Written by Markus
In order to progress to the Round of 16, Croatia needs a minimum of four points from their next two matches. Three points could allow the Vatreni to move on as a 3rd seed, but we all know that no one wants that. Changes definitely need to be made for the upcoming match against the Czech Republic and there are two ways Dalić can play his cards:
Croatia plays a 4-2-3-1 formation with Petković in his natural striker position; not forcing him to adjust into a target-man role. Let him do his thing in the box and work with his feet because, let’s be honest, not a single striker on our team is beating this Czech defense in aerial duels. This is why I believe Budimir could be a waste in this game considering the Czechs have very strong and tall center backs, and Budimir is not strong enough to fight for those 50/50 balls.
Kalas- 6’1″ 190lbs
Celustka- 6’2″ 180lbs
Zima- 6’3″ 186lbs
Provod- 6’2″ 188lbs
Kral and Soucek CDMs – 6’1″ 170lbs and 6’4″ 192lbs
Stats from their game vs. Scotland (proving the Czechs are strong in the air but weak technically):
Celustka- 8/12 aerial duels- 1/4 long balls, 25/33 passes completed (75%), possession lost 10 times
Kalas- 3/4 aerial duels- 1/4 long balls, 17/22 passes completed (77%), possession lost 5 times
Boril- 0/2 aerial duels- 3/8 long balls, 21/31 passes completed (67%), possession lost 14 times
Coufal- 2/2 aerial duels- 3/8 long balls, 36/48 passes completed (75%), possession lost 26 times
Soucek- 6/8 aerial duels- 2/5 long balls, 20/31 passes completed (64%), possession lost 14 times
Kral- 3/4 aerial duels- 3/5 long balls, 17/30 passes completed (57%), possession lost 15 times
For comparison to our defensive units (Defense and DM) against England:
Ćaleta-Car– 1/1 aerial duels- 4/6 long balls, 49/52 passes completed (94%), possession lost 4 times
Vida- 0/1 aerial duels- 2/4 long balls, 37/41 passes completed (90%), possession lost 4 times
Gvardiol- 0 aerial duels- 27/30 passes completed (90%), possession lost 5 times, 1/1 dribble attempts
Vrsaljko- 4/4 aerial duels- 2/6 long balls, 30/44 passes completed (68%), possession lost 25 times
Brozović- 1/2 aerial duels- 2/3 long balls, 49/56 passes completed (88%), possession lost 11 times
We always comment about Croatia’s defense being poor on the ball but Czech makes us look like gods. Their best defensive players’ passing completion percentage is 77% and ours 94%. They lost the ball 14 times per defensive player on average compared to Croatia at 9.8 (keep in mind that Vrsaljko affects Croatia’s stats drastically). Only one of their players lost the ball less times than our average. However, their advantage is in aerial duels. Most defensive stats are lackluster bare air stats. Keep in mind that Croatia played England and they played Scotland.
I believe that Ante Budimir would thus be inefficient against this defense as he is technically inept when compared to Bruno Petković.
Kramarić and Petković both like dribbling a lot and we have seen what they can do together on the pitch. I think Vlašić would be a better fit as he can unlock defenses from his comfortable attacking mid role, like he does for CSKA. Vlašić on the wing is wasting his skill set.
I want to see Rebić on the left wing. Petković as a striker won’t offer much pressure so we need two work horses to compensate on the wings. Perišić and Rebić are the answers. However, one is ambidextrous and the other is not, yet we’re limiting Rebić’s talents on the right wing? Rebić has been a force to be reckoned with in the Serie A this season on the left flank and I say we put him in his most comfortable position (something Dalić doesn’t really like to do). Perišić also likes his left side but he can adjust to the right much better than Rebić can.
Now, as a midfield pivot, we play Modrić-Kovačić. Although Ante may disagree with me ;), I think Kova merits it for his England performance. However, I hate giving things just for merit, and I want to field the best possible lineup. That’s why I stick by this Modrić-Kova pivot because Kovačić is very comfortable in that role (plays it with Chelsea) and it allows Vlašić to really get up the pitch and almost play as a second striker right off Petković’s shoulder. We won’t need to defend as much as in the England game so a DM could just be a waste and will create a giant gap behind Petković and in front of our midfield.
The backline remains untouched. Despite confusing criticism, I thought Gvardiol was excellent. Yes, he missed a tackle but he was not at fault for the goal. Ćaleta-Car was caught in no-man’s land and Brozović left Sterling unmarked, who then obviously outpaced Vida. Vida-Ćaleta are getting more and more comfortable, however, I expect more from Ćaleta. He seems a bit quiet and gets caught off guard a lot defensively. That being said, he’s still a surefire starter for me right now, but he needs to up his game a bit. Against Czech I’d like to see him drift up and utilize his long ball playing ability. Vrsaljko is slowly getting better every game he plays in so I wouldn’t make changes on that end. Finally, Livaković is our undisputed starter.
There are thousands of lineups we can all fumble with. Although I believe Budimir could potentially be a useful asset, this game is not for him. We need to take a technical approach because Croatia are much more skilled than the Czechs. Height, strength, and crossing will NOT work. This is why I had Petković and Vlašič in the first scenario.
I doubt Dalić even considers this as a potential option but here goes:
Kramarić false 9. We play like Liverpool 2019.
Kramarić is our Firmino. We know he can’t be left isolated as a striker so he plays as a slightly more advanced CAM and no striker in front of him. Why use a striker if they all suck? Why does it always have to be the conventional 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1? Kramarić can unleash his inner Hoffenheim with this formation that could have Perišić and Rebić/Brekalo on the wings. I’ll leave this one up to the comments. Do we play Rebić or Brekalo on the wing with this formation? Brekalo is obviously much more technically skilled and can be useful at unlocking the Czech defense, however, Rebić is a work horse and will disrupt by pressing. Now, Rebić still seems injured so I’ll go with Brekalo on this one. The midfield would have to be a Modrić-Kovačić CM and Brozović as the DM. Maybe we give him a chance to bounce back? This is the risky part in my lineup. We’d need a DM and I’m not sure if Marcelo is up for it.
Defense remains untouched as I have previously explained.
Perišić and Brekalo will be our Mane and Salah’s, pressing up the field and stretching the pitch out, allowing Kramarić room to mingle in the center. We have a rock solid midfield trio that no one on the Czech team can break down (Soucek alone will not do the job).
The biggest X factor is Kramarić. Dalić needs to find a way to create a system that works with Andrej.
Ultimately, it comes down to how motivated and in sync our players are. No formation in the world works if there isn’t any cohesiveness or teamwork. This is what we lack and if we could find some rhythm; then the Vatreni take off!