Friday at 2:45pm (ET), Croatia will be facing off against top of the group Denmark in a rather important match for our NL campaign. A win would put us in a great position in the group, but a loss would see us threatened by relegation.
There is all kinds of speculation as to how Croatia will line-up in this next match considering all the injuries, who we need to rest, and who will play where. As of now, the only guaranteed starter for Friday’s match-up is said to be Dominik Livaković in goal.
Defense: Gvardiol is out, so the five remaining options at center-back are Martin Erlić, Domagoj Vida, Josip Šutalo, Duje Ćaleta-Car and Marin Pongračić. I think it’s fair to say that after the Austria match, the latter two shouldn’t be suiting up against a far more dynamic Danish attack. Vida had an okay game overall against the French, besides his horrible missed pass and his lack of speed in catching up to a dashing Moussa Diaby. Erlic however, was absolutely phenomenal for a debut match. He seems to be exactly what we always wanted Ćaleta-Car to be. He is tall, faster than Duje, and confident. But best of all, he’s smart and knows how to anticipate plays well. He would bite when he had to and stay back when it was needed. I believe he would pair very well with Joško Gvardiol. As for Josip Šutalo, I’d like to see him get some minutes versus the Danes, but I’m not so sure it’s the smartest thing to pair him with Erlić, making it a very inexperienced center-back duo. Perhaps starting with an Erlić-Vida pairing is a safer bet in a very winnable, but difficult matchup. Keep in mind, the Danish forwards may be very good and intelligent, but they do not present the speed that France does, and so Vida should be more than fine to captain that back-line. If Sosa and Vrsaljko are fit, they need to start. Juranović has been very shaky lately and is definitely not reliable enough on defense. He oftens pinches up the field, leaving acres of land behind him for opposing players to exploit. His eager tackle against Austria cost us their second goal.
Midfield: Here’s where it gets tough. Do we rest Modrić? We definitely need to rest one of Kovačić or Brozović, right? Kovačić has been so dynamic for us lately and has been one of our best players during this NL campaign, but I think he deserves a rest. Start with Modrić on the bench too. I would line-up with Marcelo Brozović alongside youngster Luka Sučić in the midfield as a sort of double-pivot. Sučić made an instant impact when he entered the pitch at Poljud. The kid has a cut-throat eye for goal and brings a different aspect to the game that any one of our midfielders do. Modrić-Broz-Kova may dominate possession and control the tempo of the game, but none of them are as offensive-minded as Luka Sučić. He came on with a goal in mind, and he delivered, causing the tying goal and almost sinking in the game-winner. If he starts, he will press the Danes down and link-up with our attack, causing a goal. Lovro Majer operates most comfortably in the middle of the pitch so let’s give him a crack at the CAM role, despite his excellent recent play at RW. Option two would be to start Brozović and Modric, give Sučić the CAM role and move Majer to the right. Either of those two line-ups would excel against Denmark, but most importantly, we’d give ourselves a better chance of scoring goals, which is the only thing we lack as of now, scoring 0 goals from open play.
Attack: Kramarić was given the nod from the penalty spot, and he delivered. Scoring 5 times in his last 7 games in a Croatian kit, Kramarić’s confidence is sky high. In my opinion, he needs to start. If Petar Musa is fit, I’d like to see him subbed on and given a chance. Another option would be playing Mario Pašalić in the 9 role. At the wings, we will once again be without Ivan Perišić. If Lovro Majer does not play in the CAM role, he needs to be a lock at RW for me. Mislav Oršić should start at LW and Josip Brekalo can have the game off. If Majer is in the midfield, Brekalo shifts to the right and Oršić on the left.
A result is expected against Denmark, whether that be a win or a draw. Losing to the two “weakest” teams in our group would be a huge failure, despite having drawn with the French. The Danes are a wildcard, and most certainly have a very organized and dangerous team, they even beat the French 2-1 on matchday 1, however, if you compare our squad to theirs, on paper, we’re the stronger team and there is no debating that. If we play like we did against France but with more attacking movement, which I think Lovro Majer and Luka Sučić can provide, then we will win this game and move up to second place in the group.
Croatiansports.com’s Predicted XI: Livaković; Sosa, Vida, Erlić, Vrsaljko; Brozović, Modrić; Oršić, Sučić, Majer; Kramarić