France vs. Croatia presents scrumptious tactical World Cup chess match

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The World Cup final is nearly here, and with that, a look at the tactical proficiencies of each side is at hand.

France has done just enough to sneak by every opponent thus far, earning all but one of their five wins to this point by one goal. However, they come into the final against Croatia as heavy favorites thanks to a star-studded lineup that has performed on multiple levels thus far in Russia.

Didier Deschamps has to this point stuck with a standard 4-5-1 formation that allows the team to stay compact defensively,  control the midfield and pick chances up front. Kylian Mbappe has been given the flexibility to take players on down the right and find teammates in the middle. Against Belgium, France was comfortable to concede 64% possession to the opponents and allow Mbappe to create chances for the other attackers.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

This presents a different challenge for Croatian boss Zlatko Dalic than he faced against England, when Croatia stretched Gareth Southgate‘s midfield with quality full-back play. That won’t work as well against the 4-3-3, meaning Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic will have to stay home. It will be interesting to see if Deschamps continues to deploy Blaise Matuidi on the right to defend Ante Rebic and look to pummel Vrsaljko, or if he will change things up and bring on Ousmane Dembele to pin Vrsaljko back with his pace and technical abilities. Matuidi appeared to suffer a significant head injury in the semifinal against Belgium, but reports say he is still in contention to play on Sunday.

France’s unbalanced setup with Matuidi on one side and Mbappe on the other has done the job so far, but it has presented some problems as well. For one, it has exposed right-back Benjamin Pavard at times, who has held his own for the most part but occasionally looked overwhelmed. In addition, on the other side of the back line, Lucas Hernandez has been sensational defending the left, but his attacking presence is minimal, and aside from a quality cross or two, his defensive mindset along with Matuidi’s lumbering style leaves France incredible lopsided. That means Vrsaljko and Rebic could potentially see a lot of the ball again, stretching France’s midfield the same way it did England’s.

[ MORE: Pre-Final PST Roundtable ]

Another problem for France could be that Antoine Griezmann hasn’t looked entirely comfortable sitting behind Olivier Giroud, and has performed in spots this World Cup, with two of his three goals this tournament coming from the penalty spot.

However, all problems are minimized when a team has N'Golo Kante marauding through the middle of the pitch. Kante’s presence gives France a huge leg up on shutting down Croatia’s strongest midfield duo of Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric. The latter especially has starred under the bright Russian lights this summer, and has especially roared loudest in the second half of matches when given more freedom to push forward. Modric has shown a desire to get forward and make a difference, unless he’s tasked with marshalling the midfield with Rakitic. For the most part, the presence of defensive midfielder Marcelo Brozovic has had a notable impact on Modric’s proficiency pushing forward on the ball. In the 90 minutes or so Brozovic has been on the bench – the first hour of the group opener against Nigeria and the first half of their quarterfinal matchup against Russia – Modric was noticeably hesitant moving into attacking positions. Expect Brozovic to start so Croatia can hope to match the French midfield wall of Kante and Paul Pogba, leaving Modric and Rakitic to try and stretch Kante into double duty.

The final key tactical battle will be in the French penalty area. It pits poacher extraordinaire Mario Mandzukic against aerially sound defenders Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane. In the semifinal, Belgium pummeled the French penalty area with a whopping 26 crosses, only five of which met its mark – four of which came either at or outside the penalty spot. Croatia’s approach against England was similar, subjecting the Three Lions defense to the soccer equivalent of an artillery bombardment, attempting 40 crosses in their semifinal meeting. Only three of those were successful, but one assisted Ivan Perisic’s 60th minute equalizer.

All eyes will be on N’Golo Kante in his high-profile midfield battle against Modric and Perisic, but there is plenty more for Didier Deschamps to contend with. France will have its hands full with deserving finalists Croatia, and the chess match that will ensue in Moscow on Sunday will be nothing short of fascinating.

Live, FA Cup: Chelsea v. Man United in last 16

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Chelsea host Manchester United on Monday (kick off, 2:30 p.m. ET) in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

[ LIVE: Chelsea v. Man United, FA Cup ] 

A place in the quarterfinals is up for grabs under the lights at Stamford Bridge, and both Maurizio Sarri and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are eager to get one step closer to Wembley as well as keeping their Premier League top four hopes alive.

This fixture has produced some classic encounters in the past and with Chelsea out of sorts in recent months and United flying, this could be a great chance for the Red Devils to get revenge for their defeat to Chelsea in the FA Cup final last May.

Here at Pro Soccer Talk we will have you covered for analysis and reaction from the huge clash, while you can click on the link above to follow all of the action live.

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Premier League games in March to be rearranged

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The FA Cup results over the week mean that six Premier League games will be moved from Matchweek 31.

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With Brighton, Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Watford and Wolves all confirmed quarterfinalists in the FA Cup and one of Chelsea or Man United also going through, there are plenty of games which cannot be played on the weekend of March 16.

The Manchester derby between Man City and Man United is the most notable game that will have to be switched, while Spurs’ home game against Crystal Palace (which could have been their first game at the new White Hart Lane) now has to be rearranged.

New dates will have to be arranged and that isn’t easy at this time of the season as UEFA regulations state that Premier League games cannot be played on the same night as Champions League or Europa League matches.

Below is a list of the PL games impacted, and their date is TBA.

Expect a few of these games to take place in midweek in late April or May and they could be pivotal in the relegation, top four and title battles.


Premier League fixtures to be rearranged
Brighton v. Cardiff
Brighton v. Chelsea
Man United v. Man City
Tottenham Hotspur v. Crystal Palace
Watford v. Southampton
Wolves v. Arsenal

Nani arrives in MLS, signs for Orlando City

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Nani has arrived in Major League Soccer.

Orlando City SC announced the Portugal national team star has arrived from Sporting Lisbon on a free transfer and has signed a three-year deal as a Designated Player.

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Nani, 32, will be a huge draw for Orlando as they look to get things back on track after a rough few years in MLS.

Speaking about Nani’s move to MLS with Orlando, EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi was delighted to welcome the experienced attacker.

“This is an exciting day for our organization,” said O. “Nani brings tremendous experience to our roster. He’s a dynamic winger with quality abilities to move and cross the ball, impact games and lead the offensive play.”

The former Manchester United, Fenerbache, Valencia and Lazio winger won the 2016 European Championships with Portugal and appeared at the 2014 World Cup for his national team. USMNT fans will remember his goal against the U.S. in Manaus…

Nani has scored 24 goals in 112 games for Portugal and although his arrival isn’t as big as Kaka leading Orlando in their first three seasons as a franchise, he is a huge get for a team which hasn’t made the playoffs in their four MLS campaigns and finished way off the pace in each of the last two years in the Eastern Conference.

Manager James O’Connor has a mix of youth and experience in this Orlando squad but he must make a fast start in 2019 after winning just two of his 17 games after arriving midway through the 2018 campaign.

Orlando need a total rebuild and Nani’s arrival should shake things up a little, even if a veteran winger may only solve a few of their problems for a few seasons.

New development in David de Gea contract situation

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It seemed like David De Gea‘s future at Manchester United was up in the air, with the Spanish goalkeeper having just over a year left on his current deal and some reports suggesting an impasse had been reached.

But it appears that United are willing to pull out all of the stops to keep DDG around.

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De Gea, 28, has been named United’s Player of the Season in four of the last five campaigns and since Sir Alex Ferguson retired he has bailed United out of sticky situations time and time again.

It has been reported that De Gea would be handed a new five-year deal which would see him pick up the largest basic salary of any current player in the Premier League, and therefore any PL player in history.

Our colleagues from Sky Sports News in the UK have more on the situation regarding De Gea:

United have been surprised at reports they rejected wage demands of £350,000-per-week, as Sky Sports News understands they would be prepared to pay that amount, but agent demands may be driving the price higher still.

In the past few months Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Ashley Young, Anthony Martial and Scott McTominay have all signed new contracts with the Red Devils and Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward told investors in a call last week that he wants to “finish off the final few as rapidly as we possibly can.”

It is expected De Gea’s deal is at the top of that list, with Ander Herrera and Juan Mata (both out of contract this summer) the other top priorities to tie down to new deals.

De Gea’s importance to United is clear and just as star strikers and attacking players are rewarded handsomely, the value of having a star goalkeeper should not be understated. Even if, historically, they haven’t earned quite as much as outfield players.

The Spaniard has played 347 times for United in all competitions since arriving from Atletico Madrid in 2011, winning the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League.

After almost leaving in the summer of 2015 (United’s staff must do a daily salute to Real Madrid’s dodgy fax machine which scuppered the deal at  the eleventh hour) it is clear he is their most important player. Wonderful displays recently against Tottenham Hotspur and at Arsenal have proven De Gea’s worth, if anyone ever doubted it.