Of the four teams left in the World Cup, England’s starting XI is perhaps the easiest to predict. France boast an incredible concoction of quality and depth, Roberto Martinez has often changed Belgium’s game-plan and Three Lions opponents Croatia have a wealth of riches in midfield. Gareth Southgate, meanwhile, has leant heavily on a starting XI that so naturally fits his idiosyncratic formation.
But to believe the 3-1-4-2 setup will leave every opponent equally perplexed would be naïve, especially after giving Wednesday night’s semi finalists five World Cup games to assess its strengths and weaknesses. Add in the fact Croatia represent a different kind of opposition to what England have faced so far at this World Cup through their ability to control possession, and this is arguably the obligatory moment for Southgate to alternate from his primary philosophy.
With that in mind, here’s three changes Football FanCast’s expert writers would make to ensure victory over Croatia and a subsequent place in the 2018 World Cup final…
“Even though the Three Lions will see less of the ball for once, it would be a very risky move to change the set-up of the team at this stage. However, Danny Rose in place of Ashley Young would give more reassurance at the back and more balance to the team going forward as he wouldn’t be cutting inside to deliver crosses. We may lose Young’s set-piece deliveries from the left but surely Kieran Trippier could replicate what he does from the right corner flag.”
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“By far the strongest area of Croatia’s team is their midfield, so Southgate may be tempted to take a slightly more cautious approach in the engine room to stifle Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric. Dele Alli opened his World Cup account against Sweden, again proving his penchant for the big occasion, but still doesn’t look fully fit and sharp, and would be most at risk if England do beef up midfield. Eric Dier would be the most conservative option but looked ponderous against Colombia. Fabian Delph offers energy and discipline but lacks the class and power of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who would be the ideal alternative to Alli.”
“The big question here is obviously who will start up front alongside Harry Kane. Despite the criticism, Raheem Sterling has been playing well up there but with his struggles in front of goal continuing against Sweden, it may be time to take him out of the spotlight. Croatia’s starting right-back Sime Vrsaljko is injured, so it looks like Domagoj Vida will move out there and it’ll be a dodgy-looking centre-back pairing of Dejan Lovren and 32-year-old Vedran Ćorluka. Usually I would have Jamie Vardy ahead of Marcus Rashford but as the Leicester man’s been injured, Southgate should trust the 20-year-old to run Croatia’s defence ragged and start him instead of Sterling.”