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Tactical Preview: Why Scaloni should tweak Argentina again versus Croatia

We have two days off before the World Cup semi-finals begin, but our daily column will continue with tactical previews of both upcoming matches. Today, our focus will be on Argentina versus Croatia.

Croatia have been very consistent with their tactics at this World Cup, so we know what to expect from them. In fact, they have used the same 4-3-3 formation in all five matches so far, and nine of their players have started all of those games.

In possession, it’s all about their midfield trio. Marcelo Brozović, Luka Modrić and Mateo Kovačić are all in the top six in terms of touches at this World Cup in the Croatia squad.

They primarily focus on progressing the ball, which is why they are in the top four among the squad in terms of progressive passes. Therefore, they tend to stay relatively deep, as their average positions at the tournament show.

Out of possession, Croatia should be expected to set up in a compact 4-5-1 defensive block. They spent a clear majority of their time out of possession against Brazil in either a mid or low block, and the data shows the vertical compactness of it:

(Image credit: FIFA)

Argentina’s task will be to find a way to break this defence down, and they are likely going to find it quite tough as Brazil did, especially early on in the game. The Seleção initially struggled to play through the tight midfield region, but eventually found some success when attacking from the wings.

The trouble for Argentina is that they did not look particularly dangerous when attacking through their wing-backs against the Netherlands, which is why it would be a wise decision for them to revert to a back-four.

This would allow them to get an extra attacker on the pitch, likely Ángel Di María, who would hold the width on the right as he has done throughout the tournament.

Switching to a back-four would also make ball progression a little bit easier for Argentina’s centre-backs as they would have a numerical advantage in the first line.

Defensively, a back-four should suit Argentina better. As aforementioned, Croatia’s possession play mostly goes through their midfielders, although they have struggled in the final third having drawn two blanks and only scored after about two hours against Brazil.

Limiting their midfielders would go a long way in reducing their threat even further, so using a 4-3-1-2/4-3-3 formation to go player-to-player in that region of the pitch could be a good call.

This game looks set to be a very close match which will likely be decided by a small margin. That could be anything from a moment of magic from Lionel Messi or Modrić to a minute tactical detail such as who Zlatko Dalić chooses to play on the right wing between Andrej Kramarić and Mario Pašalić.

As a result of that, and the fact that there is so much on the line, neither team should be expected to go for it hammer and tongs right from kick-off, so we will not get the most entertaining match. Still, it should be an interesting game, and there certainly will be lots of talk about after a World Cup semi-final.

Stats courtesy Opta via Fbref, Vizz App and FIFA.

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