties, can England take advantage late on?

Croatia’s coach has tried to play it down but having back-to-back penalty shootout wins really will take its toll at some stage, either physically or mentally, on his side.

They’ll hope to control the ball and grab an early goal to conserve energy, but England must make them run and wear them down.

A fast start for Southgate’s men will really put the onus on Croatia while some early running in the legs could see them fade in the second half.

England must be favourites to outwork their opponents and the longer it goes the more you’d fancy them to take advantage.

9/1 - England to win in extra time

Battle of the wide boys

Kieran Trippier on free-kick duty for England
Kieran Trippier is 7/2 to provide an assist for England against Croatia

There's an interesting clash of styles and an interesting battle between England's back three and wing-backs and Croatia's wide forwards Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic - who've impressed so far with their pace, power and direct running.

If Young and Trippier leave too much space, Rebic and Perisic will be on hand to run directly at England's back three.

Going forward, Young and Trippier have been excellent and their delivery especially has been a source of creativity for England.

Whether they can still do that against Croatia's pair of wide men, or whether they're forced to play more defensively, could have a big say on deciding this game.

To assist a goal in 90 minutes: 7/2 Trippier 11/2 Young 13/2 Rebic 13/2 Perisic

Head-to-head battles

Dejan Lovren v Harry Kane

Croatia's defence is considered their weak link with neither Lovren nor centre-back partner Domagoj Vida boasting great pace. Lovren, who has struggled against Kane in the Premier League in the past, faces a tough challenge to contain England's prime striker. Kane is the tournament's top scorer so far with six goals.

Ivan Rakitic v Jordan Henderson

Further up the field, Croatia are blessed with a number of talented ball-playing midfielders. Rakitic is among the finest in the game, although he has played more of a withdrawn role in this tournament while Modric has attacked. Henderson, the preferred anchor in Gareth Southgate's side, will attempt to negate his impact.

Luka Modric v Dele Alli

Real Madrid playmaker Modric has excelled at times in Russia, both on the ball and in terms of his leadership qualities. His exact role can be variable - he could spray passes from midfield or be pushed forward to operate in support of main striker Mario Mandzukic. Alli has his own attacking inclinations but there could be onus on him to drop back to prevent Modric taking a firm grip.

Mario Mandzukic v Harry Maguire

Mandzukic is Croatia's chief threat in front of goal and has operated both as a lone striker and as one of a pair, with Andrej Kramaric, in this tournament. His prime attributes are his strength and aerial power and England will want Maguire, their strongest defender in the air, up against him as the crosses come in.


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Most Read Football

Our best bets for the latest round of Europa League games1

Europa League betting preview

The Europa League kicks off on Thursday with Chelsea and Arsenal fancied for success. Tom Carnduff picks out his best bets.

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