Croatia City FC?
Euro fever is well a truly upon us, and I for one am relishing waking up to 6 hours of football every day. As I recovered from the mayhem of Thursdays home nations clash I watched the Czech Republic Croatia match, and felt a very familiar style present in the game. This style came from Croatia who seem to play exactly the same way the Potters themselves have tried to set up for the majority of matches this season.Aside from the Red and White, the tendency to self-implode in spectacular fashion and the shock victories over tournament favourites, the Croatians seem to play an identical style to Sparky’s preferred tactic. They set up in a reasonably structured 4-2-3-1, with player roles mirroring that of their Premier League counter parts.
In defence two pragmatic no nonsense centre backs sit in the centre, whilst they are overlapped by full backs who seek to support the attack, not to create it as England’s two wing backs do. For both the Turkey and Czech Republic matches, the Croatian captain Srna has reminded me of Glen Johnson. Not blessed with lightening pace Srna sits wide of his inside forward, getting on the overlap seeking to provide pivotal balls into the box. This is mirrored to a lesser extent by Strinić on the left hand side, who plays a more defensive role due to the presence of a very attacking winger ahead of him, a relationship similar to that of Arnie and Pieters.
Moving forward to the two deeper midfield players, Modrić and Badelj, the similarities to Stoke continues. Badelj takes up a holding role, who seeks to win back the ball and distribute to the more skilful players of team or drop back to move the ball forward from the defence. This role is taken by Mr. Consistent, Glenn Whelan, and it is clear that Hughes seeks to have this role a permanent feature of the midfield. No better example of this come through our pursuit of Axel Witsel, who has been playing a similar role for Belgium in the Euros.
This brings us to the best player in the Croatian team, and one of the best players in the tournament, Luka Modrić. For Croatia Modrić plays a role that can only truly be described as an everywhere man, for the first 60 minutes of the Czech Republic match the Madrid midfielder was essential to everything the Croatian team did, and gave in my opinion the best performance of the competition so far. Our ‘everywhere man’ is more of a traditional box to box midfielder and is our gloved crown prince Gianelli Imbula. Now I know the concept of comparing Imbula to Modrić is enough to make the ‘doesn’t track back enough brigade’ reach for their pitchforks and light their torches, but this is the role Sparky hopes for Imbula to fill. The potential is certainly there and with a good pre-season Imbula could step up and become our ‘everywhere man’.
The attacking midfield trio of Croatia is made up of two inside forwards split by an advanced playmaker. The advanced playmaker of Rakitić is more similar in most ways to Afellay instead of Bojan as Rakitić is more of the centre midfield build rather than shadow striker, but both Bojan and Adellay fulfil this playmaking role for the Potters. Rakitić takes up positions in pockets of space of the oppositions defence and seeks to open it with quick passing and aggressive dribbling. Both of our former Barca players are strong examples of Hughes seeking to install this role in the number 10 position. However inconsistency and injury have prevented either of the two cementing this role as their own and this position, much like Imbula’s, is still in development.
The two wide men mirror Stoke’s almost perfectly. On the right hand side sits a player who promises a lot but still has much more to give, Brozović for Croatia and Shaqiri for us. And on the left, the sides top goalscorer, talisman and awful hair cut owning wide man, Perišic and Arnie. The Croatian has his nation boarder out line and squad number shaved into the side of his head and top scored for Croatia in qualifying, and well you all know about Arnie. In the Croatian system the inside forwards sit narrow and aim to run in between full back and centre back providing assists and goals galore. At times this season our entire attacking play has been through our two inside forwards, the Man City thrashing being the clear example, and this is something Croatia have relied on during their two group stage matches.
Mandžukić leads Croatia’s line as a mobile complete forward, whose height allows him to be a quick escape option for defence, and his movement allows him to get in behind the oppositions defence to create goal scoring opportunities. This was also seen in Kalinić, who began up front against Spain, and fits the same footballing style of the Juventus journey man. Hughes is clearly trying to do this, shown through both of his signings of Diouf and Joselu, who both have a similar game style to the Croatian forwards. Further to this Croatia suffer from the same lack of goals from their recognised strikers as Stoke. During qualifying Croatia scored 20 goals, the highest in their group, but only 5 goals came from their strikers, 2 for Kramarić, 1 for Mandžukić and 1 for Kalinić. Whilst our strikers have provided less than 20% of our goals this season.
So Stokies, if you are looking for a team to watch during the latter stages of the Euro’s make sure that you keep an eye on Croatia. They offer an idea of what Hughes is attempting to create at Stoke, and if you saw the first 70 minutes of the Czech Republic match and final 45 of the Spain game you will be very intrigued by this prospect.
Written by Tom Thrower
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