Croatia, expected to make a run in the upcoming World Cup, disappointed in their most recent friendly losing 2-0 to Peru. The seemingly elite midfield was embarrassingly outplayed, and the attack was flat. World Cup play won’t be any easier in a group that features Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria. What adjustments should they make in order to live up to their expectations?
Croatia in Need of Change Before World Cup
Ivan Rakitić Must Not Play as a Holding Midfielder
Croatian manager Zlatko Dalić opted to play Rakitić in a holding midfield position versus Peru. This greatly limited the midfielder’s creative capabilities. Rakitić plies his trade for FC Barcelona, a club that preaches passing creativity, so naturally the Vatreni should maximize his strengths. In order for this to happen, however, Croatia must shift from the 4-2-3-1 formation they last used as it isn’t best suited to the players and talent they have. Dalić would be wise to deploy Milan Badelj as his holding midfielder. Badelj is experienced and known for his ball interception abilities, allowing him to take charge of the midfield defensive duties. This would then allow elite midfield talents like Rakitić, Mateo Kovačić, and Luka Modrić to play in their natural positions.
Vedran Ćorluka and Domagoj Vida Might Not be the Best Centre-Back Pairing
The two have been mainstays in this Croatian side for years, but age seems to be catching up to them. In the simplest of terms, they looked very slow and were caught out of position on multiple occasions versus Peru. This will not bode well for them in Russia where they will face the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, and Kelechi Iheanacho in the group stages. The Vatreni aren’t as deep in defence as they are in the midfield, but other options do exist.
Two logical replacements would be Tin Jedvaj and Dejan Lovren. Although he struggles with his discipline, Jedvaj is a strong tackler and is more offensive than a traditional centre-back. Lovren is an accurate passer and, by virtue of playing for Liverpool FC, has experience versus top strikers, although he is prone to the occasional defensive error. Chances are that Ćorluka and Vida will still get the bulk of the minutes due to their international play experience, however. If not, Dalić still has time to experiment with his centre-backs to find what truly works best.
Nikola Kalinić is Not in Form and Should Not Start
Kalinić has not been in form in club play, and that translated into his international play. He has four goals in 30 appearances for AC Milan, and did absolutely nothing offensively versus Peru. Croatia needs to move on as they have superior options up front.
One possibility is to start Mario Mandžukić at striker as opposed to on the wing. He did not look like his usual self on the wing for Croatia, but still has the size and technical abilities to succeed at striker. Rising star Marko Pjaca would slot into the wing to allow for Mandžukić to play striker. Another option would be Andrej Kramaric. He has a decent record of nine goals and five assists in the Bundesliga this season. His record for Croatia has also been solid, with eight goals in 28 appearances. Kalinić is not the man for the job, and now is the time for Dalić to realize this.
The Last Word
There’s no question regarding Croatia’s world class talent. They have the capabilities to come out of their group, and possibly even as the top seed with a struggling Argentina side. The loss to Peru was rough, but it must become a learning experience. Dalić needs to implement changes in order to have this team firing on all cylinders like it should. With the World Cup in less than three months, there is no time to waste.
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