England World Cup 2022 preview

The optimists will say it’s coming home. The pessimists will point towards recent results as a reason to write off the nation’s chances before the first ball is kicked. Either way, England and their much-maligned leader Gareth Southgate are under enormous pressure to deliver in Qatar.

From reaching the semi-finals in Russia four years ago to falling at the very last hurdle at Euro 2020, the Three Lions will undoubtedly be desperate to keep that theme of going one better alive and place a second World Cup trophy next to the Jules Rimet of 1966 in the rather bare cabinet.

Very few can deny the electrifying talent at Southgate’s disposal at St George’s Park, but getting his crop of starlets to gel and deliver for 90 minutes on the pitch has been easier said than done in recent months, and an abysmal time of things in the Nations League has not led to unwavering support of the manager’s tactics and ideas just before the most important tournament of his career so far.

England players pose before a Nations League game in September 2022

As well as fighting for international glory, Southgate has also accepted that his contract will not save him from potentially getting the boot if England cannot find a formula for success in the Middle East, but the Three Lions have proved that they can mix with the biggest of the big boys under the 52-year-old.

Having watched the women’s team captivate the nation with their Euro 2022 triumph on home soil, it is now up to the men’s team – who many argue is the most talented for years – to replicate their counterparts’ unforgettable success over the winter.

Here, we previews England’s chances at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.


GROUP

A relatively friendly set of fixtures awaits the Three Lions in Group B, as they prepare to do battle with Iran, Wales and the United States next month.

World Cup Group B

Southgate’s side open proceedings versus Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium on November 21 and then have four days to recover before tackling the United States at the Al Bayt Stadium.

A battle of the Brits will then take place with Wales on the final group matchday on November 29, with England no doubt eyeing top spot in the section.

November 21 England vs. Iran (1pm, Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan)
November 25: England vs. United States (7pm, Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor)
November 29: Wales vs. England (7pm, Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

It took until the final matchday for England to confirm qualification for the 2022 World Cup, but the Three Lions only experienced a couple of minor wobbles on their way to a first-placed finish in UEFA Group I.

Southgate’s side stormed to top spot with eight wins and two draws from their 10 matches to qualify as the only team to avoid defeat in the six-team groups – the third time in a row England have progressed without losing a game – although the likes of Serbia, France, Switzerland and Belgium also went unbeaten in the five-team sections.

Coming up against Andorra, San Marino, Poland, Albania and Hungary, England won each of their first five matches against their qualifying opponents, although their 4-0 win over the latter in Budapest was marred by incidences of racist abuse from the home crowd.

England's Harry Kane celebrates scoring against Hungary in a World Cup qualifier on September 2, 2021

Draws with Poland and Hungary either side of a 5-0 thumping of Andorra did leave the door ajar for England’s adversaries to potentially upset the apple cart, but Southgate’s men would respond by hitting 15 goals in their final two group games.

Teaching San Marino a footballing lesson in a 10-0 demolition ensured a place at the World Cup finals for the seventh consecutive time for England, who racked up 39 goals – a record high for the nation – and conceded just three across their 10 group games.

Out of all the UEFA nations involved in qualifying, no team could match England’s remarkable tally of 39 strikes, and three goals conceded represented the best defensive record in the six-team groups – Italy and Switzerland shipped just two in their five-team section, though.

Coincidentally, England also won eight games and drew two during qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, but they only scored 18 goals in those matches, with Southgate’s crop more than doubling that tally this time around.


RECENT FORM

England’s ardent fans have already learned not to get ahead of themselves before a major tournament, but on the back of two noteworthy results in the World Cup and Euros, plenty have dared to dream.

However, any shreds of optimism that Southgate’s critics may have had is surely absent after England’s horrendous Nations League campaign saw them relegated to League B, and the Three Lions will enter the World Cup having failed to win any of their last six games.

Scheduling four Nations League matches in quick succession after a gruelling domestic season was not a genius move, but England were not the only ones falling victim to the unforgiving fixture list, and Southgate’s men did not live up to expectations in League A.

England players look dejected after Roland Sallai scores for Hungary on June 14, 2022

England only took two points from four matches in June and were torn to shreds in a 4-0 defeat to Hungary at Molineux, marking their worst home loss for 94 years, and their dismal streak continued in a 1-0 loss to Italy three months later.

By this point, England had only found the back of the net once in the Nations League through Harry Kane’s penalty against Germany, failing to score in open play in five successive matches before Die Mannschaft made the trip to Wembley.

Southgate’s side would pick an ideal time to end their profligate streak in a pulsating 3-3 draw, but failure to beat Iran on the opening matchday would see England equal an unwanted national record of seven games without victory – first set all the way back in 1958 – which would be an unwelcome blot on the 52-year-old’s notebook.


SQUAD

Goalkeepers:  Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Newcastle United), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)

Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Conor Coady (Everton, loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Ben White (Arsenal)

Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Declan Rice (West Ham United)

Forwards: Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), James Maddison (Leicester City), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Callum Wilson (Newcastle United)


STAR PLAYER – HARRY KANE

Harry Kane during England training on September 22, 2022

With countless individual accolades to his name but no major team trophy to go alongside them, Harry Kane enters the 2022 World Cup wearing the armband for England and looking to further cement his place in Three Lions folklore.

The 29-year-old has netted 51 goals for his country down the years – only Ellen White (52) and Wayne Rooney (53) have more – so replicating his Golden Boot-winning showing of six goals from the 2018 edition would see the Tottenham man become his nation’s all-time leading scorer.

It is easy to forget the stellar start Kane has had to the Premier League season given the form of Erling Braut Haaland and Tottenham’s recent struggles, but the England captain still has 11 goals from 14 Premier League games so far this term and is growing restless for a major trophy.

Kane has committed himself to Tottenham for the past couple of transfer windows despite widespread interest from elsewhere, and Bayern Munich will seemingly be the next giants to try their luck as they look to fill the Robert Lewandowski-sized void.

However, any talk surrounding Kane’s future or possible contract renewal with Tottenham are on hold for the time being, as the prolific forward seeks to engineer a memorable World Cup campaign for the Three Lions.


MANAGER – GARETH SOUTHGATE

England manager Gareth Southgate pictured on June 14, 2022

Only three months after it was reported that he had no interest in leaving his role with the Under-21s to take over from Roy Hodgson at the helm, Gareth Southgate OBE was thrust into the limelight in the wake of Sam Allardyce’s acrimonious departure.

Over the past six years, Southgate has won 48, drawn 14 and lost 14 of his 76 international matches in charge of England, who have hit new heights and new lows under the former defender.

Seeking to restore order to Wembley in the wake of the English football corruption scandal, Southgate has seen a host of individual accolades come his way after guiding the Three Lions to memorable finishes at their last two major tournaments, being named the Coach of the Year at the BBC Sports Personality awards in 2018 and 2021.

A semi-final finish at the 2018 World Cup preceded penalty-shootout heartbreak at the Euro 2020 final – Southgate knows all about that from his playing days with England of course – but the 52-year-old is in his own elite crowd of national team managers.

Only Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson also reached the semi-finals of the World Cup with England, and no manager before Southgate took the Three Lions all the way to the final of the European Championships, but it has not been all plain sailing for the former Middlesbrough boss.

Southgate’s squad selections, tactics, starting lineups and substitutions will forever be scrutinised under a microscope, and plenty feel that his powers over this England squad are starting to wane, and he is under no illusions that his contract until 2024 will not protect him if the Three Lions flatter to deceive in Qatar.


WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: Winners (1966)

Sir Geoff Hurst scores England's fourth goal in the 1966 World Cup final

Many have tried and failed to replicate England’s 1966 World Cup success in front of the late Queen Elizabeth II, and only three of the starting XI from that final win over Germany – Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Geoff Hurst and George Cohen – are still around to watch the current crop go for glory.

Fifty-six years on from beating the Germans 4-2 in a highly controversial Wembley encounter, England only have two semi-final finishes to go next to their Jules Rimet trophy, one in 1990 under Sir Bobby Robson and the other in Russia four years ago.

England were not FIFA members until the 1950 World Cup and subsequently missed the first three editions, and they alternated between group-stage and quarter-final exits in 1950, 1954, 1958 and 1962 before going all the way.

The defence of their World Cup crown then ended in the quarter-finals in 1970 before they failed to qualify at all in 1974 or 1978, and a similar fate befell them in 1994, but they have since made it to the finals seven times on the bounce.

Only one of England’s last six World Cup appearances has ended in the group stage, and the Three Lions travel to Qatar with 29 wins, 21 draws and 19 losses under their belt from 69 games in the tournament in total.

France World Cup 2022 preview

Ever since receiving their winners’ medals on a rain-soaked evening in Moscow four years ago, things have not been totally plain-sailing for Didier Deschamps’s France side as they bid to defend their World Cup title at the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

Les Bleus could join an exclusive club by making it back-to-back triumphs at the World Cup – only Italy and Brazil have previously managed such a feat – and adding a Nations League title to their cabinet in 2020-21 would seemingly be the catalyst for a sustained period of success.

However, being forced to pack their bags and leave Euro 2020 at the last-16 stage was a harsh reality check for Deschamps, whose world champions were also on the verge of an unthinkable relegation to Nations League B in the 2022-23 edition before finishing a point above the dotted line.

France players pose for a team photo in the UEFA Nations League in June 2022

While Deschamps – who is one of three men to have won the World Cup as a player and manager – can modify his tactics or training drills, he has been powerless against a wave of injuries and off-field scandals bedevilling French football in recent months.

Plenty of recognisable names from their triumph in Russia are still around, as are some exciting Bleuets graduates and returning veterans, and Deschamps would do well to steer France deep into the tournament while managerial hopeful Zinedine Zidane continues to lurk in the background.


GROUP

France’s run in Group D will not be a cakewalk by any means, with Australia, Denmark and Tunisia all ready to pit their wits against the world champions next month.

World Cup Group D

Coincidentally, Les Bleus also took on Denmark and Australia in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup and will face the Socceroos in their opening game on November 22 at Al Janoub Stadium.

A reunion with Nations League foes Denmark follows on November 26 before France finalize their group campaign versus Tunisia at the Education City Stadium four days later.

FIXTURES

November 22: France vs. Australia (7pm, Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah)
November 26: France vs. Denmark (4pm, Stadium 974, Doha)
November 30: Tunisia vs. France (3pm, Education City Stadium, Al Rayyah)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

It was a bit of a slog for France at first, but Les Bleus eventually progressed from the five-team Group D as winners in UEFA qualifying with 18 points from their eight matches against Ukraine, Finland, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kazakhstan.

Deschamps’s side only managed to win two of their opening five matches in the group and were held by both Ukraine and Bosnia in their opening home games, but Les Bleus turned up the heat in the autumn to guarantee their spot in the Finals.

Draws were the theme between all five sides in the embryonic stages of Group D, but France won each of their final three games and officially sealed qualification by thrashing Kazakhstan 8-0 on the penultimate matchday, thanks to four strikes from Kylian Mbappe.

France players celebrate Ousmane Dembele's goal against Kazakhstan on March 28, 2021

The final group game with Finland was nothing more than a dead rubber for the world champions, but they nevertheless completed the job with a 2-0 win to remain undefeated – one of seven UEFA teams to do so in qualifying.

Les Bleus’ five wins in the section also came with five clean sheets in tow, as Deschamps’s side conceded just three goals in their three draws for the joint-second best defensive record on the continent – Italy and Switzerland only shipped two during qualifying.

The recent qualifying period marked just the second time since 1958 that France progressed to the World Cup Finals without losing a game, having also done so in the 2006 edition before falling to Italy on penalties in the showpiece event.


RECENT FORM

After going on a seven-game winning streak between September 2021 and March 2022, France endured a shocking downturn in fortunes when it came to trying to defend their UEFA Nations League crown over the summer.

Having been forced to play four matches in quick succession straight after ending their seasons at club level, Les Bleus came up against Denmark, Croatia and Austria in the group stage and were immediately at risk of an unthinkable demotion to League B.

After going down 2-1 to Denmark on the opening day, France briefly restored parity by holding Croatia and Austria to 1-1 draws, but the Chequered Ones would glean a slice of revenge for the 2018 World Cup final by beating Deschamps’s side 1-0 on the fourth matchday.

France players celebrate against Austria in the UEFA Nations League in September 2022

Relegation soon turned into a real possibility for the Nations League champions, whose preparations for September’s matches were blighted by injuries here, there and everywhere, but they put themselves in a good position to remain in League A by beating Austria 2-0 on the penultimate matchday.

Deschamps’s side were not guaranteed to avoid the drop in the final group game and did themselves no favours by returning to losing ways with a 2-0 defeat to Denmark in Copenhagen, but Austria’s loss to Croatia meant that Ralf Rangnick’s side were relegated as Les Bleus survived by the skin of their teeth.

Despite managing to stay up, winning just one of their last six games is not a tally befitting that of world champions, who will not be as feared as they were four years ago.


SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Alphonse Areola (West Ham), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Rennes)

Defenders: Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Theo Hernandez (AC Milan), Axel Disasi (Monaco), Ibrahima Konate (Liverpool), Jules Kounde (Barcelona), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), William Saliba (Arsenal), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich), Raphael Varane (Manchester United)

Midfielders: Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid), Youssouf Fofana (Monaco), Matteo Guendouzi (Marseille), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Aurelien Tchouameni (Real Madrid), Jordan Veretout (Marseille)

Forwards: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kinglsey Coman (Bayern Munich), Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona), Olivier Giroud (AC Milan), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig), Marcus Thuram (Borussia Monchengladbach)


STAR PLAYER – KYLIAN MBAPPE

Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe pictured before the Ballon d'Or ceremony on October 17, 2022

From scoring in the 2018 World Cup final and being named the best young player in the tournament to failing to find the back of the net at all at Euro 2020, Kylian Mbappe has experienced a whirlwind of emotions in his fledgling career, and not just with the national team.

Since missing the decisive penalty against Switzerland in the last 16 of Euro 2020, Mbappe has snubbed interest from Real Madrid to sign an eye-watering new contract with Paris Saint-Germain, allegedly admitting that he made a mistake and wanted out only a few months later, and continued to find the back of the net at a prolific rate.

Amid the never-ending speculation surrounding his future, the 23-year-old has already struck 18 times in 19 games in Ligue 1 and the Champions League this season, and he has only failed to score in three of his last 10 matches for Les Bleus.

One of Mbappe’s gripes with PSG is understood to be a lack of attacking freedom that he enjoys in the France side, with 28 goals and 21 assists in 59 national team games seemingly evidence of that, and the ex-Monaco man has already broken into the top 10 of France’s all-time male goalscorers.

Mbappe needs just three more goals to overtake Jean-Pierre Papin and Just Fontaine and four to steer clear of Zinedine Zidane, but the still-active Griezmann, Giroud and Benzema are all way ahead of him, and surpassing Thierry Henry’s 51 is still just a dream for the time being.


MANAGER – DIDIER DESCHAMPS

France coach Didier Deschamps during training on November 14, 2022

Only three men in history can claim to have won the World Cup as both a player and manager. Brazilian luminary Mario Zagallo, German legend Franz Beckenbauer, and Didier Deschamps, who has now celebrated his 10th anniversary as Bleus head coach.

The 54-year-old was making waves in Europe all the way back in 2004, taking Monaco all the way to the final of the Champions League before losing to Jose Mourinho’s Porto, before enjoying stints at Juventus and Marseille, winning six trophies in his three years with Les Olympiens.

Once Laurent Blanc’s ill-fated reign at the helm came to an end after Euro 2012, Deschamps led France to the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and reaching the showpiece events of major tournaments soon became his bread and butter.

Runners-up at Euro 2016, World Cup winners in 2018 and Nations League champions in 2021, France have experienced a sensational haul of success under Deschamps, who has won 84 of his 132 matches in charge.

The former ball-winning midfielder is only under contract with France until after the 2022 World Cup, and despite being handed extension after extension in recent years, a repeat of their Euro 2020 troubles could threaten his prospects of guiding Les Bleus to another major tournament.


WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: Winners (1998, 2018)

France players celebrate with the trophy after winning the World Cup in 2018

Not even the miserable Moscow weather could dampen the spirits of the French team as they won the World Cup for a second time four years ago, with a 20-year gap and a runners-up medal to Italy in 2006 in between their two triumphs.

Aime Jacquet led Les Bleus to international glory in 1998, prior to which France had finished third-best in 1958 and 1986, as well as reaching the semi-finals in 1982 as they started to make waves in the World Cup.

France also hold a special place in World Cup history, as they participated in one of the two inaugural games in the tournament in the 1930 edition – which they received a special invite to – beating Mexico 4-1 as Lucien Laurent scored the competition’s first-ever goal.

Down the years, France have failed to qualify on five occasions – most recently in 1990 and 1994 – and they have rather disappointingly suffered six exits at the group stage, including in 2002 and 2010.

All in all, France have posted a record of 34 wins, 13 draws and 19 defeats in 66 World Cup matches – scoring 120 goals – but they also hold an unwanted record of being the worst-performing defending champions after failing to win a single game in 2002.


PREDICTION

In spite of their ongoing injury, tactical and off-field problems, the motivation of defending their World Cup crown should lead to a galvanized France side topping Group D and setting up a last-16 tie with the runners-up of Group C.

Mexico or Poland would seemingly be Les Bleus’ most likely opponents in that scenario, and Deschamps’s men should progress from that tie with minimal difficulty before a possible showdown with England in the quarter-finals.

England’s ongoing woes makes it easy to envisage France coming out on top in that one, and we do not expect a Spain side to stand in their way in the semi-finals either, but meeting favourites Brazil in the final could prove to be their undoing.

Croatia World Cup 2022 preview

Despite succumbing to the brilliance of France in Russia four years ago, Croatia’s luminaries returned to their homeland to rapturous applause from their ardent supporters, and the Chequered Ones prepare for another period of promise in Qatar.

A beaming smile was etched across the face of former president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic on that rain-soaked evening in Moscow, as Zlatko Dalic’s charges made history for their nation by reaching the final of the World Cup, but the challenge of going one better will be a truly unforgiving one.

The core of the squad that finished second best at the 2018 edition are largely still present on the pitch – or as an assistant manager in Mario Mandzukic’s case – but such a magical run could not be replicated at the Euros.

A second consecutive round-of-16 exit befell Croatia in the continental championships last summer, but a slice of revenge has already been inflicted upon France in the Nations League ahead of their journey to Qatar.

Dalic’s men have Les Bleus’ Nations League crown in their sights after they qualified for the finals at their expense, and while snatching the World Cup trophy out of France’s hands will prove a trickier task, a healthy mix of experienced veterans and talented starlets makes this Croatia squad one to watch.

GROUP

After tackling Nigeria, Iceland and Argentina in the group stage four years ago, things have not got much easier for Croatia, who are now up against Belgium, Morocco and Canada in Group F.

World Cup Group F

The Al Bayt Stadium will play host to their opening match with Morocco on November 23, and Dalic’s side then travel to the Khalifa International Stadium to meet Canada four days later.

The most difficult tie is left until last for Croatia, as they aim to upset the apple cart against Belgium on the first day of December at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.

FIXTURES

November 23: Morocco vs. Croatia (10am, Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor)
November 27: Croatia vs. Canada (4pm, Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan)
December 1: Croatia vs. Belgium (3pm, Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan)

HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Perhaps not the most intimidating qualifying period that they will ever endure, Croatia did battle with Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta in UEFA Group H and topped the section after a pivotal final game.

Things got off to a bad start for Dalic’s side, who lost 1-0 to Slovenia in their opening qualifying fixture, but that would be the only defeat they would suffer en route to Qatar.

Croatia players celebrate after qualifying for the World Cup in November 2021

A spate of defensive masterclasses would follow for the Chequered Ones, who made it through their next six qualifying games with six consecutive clean sheets – winning five of them alongside a goalless draw with Russia.

A 2-2 draw with Slovakia would break their resilience before a 7-1 thumping of Malta put them on 20 points heading into the final day, but only a win would do against Russia if they were to seal an automatic route to the World Cup.

Fyodor Kudryashov’s own goal on the 81-minute mark was all it took for Croatia to usurp the Russians – who were soon kicked out anyway – and seal first place with 23 points from 30 games, and conceding just four goals represented their best defensive record in qualifying since 2002.

RECENT FORM

Croatia have certainly possessed the formula for success – or at least a handy guide on how to avoid defeat – since crashing out of the Euros, losing just one of their last 15 matches in all competitions since September 2021.

Dalic’s men went unbeaten in nine matches in all competitions before being given a harsh reality check by Austria in the opening game of the 2022-23 Nations League, going down 3-0 at home to Das Team before managing to hold France to a 1-1 draw.

Croatia players celebrate in the Nations League in September 2022

After taking just one point from their first two games of the Nations League, the victories started to roll in for Croatia, who picked up back-to-back 1-0 wins over Denmark and France to leave themselves in a great position to make the finals.

Croatia made sure that they carried the momentum from the summer over to September’s fixtures, as they overtook Denmark with a 2-1 win and were top of the section before meeting basement side Austria on the sixth and final matchday.

Needing all three points to assure themselves of a place in the four-team finals, the Chequered Ones triumphed 3-1 to give themselves a shot at glory against Spain, Italy and the Netherlands, and they enter a warm-up friendly with Saudi Arabia on Wednesday aiming to win five games in a row for the first time since the 2018 World Cup.

SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivo Grbic (Atletico Madrid), Ivica Ivusic (Osijek)

Defenders: Josip Stanisic (Bayern Munich), Borna Sosa (Stuttgart), Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig), Dejan Lovren (Zenit St Petersburg), Borna Barisic (Rangers), Domagoj Vida (AEK Athens), Josip Juranovic (Celtic), Martin Erlic (Sassuolo), Josip Sutalo (Dinamo Zagreb)

Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Mario Pasalic (Atalanta BC), Nikola Vlasic (Torino), Kristijan Jakic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Lovro Majer (Rennes), Luka Sucic (Red Bull Salzburg)

Forwards: Ivan Perisic (Tottenham Hotspur), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Marko Livaja (Hajduk Split), Bruno Petkovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Mislav Orsic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ante Budimir (Osasuna)

STAR PLAYER – LUKA MODRIC

Croatia's Luka Modric in September 2022

The defending recipient of the much-coveted Golden Ball award, Luka Modric is still going incredibly strong at the age of 37 and will captain the Chequered Ones in what will be his fourth World Cup.

The Real Madrid lynchpin collected a host of individual accolades after the 2018 World Cup to go alongside his Golden Ball, namely breaking Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s spate of dominance in the Ballon d’Or, and he enters the tournament after playing a pivotal role in Los Blancos’ La Liga and Champions League double-winning team of 2021-22.

Modric is unsurprisingly the most-capped men’s player in the history of the Croatia national team with 154 appearances to his name, as well as 23 goals, which places him fifth on the all-time list behind Davor Suker, Mandzukic, Perisic and Eduardo da Silva.

Already boasting five goals and two assists in Real Madrid colours this season, Modric would be expected to perform his major tournament swansong for Croatia at this year’s World Cup, but while he continues to defy his age, manager Dalic does not believe that the silky midfielder’s national team chapter has closed just yet.

MANAGER – ZLATKO DALIC

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic in September 2022

Following a less-than-spectacular playing career as a defensive midfielder, Zlatko Dalic was still relatively unknown when he left the familiar surroundings of the Middle East to take charge of the Croatia national team in 2017.

The 56-year-old hopped across Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for six-and-a-half years between 2010 and 2017, and a sustained period of success at Al-Ain caught the eye of Croatia chiefs.

Dalic spent nine months out of the game before being hired by the national team in October 2017, and less than a year after taking the reins, he was leading his team out for their first-ever World Cup final.

Initially hired on a temporary basis until the 2018 World Cup qualifying period had ended, Dalic was quickly instilled as permanent manager and was not afraid to stamp his authority on the team early doors – sending Nikola Kalinic home from Russia after his refusal to come on as a substitute in more than one match.

Returning to base as a national hero, the former Hadjuk Split midfielder has been unable to replicate such success in recent tournaments, falling at the last-16 of Euro 2020, but he has successfully navigated the Chequered Ones to a spot in the Nations League finals and boasts a record of 33 wins, 12 draws and 17 losses during his memorable spell in charge.

WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: Runners-up (2018)

Croatia players celebrate with Mario Mandzukic after scoring the winning goal in their World Cup semi-final with England on July 11, 2018

Prior to 1994, Croatia were a part of Yugoslavia and thus did not participate in the World Cup as an independent nation until 1998, having gained independence and FIFA membership in time for a historic first tournament.

The Chequered Ones remarkably finished in third place in their debut year, with six-goal striker Suker leading the line as they beat Germany in the quarter-finals, lost to France in the semis and beat the Netherlands 2-1 in the third-place playoff.

Excluding the first two tournaments, Croatia still hold the record of the best finish by a World Cup debutant alongside Portugal, who finished third in 1966, but they went out at the group stage in 2002 and 2006.

After failing to qualify for the 2010 edition, Croatia were once again put to the sword in the groups in 2014 before that bedazzling run to the final four years ago, and they are one of only three teams to have participated in two quarter-finals without defeat.

Croatia have won 11, drawn four and lost eight of their 23 World Cup games ahead of the 2022 edition, and recent history suggests that either an early exit or deep run to the latter stages will be on the cards.

Preview: Gillingham vs. Fylde

Having pulled off an EFL Cup giant killing against Brentford, Gillingham will hope to avoid being on the wrong end of an FA Cup upset at home to Fylde in Tuesday’s first-round replay.

The National League North side held out for a 1-1 draw in the opening match, and the winners of this tie will be rewarded with a second-round battle versus Dagenham & Redbridge.

Match preview

Cardiff boss Neil Harris on February 8, 2020

From failing to overcome a side two divisions below them to getting the better of an established Premier League outfit in Brentford, Gillingham fans have gone through all the emotions of cup competitions in just the space of a few days.

A trip to Mill Farm for their first-round clash with Fylde saw Mikael Mandron put Neil Harris’s side a goal to the good, but Tom Walker equalised in the 83rd minute for Fylde to force a replay before the Gills knocked Brentford out of the EFL Cup on penalties.

Gillingham’s unbeaten start to the month came to a swift end at the weekend, though, as they suffered a 2-0 League Two loss to Northampton Town to leave them dangling above the dotted line in 22nd place, just one point clear of Hartlepool United with a game in hand.

Harris has only managed to lead this week’s hosts to one win from their last seven matches in all competitions, and it has also been 10 games since their last clean sheet for a side who were knocked out of the FA Cup in similar circumstances last year.

Gillingham drew 1-1 with Cheltenham Town in the first round last year before going down 1-0 in the replay, and Fylde could sure do with taking a leaf out of the Gills’ manual on cup giant killings if this month is anything to go by.

This week’s visitors to Priestfield Stadium reached the third round of the FA Cup in the 2019-20 season, having also gone as far as the second round in 2017-18, so Fylde are no pushovers when it comes to this level of cup competition.

Andy Taylor’s men have seen their National League North fortunes improve in recent weeks, beating Peterborough Sports and Darlington either side of their draw with Gillingham, beating the latter 2-1 thanks to strikes from Walker and Nicolas Haughton.

Suffering just three defeats from their last 19 matches is an ideal preparation period for Fylde ahead of a trip to League Two territory, and goals could be on the menu this week, with both teams scoring in each of the visitors’ last six away matches.

Off-the-field matters will also come into play for the visitors this week, as Fylde have announced that a new head coach to take over from interim manager Taylor will be named on Monday morning.

Team News

Gillingham defender Max Ehmer was back on the bench at the weekend after returning from suspension, while Ben Reeves was also able to come on as a substitute after shaking off a knock.

However, Olly Lee has been dealing with tightness in his quadriceps and will need a once-over, while veteran goalkeeper Glenn Morris came off in the 41st minute against Northampton after landing awkwardly on his shoulder.

Jake Turner should therefore come back in goal for the League Two side, who may consider recalling the likes of Scott Kashket and Lewis Walker to the first XI in midweek.

Meanwhile, Fylde midfielder Curtis Weston – previously on the books at Gillingham – came off with an unspecified problem in the initial draw, but he recovered in time to play the full 90 at the weekend.

However, key midfielder Walker was replaced after just 43 minutes against Darlington with a hamstring tweak, and striker Danny Rowe also sustained a knock in the second half of that contest.

Fylde’s new head coach could therefore be forced into some unwanted changes here, with Luke Conlan and Siyabonga Ligendza waiting in the wings.

Gillingham possible starting lineup:
Turner; McKenzie, Wright, Baggott, Law; Jeffries, Williams, O’Keefe; Kashket, Mandron, MacDonald

Fylde possible starting lineup:
Neal; Whitmore, Obi, Bird; Burke, Weston, Philliskirk, Conlan; Haughton; Charman, Rowe

Preview: Chelmsford City vs. Barnet

Chelmsford City and Barnet will battle for a spot in the second round of the FA Cup when they lock horns in a first-round replay on Monday night.

Barnet were on the verge of triumphing when the two sides locked horns last weekend, with Ben Wynter’s goal separating the two teams until second-half stoppage time, when Charlie Ruff scored to force a replay.

Match preview

Ruff bundled home Tom Blackwell’s corner in the second minute of added time at the end of the 90 in the first-round clash last weekend, with the National League South side forcing a replay in the FA Cup.

The Clarets have played twice since the 1-1 draw, sharing the points with Dover Athletic in the league on Monday before suffering a 2-0 loss to Hampton & Richmond on Saturday afternoon, which has left them fourth in the National League South on 34 points.

Overall, it has been a strong start to the campaign for Robbie Simpson’s side, who have been victorious in 10 of their 17 league games this term, drawing four times and suffering three defeats.

Chelmsford had to win three matches to book their spot at this stage of the FA Cup, overcoming Kings Langley, Romford and Aldershot Town, and they will certainly fancy their chances on home soil in this game, having matched their National League opponents when they locked horns on November 5.

Barnet, meanwhile, will enter this match off the back of a 2-0 victory over Oldham Athletic in the National League on Saturday afternoon.

The Bees also beat Altrincham 2-0 in the league on November 8, so they should enter this match full of confidence, having picked up two strong results since the 1-1 draw with Chelmsford.

Dean Brennan’s side are currently seventh in their domestic table, boasting 30 points from their opening 19 matches, which has left them inside the playoff positions.

Barnet will be back in league action against Torquay United next weekend, and they will be determined to avoid what would be a shock exit in the first round of the FA Cup.

Team News

Chelmsford boss Simpson will need to assess the fitness of his players considering the quick turnaround from Saturday’s National League South clash with Hampton & Richmond.

There is again expected to be a spot in the final third of the field for Simeon Jackson, with the former Premier League striker, who has turned out for the likes of Norwich City and Blackburn Rovers, likely to be joined by Harry Lodovica.

Meanwhile, Ruff, who netted a late leveller in the first-round clash, should again feature in midfield alongside the experienced Liam Trotter.

As for Barnet, head coach Brennan will also need to make a check on his players following their National League clash with Oldham on Saturday afternoon.

The team is expected to be similar to the one that took to the field in the league game, with Nicke Kabamba and Idris Kanu set to feature in the final third of the field.

Samuel Woods and Kian Flanagan both appeared off the bench on Saturday, meanwhile, and the pair are in contention for starting roles in Monday’s first-round replay.

Chelmsford City possible starting lineup:
Ejeheri; James, Winfield, Barnum-Bobb, Vaz; Ochieng, Trotter, Ruff, Yila; Jackson, Lodovica

Barnet possible starting lineup:
Walker; Prichard, Collinge, Okimo, Beard; Winter, Gorman, De Havilland; Shields, Kabamba, Kanu

Preview: Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Borussia Dortmund

Both teams will be looking to bounce back from defeats in midweek when Borussia Monchengladbach host Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga on Friday night.

Gladbach were beaten 2-1 away to VfL Bochum on Tuesday, while Dortmund lost 2-0 to Wolfsburg earlier in the same evening.


Match preview

Borussia Monchengladbach boss Daniel Farke on October 9, 2022

Indeed, Gladbach succumbed to a third defeat in their last four league games in Bochum, with the strugglers scoring two goals within the first 12 minutes of the match.

Clearly, that left Daniel Farke’s side with an uphill task ahead of them. As has often been the case in recent weeks, they struggled to convert their possession into tangible chances, with Alassane Plea’s goal in the 62nd minute one of only two times that they tested the opposition goalkeeper Manuel Riemann throughout the course of the game.

Should they fall to another defeat to Dortmund on Friday in their final match ahead of the World Cup, then Gladbach will almost certainly end this period in the bottom half of the table, which seemed unthinkable after enjoying a very strong start under Farke’s management.

Having been eliminated from the DFB-Pokal by Darmstadt in the second round, that would put the former Norwich City boss firmly on the back foot upon their return in the New Year.

Borussia Dortmund boss Edin Terzic on October 11, 2022

Dortmund, meanwhile, fell six points behind league leaders Bayern Munich – who thrashed Werder Bremen 6-1 at the Allianz Arena – on Tuesday after suffering a damaging defeat in Wolfsburg.

The Wolves were always likely to be tough to beat having headed into the encounter on a seven-match unbeaten run in all competitions, with Micky van de Ven getting Niko Kovac’s side off to the perfect start by breaking the deadlock after just six minutes.

Both sides continually threatened each other, with 38 shots combined across the course of the match, but Edin Terzic’s side could not find a crucial equaliser as Lukas Nmecha sealed all three points for the hosts in injury time.

With Bayern facing BVB’s fiercest rivals Schalke – who are undoubtedly the worst team in the league on current form – on Saturday, Dortmund surely must return from Monchengladbach with a victory if they are to avoid their deficit to the Bavarians becoming untenable prior to the break for the World Cup.


Team News

Marco Reus celebrates scoring for Borussia Dortmund on September 14, 2022

Gladbach’s loss of form in recent weeks has undoubtedly been contributed to by serious injuries to key players, with Yann Sommer and Florian Neuhaus suffering serious ankle and ACL injuries respectively.

Tony Jantschke, Hannes Wolf and Ko Itakura are all ruled out of Friday’s match against BVB, too, with Farke likely to be considering restoring club captain Lars Stindl to the starting XI in order to provide more attacking impetus to the side.

Dortmund, meanwhile, will travel without Marius Wolf, Tim Rothe, Thomas Meunier, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, Mateu Morey, Mahmoud Dahoud and Sebastien Haller, while Marco Reus missed the trip to Wolfsburg in midweek with an ankle issue and is unlikely to be risked.

Anthony Modeste, Thorgan Hazard and Giovanni Reyna all came off the bench during the defeat, and Terzic may be considering mixing up his attacking options having been wasteful last time out.

Borussia Monchengladbach possible starting lineup:
Olschowsky; Scally, Friedrich, Elvedi, Bensebaini; Kramer, Kone; Hofmann, Stindl, Plea; Thuram

Borussia Dortmund possible starting lineup:
Kobel; Sule, Hummels, Schlotterbeck, Guerreiro; Bellingham, Can; Adeyemi, Brandt, Reyna; Modeste

Preview: Hellas Verona vs. Juventus

After securing the biggest win of a troubled season, Juventus aim to continue their run of Serie A success when they visit rock-bottom Hellas Verona on Thursday.

Despite victory in the Derby d’Italia – their fourth league win on the spin – Juve are only fifth in the standings approaching the World Cup break; meanwhile, their hosts have picked up just five points so far and sit inside the drop zone as a result.


Match preview

Adrien Rabiot in action for Juventus on August 22, 2022

With both clubs trailing behind in the first phase of the Scudetto race, old foes Juventus and Inter were equally desperate for points when they convened in Turin at the weekend, only days after the hosts had bowed out of the Champions League.

Putting on a committed defensive display to record their fourth straight clean sheet in the top flight, Juve shrugged off their European woes and leapt above their Milanese rivals in the table – second-half strikes from Adrien Rabiot and primavera graduate Nicolo Fagioli earning a merited 2-0 win.

After Fagioli’s brilliant goal in Lecce at the end of October, Max Allegri’s men have also won each of their last two away games 1-0, and they could now win three in a row without conceding for the first time since the end of 2018, when they still reigned supreme in Serie A.

Across the top 10 European leagues so far this term, only Barcelona and Juve’s Champions League conquerors Benfica have conceded fewer goals domestically than the Bianconeri. Thanks to such resilience, they are now aiming to record five straight league victories for the first time since a run of seven under Maurizio Sarri, who departed back in 2020.

All of which is a far cry from the doom and gloom surrounding the club before Sunday’s Derby d’Italia success, and Juventus – recently drawn to face Nantes next February, in the unfamiliar surrounds of the Europa League – have introduced several starlets, such as Fagioli and Fabio Miretti, who offer hope for the future.

More immediately, though, they conclude the first part of their Serie A campaign by following Thursday’s trip to Veneto with a return to Turin, where they meet Sarri’s in-form Lazio on Sunday.

Hellas Verona's Davide Faraoni celebrates scoring their third goal on September 19, 2021

While Verona have won three of their last five home matches against Juventus – as many as in the previous 12 – more recent form suggests they will have a struggle on their hands this week.

They welcome the Old Lady to Stadio Bentegodi having lost eight Serie A games in a row for the first time in club history, and they prop up the top-flight table with more than a third of the season completed.

Before last Sunday’s loss to promoted Monza – who also shocked Juve earlier this season – two of their three previous defeats had been at the hands of Milan and Roma, but Salvatore Bocchetti’s side are struggling to score no matter what the calibre of opposition.

Now set to encounter Allegri’s disciplined outfit, Hellas have found the net only five times in eight outings since the start of September, so certainly face an uphill task.

Despite ditching Gabriele Cioffi for the untested Bocchetti last month, the litany of misery has continued at the Bentegodi: Verona have lost five of their first six home games, while recording 10 defeats in the opening 13 fixtures for the first time ever.


Team News

Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri pictured on October 8, 2022

While both Leandro Paredes and Moise Kean have returned to full training and could feature on Thursday, Max Allegri’s injury list still includes Weston McKennie, Mattia De Sciglio and star striker Dusan Vlahovic, who all missed out on Juve’s win over Inter.

Long-term absentee Federico Chiesa made his comeback from injury against PSG last week, and should make another cameo from the bench, but Paul Pogba remains out of action and will also miss France’s defence of the World Cup.

With Vlahovic’s presence in serious doubt, Arkadiusz Milik should lead the line up front again, having previously scored four goals in three games versus Verona in Serie A; young guns Nicolo Fagioli and Fabio Miretti could also keep their place.

Meanwhile, Allegri’s opposite number Salvatore Bocchetti will have more defensive options at his disposal in midweek, as Pawel Dawidowicz, Federico Ceccherini and Fabio Depaoli all return.

Giangiacomo Magnani must serve a suspension, though, due to his dismissal in Sunday’s defeat to Monza – World Cup hopeful Dawidowicz should take his place in the hosts’ back three.

Ivan Ilic and Davide Faraoni are among those set to be sidelined by injury, and Depaoli could deputise for the latter on Verona’s right flank.

Hellas Verona possible starting lineup:
Montipo; Dawidowicz, Gunter, Ceccherini; Depaoli, Veloso, Tameze, Doig; Kallon, Lazovic; Henry

Juventus possible starting lineup:
Sczesny; Danilo, Bremer, Sandro; Cuadrado, Fagioli, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Miretti; Milik

Preview: Sevilla vs. Real Sociedad

Struggling Sevilla welcome Real Sociedad to the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on Wednesday, still searching for their first home win of the season in LaLiga.

The hosts battled their way to a 1-1 draw with fierce rivals Real Betis on Sunday, while the visitors held on to the same scoreline with Valencia, despite playing for 73 minutes with 10 men.


Match preview

Sevilla head coach Jorge Sampaoli pictured on October 25, 2022

Sevilla’s dismal start to the season looked as if it was about to get a whole lot worse on Sunday night, as they were reduced to 10 men against their high-flying rivals Real Betis before falling behind to an unfortunate own goal after 43 minutes.

Nonetheless, Jorge Sampaoli’s men were offered some rare respite amid the flaring tempers of derby day, as both Nabil Fekir and Borja Iglesias were sent off for the home side, leaving the visitors with an unlikely one-man advantage for most of the second period.

Los Nervionenses capitalised, as a second 30-yard screamer of the season from Nemanja Gudelj silenced a bouncing Benito Villamarin, to rescue a useful point that lifts the six-time Europa League winners out of the relegation zone on goal difference.

Sevilla last tasted victory in LaLiga in mid-October, when Gudelj again found the net from distance, and are still to win in front of their own fans, despite losing just once at the Sanchez Pizjuan throughout the entirety of last season.

With just three points from a possible 18 at home, they will be looking to snap their shocking streak in a contest that would ordinarily be a top-six showdown against Real Sociedad.

Carlos Fernandez in action for Real Sociedad on October 13, 2022

La Real, on the other hand, are experiencing a slight slump of their own, after their club-record run of eight consecutive wins came tumbling at Real Valladolid last month.

Without a LaLiga win in their last three, Imanol Alguacil’s men were forced to scrap for a draw against Valencia on the weekend, after Aritz Elustondo was shown a straight red card in the 13th minute.

Even with 10 men, however, the Basque side created some fantastic chances to win the game, as Alexander Sorloth’s header was cleared off the line in the first half, before the Norwegian striker clipped the bar with a close range effort after the break.

Still just one point behind Atletico Madrid in third, the Txuri Urdin will be hoping for a positive result to keep in the mix for the top four, with star player Mikel Oyarzabal all set to make his return from an anterior cruciate ligament tear after the World Cup break.


Team News

Real Sociedad midfielder David Silva in action against Real Madrid in La Liga on September 20, 2020

After that hot-tempered affair with Real Betis, full-back Gonzalo Montiel will be unavailable after he picked up a straight red, leaving the door open for Jesus Navas to make his 611th appearance for the club.

Sevilla’s injury woes continue in central defence, as both summer signings Tanguy Nianzou (quadriceps) and Marcao (thigh) remain sidelined, alongside winger Tecatito and defensive midfielder Fernando.

The visitors will still be without the Oyarzabal and Umar Sadiq, both out with cruciate ligament tears, while Mohamed-Ali Cho (thigh), Aihen Munoz (thigh) and Ander Barrenetxea (muscular) will sit out once again.

Elustondo will be suspended due to his red card last weekend, while both Takefusa Kubo and David Silva could be in contention for starts after their returns to the bench on Sunday.

Sevilla possible starting lineup:
Bounou; Acuna, Rekik, Gudelj, Navas; Rakitic, Torres, Jordan; Isco, Mir, Lamela

Real Sociedad possible starting lineup:
Remiro; Rico, Le Normand, Zubeldia, Gorosabel; Merino, Zubimendi, Mendez; Kubo, Sorloth, Fernandez

Preview: Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund

Wolfsburg will be aiming to extend their unbeaten league run to seven matches when they host Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.

The visitors, meanwhile, can win their fourth successive Bundesliga match as they look to keep within three points of league leaders Bayern Munich.


Match preview

Wolfsburg boss Niko Kovac on August 6, 2022

After enduring a difficult start under Niko Kovac, who joined the club during the summer after being sacked by Monaco at the start of 2022, Wolfsburg have recovered by putting together an unbeaten run of seven games in all competitions since returning from September’s international break.

Four wins and three draws within that run have seen the Wolves move up to 11th in the table while also progressing into the DFB-Pokal third round, with Kovac’s side securing an impressive 3-0 win away to Mainz 05 on Saturday.

Clearly, Wolfsburg are an increasingly potent outfit having bagged 15 goals across their last six matches, with six of their players scoring two or three league goals already this season, illustrating that they like to share the goals around.

Having lost 2-0 to Bayern and RB Leipzig already this season, though, they are arguably lacking a statement win under the Croatian’s tenure so far, with the 51-year-old hoping that changes against Dortmund on Tuesday.

Borussia Dortmund boss Edin Terzic on October 11, 2022

Dortmund’s form has significantly improved in recent weeks, too, with three consecutive victories helping them keep pace with Bayern towards the top of the table.

Edin Terzic’s side ran out comfortable 3-0 winners against struggling VfL Bochum at Westfalenstadion on Saturday, with goals from teenagers Giovanni Reyna and Youssoufa Moukoko (two) ensuring all three points were essentially secured before half time.

Indeed, both teams appeared to shake hands on the outcome after coming out from the tunnel for the second half, with the hosts failing to muster a single shot on target ahead of a tricky trip to Lower Saxony in midweek.

Terzic will hope the energy that his players managed to spare will pay dividends on Tuesday, but he will be more than aware that his side will need to be close to their best if they are to end their forthcoming opponents’ impressive unbeaten run.


Team News

Jude Bellingham celebrates scoring for Borussia Dortmund on October 5, 2022

Wolfsburg will remain without Kevin Paredes, Bartol Franjic and Max Kruse through injury, but otherwise Kovac appears to have a full squad to select from against Dortmund.

The former Bayern boss is unlikely to make any changes to the starting XI which has won without conceding in each of their last two matches, with Ridle Baku hoping to continue to provide an attacking outlet from right-back having scored in both victories.

Dortmund, meanwhile, will travel without Sebastien Haller, Marius Wolf, Mahmoud Dahoud, Mateu Morey, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, Thomas Meunier and Tim Rothe, with Terzic’s ability to rotate reduced as a result.

However, club captain Marco Reus did feature from the bench against Bochum after recovering from an injury setback, with Anthony Modeste, Thorgan Hazard and Karim Adeyemi all hoping for recalls to the starting XI having also been brought on during the win.

Wolfsburg possible starting lineup:
Casteels; Baku, Bornauw, Van de Ven, Otavio; Wimmer, F. Nmecha, Arnold, Gerhardt, Kaminski; L. Nmecha

Borussia Dortmund possible starting lineup:
Kobel; Sule, Hummels, Schlotterbeck, Guerreiro; Bellingham, Can; Adeyemi, Brandt, Reyna; Moukoko

Preview: Rayo Vallecano vs. Real Madrid

Real Madrid will be looking to return to winning ways in Spain’s top flight when they make the trip to Estadio de Vallecas on Monday evening to take on Rayo Vallecano.

La Liga leaders Los Blancos were held to a 1-1 draw by Girona in the league last weekend, while Rayo recorded an impressive 1-0 victory over Sevilla to move them into ninth position in the table.


Match preview

Rayo Vallecano coach Andoni Iraola during the match on March 3, 2022

Rayo are bidding to make it back-to-back seasons in Spain’s top flight for the first time since 2016, and the early indications are that the team will be more than good enough to stay away from a relegation battle during the 2022-23 campaign.

Los Franjirrojos have won five, drawn three and lost four of their 12 league games this season to collect 18 points, which has left them in ninth position in the table.

Rayo will bring a four-game unbeaten run into this contest, meanwhile, which has included victories in their last two fixtures at home to Cadiz and away to Sevilla.

Indeed, Andoni Iraola’s side thumped Cadiz 5-1 in front of their own supporters on October 22 before recording a 1-0 victory over Sevilla at Estadio Ramon, with Alvaro Garcia netting the only goal of the contest.

Rayo will now be looking to record a third straight league victory on Monday night, but they lost both La Liga fixtures with Los Blancos during the 2021-22 campaign, including a 1-0 defeat at Estadio de Vallecas.

Real Madrid's Rodrygo celebrates scoring against Celtic on November 2, 2022

Real Madrid, meanwhile, were held to a 1-1 draw by Girona in the league last weekend, but the result was enough to move the champions back to the top of the table ahead of Barcelona.

As it stands, the gap from first to second is one point, but Barcelona could be top by the time that this match kicks off, with the Catalan outfit in action against Almeria on Saturday night.

Los Blancos will enter this match off the back of a win, though, as they thumped Celtic 5-1 in the Champions League on Wednesday evening to secure first position in their section.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side will again be looking to do a La Liga and Champions League double this term, and the capital giants will be bidding to sign off for the winter break with league wins over Rayo and Cadiz.

Real Madrid will then not be back in action until December 30 against Real Valladolid, and it will be fascinating to see what develops for the Spanish and European champions in the second half of the campaign.

As mentioned, Los Blancos beat Rayo in both league games between the two sides last term, but they suffered a 1-0 defeat at Estadio de Vallecas in April 2019, with Adri Embarba’s penalty securing all three points for Los Franjirrojos.


Team News

Real Madrid's Aurelien Tchouameni during the warm up before the match on September 3, 2022

Rayo will again be missing Andres Martin due to a shoulder problem, while Jose Angel Pozo is also out and Raul de Tomas is still unregistered, but Radamel Falcao has a chance of recovering from a muscular problem.

The home side will also be boosted by the returns of Randy Nteka and Oscar Trejo following their suspensions last time out, and the latter could come into the starting XI.

Trejo for Unai Lopez might be the only change from the side that took to the field for the first whistle against Sevilla, with Sergio Camello again set to lead the attack here.

As for Real Madrid, Aurelien Tchouameni and Eden Hazard both missed out against Celtic in the Champions League, but the pair are now back in training and have been named in the squad for this match.

Tchouameni is expected to come back into the side, with Toni Kroos out through suspension, which could also open the door for Eduardo Camavinga to come into the midfield.

Karim Benzema is unavailable due to a muscular issue, though, which should see Rodrygo play through the middle.

Antonio Rudiger has also been ruled out of the contest through injury, so the team’s first-choice back four of Dani Carvajal, Eder Militao, David Alaba and Ferland Mendy should take to the field.

Rayo Vallecano possible starting lineup:
Dimitrievski; Balliu, Lejeune, Catena, F Garcia; Comesana, Valentin; Palazon, Trejo, A Garcia; Camello

Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Modric, Tchouameni, Camavinga; Valverde, Rodrygo, Vinicius