After succumbing to England at home last time out, Luis Enrique will expect an immediate reaction from his Spain side.
Though he commented afterwards that there was little need for him to lose it in the dressing room at half-time, be assured that he will have let his players know that performances such as that one are unacceptable at senior level.
If there’s one thing that you can say about Enrique, he demands the best in every match and every training session, and wants things done his way.
Falling out with Jordi Alba clearly didn’t bother him in the slightest, because the Barcelona left-back returns to the latest squad, whilst in-form Paco Alcacer and Real Madrid’s Nacho are dropped. It’s obvious that Enrique’s only concern is what is best for the team, and this is a game that is important for both sides for a variety of reasons.
A win for Spain would ensure that they finish top of Nations League A, Group 4, and book their passage straight through to the ‘Final Four’ next year. Anything less and it could let either Croatia or England in through the back door.
The issue for Zlatko Dalic is that his side haven’t really recovered from their World Cup exertions. With no real rest for his top players before being thrust straight back into their respective domestic campaigns, their lethargy is catching up with them.
For the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic it’s a double-edged sword, because both want to give their best to club and country. That simply hasn’t been possible and it’s not only their two best players that haven’t been at it either.
Collectively Croatia have been poor, and that’s never better evidenced than in their current group standings where they sit bottom of the table with one point and no goals.
Spain have enjoyed playing around the country and giving supporters everywhere the chance to see them, rather than playing each home match at the Santiago Bernabeu. Not that those at the Benito Villamarin will have necessarily enjoyed La Roja’s first performance there in 23 years!
Playing their next game away can ensure they banish the memories of their under-par showing against England, but what it does also mean is that Croatia will start with an advantage. Interest in this match has been high and one can expect a partisan home crowd.
Before La Roja took the same opponents apart at the Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero earlier in the competition, Croatia actually had the better chances, and Rakitic should’ve fired them ahead, his shot going just wide.
It wasn’t for the want of trying that they couldn’t register against England either, and perhaps having to play the game behind closed doors was the great equaliser in that match.
With the Stadion Maksimir expected to be full to its 35,423 capacity, it’s bound to help the hosts. Following the same path as they did in their first match, and indeed as England did in the first half against Spain, Croatia will come out in an attacking frame of mind.
The hosts will score a goal, finally, but it will ultimately be in vain as Spain’s superior movement and higher level of fitness will prove crucial in the latter stages.
For the visitors to win 3-1, you can get great odds of 16/1 with William Hill.
The opening 45 against England aside, Spain have played some sparkling stuff in this Nations League edition, and it’s easy to understand why Spanish clubs still dominate the European competitions.
All of their big names still play, by and large, in their home country, and the patterns of play and way of working have become second nature to many of them.
What a joy it must be to train players of such calibre, and how Julen Lopetegui must be regretting letting his heart rule his head.
It will be surprising if this isn’t an attacking game between teams that like to knock the ball around, and Spain to win with both teams scoring is at a decent 17/5 with BetVictor.
Once the opening exchanges have been successfully negotiated, this game will settle down with Spain enjoying the lion’s share of possession.
Even as the home side Croatia may be forced to play on the counter-attack, but that could suit them if it means not succumbing to another hammering.
Their first goal in the competition will be little consolation, however, as Spain will win both halves. That bet is currently at 11/2 with 888Sport.
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