Croatia has finally accomplished a feat we have not seen for some time: a convincing qualifying campaign (so far) in which results have been consistently achieved with minimal self-inflicted hurdles. And the cherry on top is that Dalić finally seems to have discovered the Vatreni’s strongest current XI, with Petković up top, Kramarić on the right and Perišić on the left. We currently have the best midfield trio in Europe, and what happens when Mateo Kovačić, a key midfielder for the best club in the world, gets injured? We have another midfielder who can step right up in Luka Ivanušec! Did I mention he can also provide his services on the left wing? All that being said, what could possibly be the problem now?
Well, here’s the current injury list:
- Ivan Perišić might be out until next summer’s Euros
- Bruno Petković is out for this qualifying campaign
- Andrej Kramarić is out for this qualifying campaign
- Livaja left the National Team for real this time
- Ivanušec is 50/50
- Šutalo is potentially out as he wasn’t on Ajax’s squad list this weekend
This throws the newfound tactical balance quite off scale, and adjustments will have to be made. Here are some of Dalić’s options…
Plug and Play
The “Plug and Play” formation outlines the most likely tactical approach, the “Plug” being Dalić fielding the next best players in Croatia’s current squad to replace those missing and the “Play” being Dalić’s probable reluctancy to stray from the recent game plan, hence, whatever tactical instructions the Vatreni have been performing under recently remaining constant. This is the safest option, and while not ideal, still equates to a strong eleven players. Should Ivanušec be available, he would slot into the left-wing position over Torino’s Vlašić, and the other two would essentially be Musa and Pašalić if we go for the next two most valued players in the squad. If the Šutalo injury rumours are not true, of course we would see him slot in at the right centre-back role. There is also a chance we see the more natural winger in Josip Brekalo have his chance on the left wing following some good performances for Fiorentina and a goal against Napoli over the weekend. 75% chance.
This probably represents the best-looking lineup out of the three, truly optimizing every one of our best players (left) on the pitch at the same time. However, these two games are quite crucial as we face the two “strongest” teams besides us in the group. And to field a formation and tactics never seen before with this set of players with mere days of preparation would not be the wisest and would take a certain level of tactical flexibility that I’m just not convinced Croatia’s coaching staff possesses. However, that’s not to say I would be opposed to experimentation with this kind of a lineup in the near future, especially considering our upcoming strength in the central defensive areas of the pitch. 5-10% chance.
Tactical adjustments could be seen between the two matches, but I would say there’s simply no solidified eleven at the moment, and perhaps performances in the Turkey match would influence Dalić’s game plan for the Wales match-up. Regardless, both opponents are of inferior individual quality, even with our notable losses, and two victories here would surely send us onto the real tournament in June.
How would you lineup if you were Dalić?