Juventus: Mario Mandzukic has practiced fully this week so he has recovered from an ankle sprain. Sami Khedira has resumed training regularly in the last couple of days after a hamstring strain and he could be available in limited capacity on Saturday. Giorgio Chiellini and Federico Bernardeschi are fatigued and have been ruled out by coach Allegri. Emre Can will miss 30-40 days after having his thyroid removed for some nodules.
The fact that Argentina looked out of sorts in a 1-1 draw versus Iceland in their opening World Cup match wasn’t particularly troublesome in itself. After all, they weren’t alone. Brazil, Germany and Spain also struggled in their first outing of the tournament, the weight of expectation always difficult to shake off when the curtain finally lifts.
Having struggled in their first outing, Argentina have much work to do when they take on Croatia on Thursday evening. The Albiceleste were held to a 1-1 draw with Iceland, meaning this encounter at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium – against a team sitting at the top of Group D – is a must win game for Jorge Sampaoli’s men.
Croatia have not beaten South American opposition since a 3-2 win over Argentina back in 2006, a result which marks their only win in the previous four meetings, but if they manage to secure victory here, they will be through to the second-round for the first time since finishing third at the 1998 World Cup.
Zlatko Dalić’s men have won three of their last five matches, losing to Brazil and Peru but registering victories over Mexico and Senegal before their Match Day One triumph over Nigeria. That game was difficult however, managing just two shots on target from open play as the 2-0 scoreline came from an own goal and a Luka Modric penalty.
But Croatia will also enter this clash without Nikola Kalinic, the AC Milan striker sent home after refusing to come on as a substitute in their opening game of the tournament. He claimed to have a back injury, but the Coach was seeming unimpressed with that excuse and exiled the former Fiorentina man from the squad.
They are expected to once again deploy Dalić’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation with Andrej Kramaric lining up behind Mario Mandzukic in attack with Modric alongside Ivan Rakitic in midfield. However, Marcelo Brozovic may step in next to the Barcelona man and push his Real Madrid rival into a more advanced role.
For Argentina meanwhile, Sampaoli has been tipped to ring the changes in reaction to their stalemate last week. That might mean a switch to either 4-4-2 or 3-4-1-2, neither of which looks like the best way to arrest their issues which largely stemmed from Lionel Messi’s ability to find space in the middle of the pitch.
He enjoyed much more success out wide against Iceland, but is expected to once again be used in a central role, while Angel Di Maria, Maximiliano Meza, Lucas Biglia and Marcos Rojo have all been suggested as possible casualties of the shakeup. Federico Fazio, Marcos Acuna, Enzo Perez, Cristian Pavon and Gabriel Mercado are all possible replacements, but which of them comes into the side will largely depend on the system Sampaoli opts for.
Unlike the Iceland game when he announced his starting XI at a press conference, the former Sevilla boss has not revealed his lineup to the media ahead of time so his team sheet will be of much interest.
Argentina (4-4-2): Caballero; Salvio, Otamendi, Federico Fazio, Tagliafico; Di Maria, Ever Banega, Mascherano, Meza; Aguero, Messi
Croatia (4-2-3-1): Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic; Modric, Rakitic; Rebic, Kramaric, Perisic; Mandzukic
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A triple main-event in the upcoming Serie A round: Juventus take on Lazio on the road, Napoli host Roma and Inter and Milan square off in the Derby della Madonnina.
Lazio-Juventus: the Biancocelesti have won two games in a row, as they always do with the minnows, against Verona and Sassuolo. Ciro Immobile continues to punish opponents and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is in stellar form recently. The last Serie A game of the Bianconeri was postponed, then they got the job done in Coppa Italia against the same opponent, Atalanta. With Gonzalo Higuain and Federico Bernardeschi sidelined and Paulo Dybala working his way back from injury, Douglas Costa has been the one to step up upfront and Mario Mandzukic will play a big role as well. The Old Lady has had a ton of success in Rome in recent years. Their defence is stifling, but they will go against the best scoring attack in the League.