England Face Their Toughest Test Since the World Cup This Coming Weekend

After England unexpectedly made it through to the World Cup Semifinal in the summer, public opinion was almost universally positive for the Three Lions and the England team. However, after the semifinal defeat to Croatia, England then lost to Belgium in the third-place match and then followed that up with a 2-1 home defeat to Spain in their opening Nations League clash.

That run of three defeats came to an end with a 1-0 win over Switzerland in a friendly following the Spain game, but having played just that one game, England now face a massive double-header of away games in the Nations League, the results of which will go a long way to determining their future in the competition.

The action begins on Friday night in Zagreb, where England will once again come face to face with their World Cup semifinal foes Croatia. Then three days later, the team will be in Seville to face the Spain team that beat them 2-1 at Wembley.

Given that Croatia are fourth in the FIFA World Rankings, with Spain a massively underrated 9th (chiefly due to their poor showing at the World Cup last summer) this represents two very tough games for England on the road. It would be a test for even a full-strength England squad, but Gareth Southgate has been forced to select a somewhat inexperienced 25-man squad for the two games and already he has had to make two changes to that squad after James Tarkowski (Burnley) and Luke Shaw (Manchester United) pulled out with injuries, meaning Ben Chilwell (Leicester) and Lewis Dunk (Brighton) were called up in their place.

England Squad (as of Wed 10th October)

Position Name Club Caps Goals
G Marcus Bettinelli Fulham 0 0
G Jack Butland Stoke City 9 0
G Jordan Pickford Everton 11 0
G Alex McCarthy Southampton 0 0
D Trent Al-Arnold Liverpool 3 0
D Joe Gomez Liverpool 4 0
D Harry Maguire Leicester City 14 1
D Danny Rose Tottenham 25 0
D Ben Chilwell Leicester City 1 0
D John Stones Manchester City 35 2
D Lewis Dunk Brighton 0 0
D Kieran Trippier Tottenham 15 1
D Kyle Walker Manchester City 41 0
M Ross Barkley Chelsea 22 2
M Nathaniel Chalobah Watford 0 0
M Eric Dier Tottenham 34 3
M Jordan Henderson Liverpool 46 0
M James Maddison Leicester City 0 0
M Mason Mount Derby Co 0 0
M Jadon Sancho Borussia Dortmund 0 0
M Raheem Sterling Manchester City 44 2
M Harry Winks Tottenham 1 0
A Harry Kane Tottenham 32 19
A Marcus Rashford Manchester United 27 5
A Danny Welbeck Arsenal 42 16

This is certainly one of the most inexperienced England squads of recent times, which has not been helped by a number of players being unavailable due to injury (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jesse Lingard, Adam Lallana, Dele Alli to name but four) as well as a number of other players being out of favour with the manager (Ashley Young, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones at Manchester United, Jack Wilshere at West Ham) and others retiring from international football (Jamie Vardy of Leicester and Chelsea’s Gary Cahill).

Five players, Lewis Dunk, Mason Mount, Jadon Sancho and two goalkeepers Marcus Bettinelli and Alex McCarthy are yet to earn an England cap and for four of those players, this is their first ever call-up to the England squad. It is going to be interesting to see whether Gareth Southgate uses any of these younger players in either game and if he does, how they are used.

League A Group 4 Statistics

Matchday 1

  • England 1 (Rashford)
  • Spain 2 (Saul Niguez, Rodrigo)

Matchday 2

  • Spain 6 (Saul Niguez, Asensio, Kalinic OG, Rodrigo, Ramos, Isco)
  • Croatia 0

League A Group 4 Table

Pos Team Ply For Ag Pts Gd
1 Spain 2 8 1 6 +7
2 England 1 1 2 0 -1
3 Croatia 1 0 6 0 -6

Croatia v England – Friday 12th October – 7.45pm

The first game of the double header will take place in Croatia and while England have had several notable casualties in their squad, the same is true for Croatia with two key players retiring following the World Cup, including striker Mario Mandzukic, while two key defenders, full backs Sime Vrsaljko and Thomas Strinic, are both injured for this game and unable to play.

Croatia will however have Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in tandem in midfield and the duo will be the key to the game. If they can assert control of midfield like they did in the World Cup semifinal, Croatia will stand a much better chance. If England can adapt their tactics to nullify those threats, then England’s chances of landing a win improve a great deal.

Croatia’s main weaknesses are in goal (where their most experienced goalkeeper in the squad has just one cap) and in attack, where the absence of Mandzukic in the middle will be keenly felt. Their flying wingers Perisic and Rebic however are fit and likely to give England’s wing backs a torrid time on the night.

The World Cup semi between the teams was close despite Croatia dominating the game and in truth, I can see a similar game taking shape here, I think England will score though and Croatia’s somewhat toothless attack may struggle to break England down quite so readily here. As such, I think the draw is a sensible bet here. You can back that at 9/4 with bet365.

Spain v England – Monday 15th October – 7.45pm

England’s record in Spain is poor, with their last win on Spanish soil coming back in a 4-2 win in February 1987, with Gary Lineker scoring all four of those goals. Since then, Spain have been unbeaten on home soil and the Spanish have won five of the last seven meetings between the two teams.

With a full strength squad for England, I’d still have Spain favourites and with England’s squad as it is, and given Spain’s superb demolition job on Croatia in their last game, I think the Spaniards have to start as the clear favourites here. That said, England seldom get heavily beaten by any team, so I don’t think this will be a walkover in the way it was against Croatia.

England perhaps should have had a draw in the game at Wembley and that will rankle Gareth Southgate who I am certain would happily take the draw now here if offered. The Spanish also have a great record in Seville, a fact which will not be lost on the England manager in what will likely be his toughest game to date as England boss.

I’d love to think England could snatch a draw here, but in truth, I think Spain will run out winners probably by a 2-0 scoreline.