Manager Roberto Martinez feels his team played too softly in the match against Greece on Thursday, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, he said he would like to see the Red Devils step up their game and be “more competitive in the two rectangles.”
To beef up a defence that failed to live up to expectations on Thursday, Martinez will give playing time to Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen, who were rested against Greece. They will play alongside Toby Alderweireld, replacing Jason Denayer and Dedryck Boyata. The Hertha Berlin central defender was, in fact, the only Red Devil absent from training on Saturday. He is nursing an injury and will rest for “a few days”.
Thibaut Courtois should return to his position between the goalposts.
Timothy Castagne and Youri Tielemans, also absent from the match against Greece, should be making their return to the final 11, and it will be interesting to see whom Martinez chooses to form the midfield duo with Tielemans.
With the Red Devils’ initial Euro 2021 match one week away – on 12 June in St. Petersburg against Russia – much of the attention is now focused on Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
Witsel, who suffered a serious injury to his Achilles heel in January, will not be on the field before the third match of the Euro Group stage if he is picked. A decision on his selection is not expected before 11 June.
De Bruyne underwent a minor operation on his eye socket on Saturday after a collision during the final of the Champions League and will rejoin the team in Tubize. He could be able to play without a mask at the Euro.
Finally, Eden Hazard, who is recovering from a thigh injury, should play 15 to 20 minutes on Sunday, marking his return to the national squad after an absence of a year and a half.
The last duel against Croatia is a sweet memory for Red Devil fans. That was in October 2013, when Romelu Lukaku hit the back of the net twice at the Maksimir Stadum in Zaghreb, sending the Devils into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after a 12-year absence from football’s most prestigious competition.