Group D Preview

Croatia

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Form

Croatia have been near ever present at the Euro’s since their first appearance in 1996, but they have never gone beyond the quarterfinals, losing to eventual winners Portugal after extra-time the latest Championships. However, they carried the energy from their 2018 World Cup Final appearance to finish top of their qualifying group, losing only once (a shock 2-1 defeat in Hungary).

Since qualifying, their form in the latest Nations League campaign was less than impressive after surviving relegation to League B on goal difference over Sweden. They have since won their last two World Cup qualifying games, having lost their opening match.

Manager

Zlatko Dalic took over in 2017 and oversaw Croatia’s run to the World Cup 2018 finals. After qualifying for Euro 2020, he has admitted that his team is not performing at the same level as they did at the World Cup, which could be due to the retirements and decline of key players. He seems to have comfort with a 4-2-3-1 formation, having briefly played a 4-3-3 at the beginning of European qualifying.

Defence

Since Danijel Subasic retired after the 2018 World Cup, Dinamo Zagreb’s Livakovic (FT: £5.5m / EO: £5m) has made the goalkeeper spot his own, starting the last 15 competitive games. 

Zenit St. Petersburg’s Lovren (FT: £5m / EO: £5m) is currently struggling with a muscle injury, but 2018’s self-proclaimed ‘best defender in the world’ should grace this summer’s tournament and is more than likely going to be partnered by Vida (FT: £5m / EO: £5m) in central defence. The Besiktas’ man played all but one of the qualifiers, missed the last two Nation League games after contracting Coronavirus, and played in two of the recent World Cup qualifiers. However, the latter will face stiff competition from Marseille’s Caleta-Car (FT: £5m / EO: £5m).

Whilst Rangers’ Barisic (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) has the left back position locked in, the opposite side of defence is a conundrum with no fewer than five players taking up that position since the start of qualifying. If he was fully fit, then Atletico Madrid’s Vrsaljko (FT: £5m / EO: £5m) would probably be the most likely candidate but knee surgery saw him miss the whole of qualifying, whilst injuries and coronavirus saw him miss the Nations League campaign. In fact, he has not had an injury-free season since 2018 although he has started the opening two World Cup qualifiers. All eyes should be on the upcoming friendlies, where the door could be opened for Legia Warszawa’s Juranovic (FT: £5m / EO: £4.5m) and Rubin Kazan’s Uremovic (FT: TBC / EO: £4.5m) to make an impression with the former starting the last World Cup qualifier.

Midfield

The main man in central midfield will undoubtedly be Real Madrid’s Modric (FT: £7.5m / EO: £8.5m). He could partner Inter Milan’s Brozovic (FT: £6.5m / EO: £6.5m) in a deeper midfield role, or he could be positioned in the no. 10 role which would allow Chelsea’s Kovacic (FT: £7m / EO: £6m) to play in the double pivot. 

Should Modric be deployed deeper, then Atalanta’s Pasalic (FT: £8m / EO: £7.5m) could play in the central attacking midfield role with CSKA Moscow’s Vlasic (FT: £7.5m / EO: £6.5m) and Inter Milan’s Perisic (FT: £8m / EO: £8.5m) flanking him (with the latter being listed as a forward in Fan Team).

Forward 

With Mario Mandzukic now retired, Croatia do not seem to have solved the central striker spot. The aforementioned Perisic has been used up top in a few games, which has seen AC Milan’s Rebic (FT: TBC / EO: £7m) take up position on the left side of the supporting attacking-three.

Dinamo Zagreb’s Petkovic (FT: £6m / EO: £6m) started in all but two of the qualifying matches, but was mainly used as a substitute in the Nations League campaign before missing the last call-up due to a shoulder injury.

However, despite recent preference being for Osasuna’s Budimir (FT: £6m / EO: £7m) who has started the last two matches and has scored 10 goals in 28 appearances in La Liga, recent domestic form swings the decision in favour of Hoffenheim’s Kramaric (FT: TBC / EO: £6.5m) who has scored 18 goals, and assisted a further 6, in 26 Bundesliga appearances. 

Czech Republic

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Form

Czech Republic were comfortably the 2nd best team in their qualifying, despite finishing 6pts behind England who they actually beat in Prague. The one-time Euro finalists will be hoping to do better in this tournament than they did in 2016 when they failed to win a game and, obviously, went out at the group stage. 

They will head to Euro 2020 boosted by the fact that they have won promotion to League A, despite losing their double-header against Scotland.

However, they have only picked up 4pts in their opening three World Cup qualifiers after a decent 1-1 draw with Belgium was followed up by a 1-0 loss against Wales.

Manager

Jaroslav Silhavy took over in September 2018 after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. His Czech side didn’t draw a single game in their first 22 matches (W13 L9) and he sets his team up in a standard 4-2-3-1, with organised block that can sit deep or push up.

Defence

Despite having fallen out of favour at Sevilla this season, Vaclik (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5m) has started in 7/9 competitive games for the national side, and started the recent two World Cup qualifiers. However, should a more regular domestic starting ‘keeper be preferred, then it is likely that Werder Bremen’s Pavlenka (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m) would be the man to step up.

The fullbacks are pretty much nailed with West Ham’s Coufal (FT: £5m / EO: £5m) and Slavia Prague’s Boril (FT: TBC / EO: £4.5m) set to play at right and left back respectively. Meanwhile, it is not set in stone who will team up with Sparta Prague’s Celustka (FT: TBC / EO: £4.5m) at centre back. Due to the 10-match suspension given to Slavia Prague’s Kudela, it could be up to Bristol City’s captain Kalas (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m) to make up the back four although he will face stiff competition from Viktoria Plzen’s Brabec (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m).

Midfield

Screening the back four should be West Ham’s Soucek (FT: £5m / EO: £6.5m) and Spartak Moscow’s Kral (FT: £4m / EO: £5.5m), with Hertha Berlins’ Darida (FT: £5m / EO: £7.5m) due to take up position in the no. 10 role.

Either side of the stand-in captain will be Sampdoria’s Jankto (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6m) on the left and one of Slavia Prague’s Provod (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6.5m) or Masopust (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6m); with slight preference going to the former who has started the last three World Cup qualifiers over his club teammate.

Forward 

Up top, Bayer Leverkusen’s Schick (FT: £5m / EO: £8m) will be the first choice striker, with competition provided by PAOK’s Krmencik (FT: £4.5m / EO: £7m) and Sparta Prague’s versatile teenage sensation Hlozek (FT: TBC / EO: £5.5m) who has scored 11 goals and assisted 8 in just 17 appearances in the Fortuna Liga.

England

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Form

Expectations are high for England after finishing reaching the semi-finals of both the 2018 World Cup and the inaugural Nations League in 2019, before finishing top of their Euro 2020 qualifying group with ease after winning 7 out of 8 games (with a 2-1 loss against Czech Republic their only blot in the copy book). 

Despite the recent disappointing Nations League campaign where they finished third, they have gone on to win their opening three World Cup Qualifying matches.

Manager

Gareth Southgate replaced Sam Allardyce in 2016 and oversaw their best run in a World Cup since 1990. However, he has come under recent criticism due to his cautious display in the recent Nation League games where he reverted to a three at the back system. The change in formation was because although they failed to score at least four goals on one occasion in qualifying, the defending gave Southgate some cause for concern. He has recently rolled out the 4-3-3 formation in the World Cup qualifiers and could proceed with that at this summer.

Defence

England’s no.1 spot is seemingly established as Everton’s Pickford (FT: £7m / EO: £5.5m) and only missed the latest World Cup qualifying squad due to an abdominal muscle injury.

The one constant in England’s defence is Man Utd’s Maguire (FT: £6.5m / EO: £5.5m) and he seems likely to be partnered by Man City’s Stones (FT: £6m / EO: £5.5m). If, as expected, England revert to a four man defence it is likely that Stones’ club teammate Walker (FT: £7m / EO: £5.5m) will occupy the right-back position; although his versatility could also mean that he could slot in alongside Maguire and Stones in a back three if required. 

The left-back position should be filled by one of Chelsea’s Chilwell (FT: £6.5m / EO: £6m) or Man Utd’s Shaw (FT: £6.5m / EO: £6m), with recent preference given to the former who has started two of the last three recent World Cup qualifiers.

Midfield

West Ham’s Rice (FT: £6.5m / EO: £5.5m) should take up one of the three central midfield positions, with Liverpool’s captain Henderson (FT: £7m / EO: £6m) likely to join him despite missing the last squad call-up due to a groin injury. The last central midfield spot is more than likely going to go to Chelsea’s Mount (FT: £8.5m / EO: £7m) who has now started seven consecutive competitive games for the national side.

Despite suffering from a lack of form in the domestic season, Man City’s Sterling (FT: £12m / EO: £9.5m) looks set to take up the wide left birth, with his club teammate Foden (FT: £9m / EO: £8m) likely to take the wide right spot. However, the wide positions are not locked down and they both players face competition from Aston Villa’s talisman Grealish (FT: £9.5m / EO: £7.5m) and Dortmund’s Sancho (FT: £10m / EO: £9.5m); both of whom missed the World Cup qualifying squad due to injury.

Forward 

Another alternative for either of the wide positions is Man Utd’s Rashford (FT: £11m / EO: £9.5m), who hasn’t played an international game since October due to injuries ruling him out of the last two England squads. Up front will be England’s undisputed striker, Tottenham’s Kane (FT: £13.5m / EO: £11.5m) who will be looking to add to his Golden Boot that he secured at the 2018 World Cup. 

Scotland

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Form

Scotland finished 3rd in Group I in the qualifiers, some 9pts off Russia and 15pts off the flawless Belgium. They finished off the qualifiers with three consecutive victories and they carried that momentum over into their recent Nations League campaign and their Euro play-offs where they beat both Israel and Serbia on penalties.

However, they lost their last two game in Group B2 of the Nations League, and ended up finishing 2pts behind group winners Czech Republic who they actually beat twice.

They have since started their World Cup qualifiers unbeaten, with draws against Austria and Israel before beating Faroe Islands 4-0 in their most recent game.

Manager

Having previously worked under Mourinho (at Chelsea), Gullit (at Newcastle) and Dalglish (at Newcastle), Steve Clarke replaced Alex McLeish as Scotland manager in 2019. Despite just one win in his opening five games, we went on to win 9 of his next 14 games (including the penalty shoot-out victories in the play-offs). He played both 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 in the group qualifying stages, but has since gone for formations that allow for three central defenders with wingbacks.

Defence

Derby County’s Marshall (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) will go into the tournament as Scotland’s no. 1 after his penalty shoot-out heroics in the play-offs.

The back-three formation will allow Scotland to field both of their talented left-backs with Arsenal’s Tierney (FT: £5m / EO: £5m) playing on the left of the back three and Liverpool’s Robertson (FT: £5m / EO: £5.5m) playing as the left-wing back/left midfielder. Motherwell’s O’Donnell (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) will be deployed on the right hand side.

Although Man Utd’s versatile McTominay (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6m) is listed as a midfielder in both Fan Team and the official game, he has been deployed at centre-back in 8 of his last 10 appearances for Scotland. Making up the back three could be Norwich’s Hanley (FT: £4m / £5m) who has played 90 minutes in all three of the recent World Cup qualifiers, seemingly dislodging Motherwell’s Gallagher (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m).

Midfield

Aston Villa’s McGinn (FT: £4.5m / EO: £7.5m) will perform a midfield duo with Celtic’s captain-in-waiting McGregor (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5.5m), whilst Motherwell’s Christie (FT: £4.5m / EO: £7m) will slot into the no. 10 position behind the front two. If any of these players do pick up a knock, then Scotland will have Southampton’s Armstrong (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6.5m) waiting in the wings.

Question marks remain over Celtic winger Forrest (FT: TBC / EO: £6m) who could be played out of position in one of the two striker spots. He has been side-lined by ankle injuries this season, which has seen him miss 38 games in the Scottish Premiership. Newcastle’s Fraser (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6.5m) could deputise if the former fails to make progress with his fitness.

Forward 

Another alternative for Scotland to join QPR’s Australian-born Dykes (FT: £5m / EO: £6.5m) up front will lie in the shape of Southampton’s Adams (FT: £5m / EO: £6.5m)

Group D Summary:

Using a budget of £80m on the Official game and a restriction of three player’s maximum per team, here is my best XI for Group D:

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