There was a certain sense of relief for Gareth Southgate in England’s last game against Switzerland. The 1-0 win over a team that had beaten Iceland 6-0 just a few days previously, was a good result, but also brought to an end a run of three consecutive defeats, stretching back to their World Cup Semifinal defeat to Croatia in the summer.

After that sapping defeat, England then went on to lose to Belgium in the third place playoff game in Russia before their first Nations League game against Spain at Wembley in September. Despite an early goal from Marcus Rashford putting England in front, Spain came back strongly with Saul Niguez of Atletico Madrid equalising just a few minutes later, before Rodrigo claimed the winner for the visitors converting from a well-worked set piece.

That defeat on home soil was then exacerbated a few days later as on the same day England beat Switzerland, Spain took a stranglehold on the group when they defeated Croatia 6-0 in Elche in what was a stunning performance by the home side.

This leaves the current state of play in League A Group 4 as follows:

  • Matchday 1 – England 1-2 Spain
  • Matchday 2 – Spain 6-0 Croatia

League A Group 4 Table

Pos Team Ply For Ag Pts Gd
1 Spain 2 8 1 6 +7
2 England 1 1 2 0 -1
3 Croatia 1 0 6 0 -6

This coming weekend will see England in action twice in two very tough away games and Gareth Southgate will know that this is going to be a huge test for his relatively inexperienced squad. The action begins on Friday night with England heading to Zagreb to take on Croatia and then three days later, England will head to Seville, where they will once again lock horns with table-topping Spain.

The final two matches in November will then see Croatia face Spain on home soil, before the group is completed with England facing Croatia at Wembley.

So the question is, can England haul back the Spanish to claim a shock win in the group, or are Gareth Southgate’s team more realistically fighting with Croatia to avoid relegation into League B of the tournament by finishing second in the group?

England Squad to face Croatia & Spain

Position Name Club Caps Goals
G Marcus Bettinelli Fulham 0 0
G Jack Butland Stoke City 9 0
G Jordan Pickford Everton 11 0
G Alex McCarthy Southampton 0 0
D Trent Al-Arnold Liverpool 3 0
D Joe Gomez Liverpool 4 0
D Harry Maguire Leicester City 14 1
D Danny Rose Tottenham 25 0
D Ben Chilwell Leicester City 1 0
D John Stones Manchester City 35 2
D Lewis Dunk Brighton 0 0
D Kieran Trippier Tottenham 15 1
D Kyle Walker Manchester City 41 0
M Ross Barkley Chelsea 22 2
M Nathaniel Chalobah Watford 0 0
M Eric Dier Tottenham 34 3
M Jordan Henderson Liverpool 46 0
M James Maddison Leicester City 0 0
M Mason Mount Derby Co 0 0
M Jadon Sancho Borussia Dortmund 0 0
M Raheem Sterling Manchester City 44 2
M Harry Winks Tottenham 1 0
A Harry Kane Tottenham 32 19
A Marcus Rashford Manchester United 27 5
A Danny Welbeck Arsenal 42 16

As you can see from the 25-man squad that Gareth Southgate has named for this game, England are missing several key men from the team and just seven of that squad have amassed more than 30 caps for their country, with no player having more than Jordan Henderson’s 46 caps.

A glut of international retirements, injuries, a lack of form and the managers decision to look at some younger players rather than established stars, has meant a new era being ushered in for England and while the likes of Dele Alli, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jesse Lingard and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will likely be called upon again in the future, the same cannot be said for several other players such as Manchester United trio Chris Smalling, Ashley Young and Phil Jones.

Interesting additions to the squad are Jadon Sancho, the ex-Manchester City winger who has been a revelation since signing for Borussia Dortmund and who has been in fine form for the German side in their excellent start to the season. Mason Mount of Derby County also gets a call up as does Brighton centre back Lewis Dunk, who replaced the injured James Tarkowski, and Fulham keeper Marcus Bettinelli.

What team will Southgate pick for the game in Croatia?

What was notable was that many managers approached the Nations League as a genuine international competition, rather than just a glorified friendly. There were few examples of weakened teams being selected and while these games don’t have the importance of say a World Cup or European Championships qualifier, they are still being taken seriously by the teams.

As such, I feel England will likely go with their strongest possible team in Croatia and for me that will be Southgate adopting his trusted 3-5-2 formation, though I expect one of the strikers to be Raheem Sterling, who will be expected to drop deeper into midfield to try and put pressure on the Croatian duo of Modric and Rakitic, who ran the game against England in the World Cup Semifinal.

Probable England Team – 5-3-2 – Pickford, Trippier, Rose, Maguire, Stones, Walker, Henderson, Dier, Barkley, Sterling, Kane.

Top Tips – Croatia v England

  • Full Time Result – Croatia v England – Draw – 9/4 with bet365

It’s not just England missing key players for this game. Croatia will be without their key full backs Strinic and Vrsaljko through injury, while their goalkeeper and main striker, Mario Mandzukic, have both retired following the World Cup. Given how important all four of these players were in that game, I do feel this is a much weaker Croatian side as a result.

Of course, they still have huge quality in midfield and if England play the same way as they did in the semifinal, especially from the second half on, Croatia will win. However, I think a slight tactical tweak could be enough to secure the Three Lions what could be a valuable point.

  • Correct Score – Croatia 1-1 England – 5/1 with bet365

I can’t see there being too many goals in this game. I feel both teams are relatively solid defensively and while the Croatians have the upper hand in midfield, I feel that England’s attack is dangerous and that the England team can really worry the Croatians from set plays. That said, I can’t see too many goals, though I do feel both teams will score, hence 1-1 is the perfect choice here.

  • Anytime Goalscorer – Luka Modric (Croatia) – 15/4

The FIFA World Player of the Year is Croatia’s best player and also their penalty taker, which is something I feel will be key here as I can see Croatia’s best chance of scoring coming from the spot. With Mandzukic out of the team now and no real quality replacement for him, I think Modric’s goals will be key for Croatia over the next couple of years and at 15/4, he is a great value pick.

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