Formation switch suits Southgate

England head coach Gareth Southgate was pleased to see a change of defensive formation work well for his side as they drew 0-0 with Croatia in Rijeka.

The repeat of the World Cup 2018 semi-final may have ended goalless, but Southgate felt that there were plenty of positives taken from a Nations League game in which he opted for a four-man defence rather than the three-man set-up he utilised in Russia.

Having seen both Eric Dier and Harry Kane denied by the woodwork, Southgate told reporters: "We wanted to keep continuity in September, but we felt this system was the best way to go.

"The players did well. It meant we were able to get tighter to their midfield and we were able to get higher up the pitch.

"I don't think we should ever be rigid and only have one way of playing. In the summer we had a system which allowed our players to embed into international football, but now they are more experienced."

Meanwhile, Southgate was also upbeat about the attacking play of his side, despite them being unable to make an all-important breakthrough.

He added: "I thought we dictated the flow of the game for a long period and the second-half performance was excellent.

"We were pushing and pushing right to the end, so I couldn't ask more of the players. I am pleased with the chances we created and we just have to make sure we finish them.

"It feels like a game we should have won and I think the performance deserved that."

England are now priced at 14/1 to triumph at the World Cup in 2022, with holders France available at 7/1 and Germany 7/1.

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Duo ruled out for Three Lions

Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy and Tottenham full-back Danny Rose have both been ruled out of England's upcoming Nations League encounters due to injury.

The pair have picked up minor knocks therefore have return to their respective clubs, while the rest of the Three Lions squad head out to Croatia for Friday night's encounter.

England will then head to Spain for an encounter with La Roja on Monday, but manager Gareth Southgate has decided not to call up any replacements to his squad for McCarthy or Rose.

Both players arrived at the camp with pre-existing knocks, so it’s not entirely unexpected that they miss out on the two upcoming games.

Southgate still has three keepers at his disposal with Fulham's Marcus Bettinelli, Stoke's Jack Butland and Everton's Jordan Pickford available, while Leicester City left-back Ben Chilwell or Manchester United's Ashley Young could deputise for Rose.

England will be looking for a bit of revenge in their next outing, having suffered defeat against Croatia in the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia.

The Three Lions are 19/10 to win, 9/4 to draw and 33/20 to lose to the Croats on Friday night in Group A4.

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Dalic struggling without Mandzukic

Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic is proving to be a very difficult player to replace, Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic has admitted.

The 32-year-old called time on his international career after helping Croatia reach the final at World Cup 2018, with Mandzukic scoring 33 goals in 89 appearances for Il Vatreni before bowing out.

Since his exit, Croatia have drawn 1-1 in a friendly with Portugal, before suffering a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain in the UEFA Nations League.

And Dalic accepts that the loss of Mandzukic has been a major blow to his plans, as he struggles to find players to replace the versatile former Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid frontman.

He told the Gazzetta dello Sport: "I'm very sorry about it, maybe he thought he'd reached his dream and couldn't do anymore.

"I respect his decision, there's nothing else I can do. We've lost someone who can score goals, but above all was a fighter, the first line of defence.

"He won't be easy to replace, so we know we need to find different solutions."

Il Vatreni are back in action on Friday evening when they play host to England in another Nations League clash, with the game being played behind closed door in Rijeka.

The match is a repeat of the World Cup 2018 semi-final which the Croats won 2-1 after extra-time in Moscow, with Mandzukic scoring the winning goal.

Croatia can be backed at 33/20 to win again on Friday evening, with the draw priced at 9/4, while England are 13/2 to win the game 1-0.

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Sterling tipped to deliver for England

England coach Gareth Southgate believes Raheem Sterling will eventually silence those who critise his form on the international stage by hitting the goal trail soon.

The ex-Liverpool forward has been prolific at club level since Pep Guardiola took charge at Manchester City, scoring 23 times last season as City romped away with the Premier League title.

Off the back of his strong showing, Sterling was expected to play a big role in England's World Cup campaign in the summer but struggled to make the impact, missing several good chances in front of goal.

Having sat out the last round of Three Lions' fixtures, Sterling has now gone over three years without an international goal having last scored at Estonia in September 2015.

Sterling's record of two goals in 44 appearances for England has lead to him coming in for criticism but Southgate has defended the 23-year-old, claiming he is in no doubt he will transfer his club form to the national team.

"In simplistic terms we are just waiting for him to add goals to ­ everything else he's producing," Southgate told The Mirror.

"His level of performance with us has been really good, but the one missing piece is his finishing. If he had scored twice at the World Cup everyone would have been viewing his tournament in a much more positive way.

"But he knows how much we think of him and what a valuable part of the team we feel he is. Hopefully that's the most important thing for him and I am confident he can transfer that into his performances.

"He's desperate to do well with England because it has been a big part of his career from 17 up. He was able to stretch defences in the summer with his speed and that caused them problems. He found really clever pockets of space that overloaded the midfield. He works incredibly hard without the ball in our team."

Southgate has named Sterling in his 25-man squad for the forthcoming matches against Croatia and Spain in the Nations League.

The Three Lions are 5/1 to win Group 4 in League A of the Nations League having lost to Spain in their opening match last month.

Southgate's men face off against Croatia on 12th October and are 8/5 to get the win, while the World Cup finalists are 9/5 and the draw is 21/10.

Southgate happy to carry on

England head coach Gareth Southgate is eager to build on his successful tenure to date after agreeing a new contract which runs up to and including the 2022 World Cup.

The 48-year-old, who won 57 caps as a player for the Three Lions, took charge of the national team just over two years ago and guided England to the semi-finals of World Cup 2018.

Southgate said after his extended contract was confirmed: "I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead the national team through the next two major tournaments.

"It's an honour to lead your country, so to be able to do that for another four years is hugely exciting for myself.

"I'm really pleased we are able to have that stability and it's important that we connect all the junior teams to that. We don't stand alone, we try to work in the same way and the benefits from that are clear.

"We recognise that there is still a bit to go to join the world's best teams."

Meanwhile, Southgate has named three newcomers in his 23-man squad for the upcoming Nations League games against Croatia and Spain.

Borussia Dortmund playmaker Jadon Sancho, Leicester City midfielder James Maddison and Chelsea youngster Mason Mount – currently on loan at Derby County – have all been given first call-ups, with the fit-again Harry Winks also included.

There are also recalls Ross Barkley and Nathaniel Chalobah, who have overcome long-term injuries.

England squad
Goalkeepers: Marcus Bettinelli (Fulham), Jack Butland (Stoke City), Alex McCarthy (Southampton), Jordan Pickford (Everton).

Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Harry Maguire (Leicester City), Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), James Tarkowski (Burnley), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)

Midfielders: Ross Barkley (Chelsea), Nathaniel Chalobah (Watford), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), James Maddison (Leicester City), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Harry Winks (Tottenham Hotspur).

Strikers: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Marcus Rashford, (Manchester United), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal).

In the repeat of the World Cup semi-final against Croatia in Rijeka on Friday 12th October, England are 8/5 to win the game, with the draw priced at 21/10, while a victory for the hosts is available at 9/5.

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Dalic hails mercurial Modric

Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder Luka Modric admitted he was honoured to be named Best FIFA Men's Player of the Year for 2018.

The 33-year-old former Dinamo Zagreb and Tottenham star helped Real win the Champions League earlier this year before playing a key role as his country reached the final of World Cup 2018.

Orlando Pride's Brazil forward Marta won the women's award.

"This award is not just mine, it is my team-mates' from Real Madrid and Croatia. Without my coaches, I would not have won this and without my family I would not be the player I am today," said Modric.

Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic said Modric was like "my assistant in the field".

"Luka Modric is the captain of my team, he's the best player in my team and in the world, and he deserves this award," he added.

Cristiano Ronaldo was second in this year's awards with Liverpool's Mohamed Salah in third place.

France's World Cup-winning manager Didier Deschamps took the Men's Coach of the Year award, with Lyon's Reynald Pedros claiming the women's award.

Real Madrid's Belgium international Thibaut Courtois won the Goalkeeper of the Year Award while Salah's goal for Liverpool against Everton won the Goal of the Year.

Croatia are 28/1 to win the Nations League and 25/1 to triumph at Euro 2020.

Dalic welcomes Spain contest

Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic is keen to see how his team get on in their first competitive fixture since they reached the World Cup 2018 final.

Dalic guided his side all the way to their first major final in Russia, with the Vatreni eventually being beaten 4-2 by France in the showpiece finale.

Now, having drawn 1-1 with Portugal in a friendly international in Faro on Thursday evening, they are preparing to begin their UEFA Nations League campaign against Spain in Elche on Tuesday.

And Dalic is expecting a major test for his players, with La Furia Roja having won 2-1 against England at Wembley on Saturday evening.

He told UEFA.com: "This is not a must-win match for us, but a good result would keep our mood positive and it's much nicer when you win.

"That's why we want to win every match, but we are playing against a Spain team which didn't meet their expectations at the World Cup and are highly motivated now.

"It will be a tough match, so I think a draw would be good for us. Croatia are the World Cup runners-up and all teams will be motivated against us and we have to be aware of that."

Croatia last played Spain in the summer of 2016, when a group game at the European Championship finals ended 2-1 to the Red and Whites in Bordeaux, with Ivan Perisic netting the winner three minutes from time.

A 2-1 win for the visitors on Tuesday evening is priced at 16/1, while a 1-1 draw is available at 6/1.

Inter Milan winger Perisic, who has scored in each of his last three international games, is 10/3 to find the net at any time against Spain.

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Rakitic rules out Barca departure

Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic has pledged his future to Barcelona, saying that it was an easy decision to reject offers to head out of the Camp Nou.

The 30-year-old spoke to the Spanish media after helping Barca kick off their La Liga season with a tense 1-0 victory at Real Valladolid, with Rakitic having been the subject of much speculation before the game.

However, the schemer, who helped his country reach the final of World Cup 2018 earlier this summer, was happy to reject any offers on the table and stay put with the Catalan giants.

He told reporters: "There were several clubs that asked about signing me.

"I spoke about everything with my wife and my agent. We reflected on things and, in the end, the decision was an easy one. The most important thing for me is that I want to be here.

"I'm staying at Barcelona. I've had four spectacular years here and it's a privilege to defend this badge. I hope I can keep doing so for many years.

"There wasn't one (particular) thing that convinced me to stay. This is the best club in the world, there's no place in the world where I would be better off."

Rakitic joined Barca in the summer of 2014 from domestic rivals Sevilla, having previously played for FC Basel and Schalke.

He has made well over 200 appearances for the Blaugrana, helping them to three Spanish league titles, four Copa del Rey successes and Champions League glory in 2015.

Barca are priced at 6/1 to win the Champions League again this season, with Real Madrid 8/1 and Juventus available at 6/1.

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Lovren admits to injury worries

Liverpool centre-back Dejan Lovren admits he is unsure just how soon he will be fit and ready for the Reds, having suffered a stomach during World Cup 2018.

The 29-year-old helped Croatia reach the World Cup 2018 final earlier this summer, but has now confirmed that he was being troubled by a stomach muscle problem during the latter stages of the tournament in Russia.

And Lovren is now set to see a specialist in the Netherlands to confirm the severity of the problem.

He told Sportske Novosti: "I cannot train at all because of stomach muscle issues. I am suffering a lot of pain and will see a specialist.

"When did I start to feel it? I felt it during the World Cup. I played with pain and those three games killed me, but who wouldn't play for Croatia at such a big tournament.

"After the World Cup finished the pain increased. I can't even sit in my car without feeling it and to get out of the car hurts like hell.

"I'd always grit my teeth and play for Croatia, but now I am paying the price. However, no price is too high for what we achieved in Russia.

"I haven't trained since I returned from holiday. I'll reassess things after seeing the doctor in Netherlands. I have to deal with that for now and believe it will be okay."

Meanwhile, Liverpool are 7/2 to win the Premier League this season, with Manchester United 10/1 and Chelsea 14/1.

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Kovacic welcomes new challenge

Croatia international Mateo Kovacic is looking forward to the new campaign after moving from Real Madrid to Chelsea on a season-long loan deal.

The 24-year-old arrives at Stamford Bridge at the same time as Thibaut Courtois moves in the opposite direction.

Kovacic played five games for his country at World Cup 2018 and is keen to revive his career after growing frustrated at his lack of first-team starts at Real Madrid, 7/1 to win the Champions League again this term.

He said: "I am really happy and excited to be here at Chelsea. It is an amazing feeling.

"I will try to do my best for this club. It is a new league for me. The beginning is always tough but I am sure the coach and my new team-mates will help me and I am looking forward to a great season."

Central midfielder Kovacic came through Dinamo Zagreb's academy system and scored in the Champions League game against Lyon when he was only 17.

He moved to Inter Milan in January 2013 before joining Real two years later.

He has featured in more than 100 games during his three years in the Spanish capital although many of those have been from the substitutes bench.

Kovacic has represented Croatia 46 times since making his debut in 2013.

Chelsea can be backed at 12/1 to win the Premier League title this season while they are 8/1 beat Huddersfield Town 2-1 in their first game of the campaign on Saturday.