The 2018 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Croatia possesses an intriguing battle at every position on the field.
The pair of European sides are even at most of the 11 positions on the field, which makes Sunday’s game at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow so hard to predict.
France’s group of talented young stars is searching for the nation’s first title since 1998, while Croatia’s golden generation landed it in its first championship match at the World Cup.
With so many interesting positional battles expected to take place Sunday, we took a look at each position in an attempt to give an edge to each side and predict a winner for Sunday’s clash.
France: Hugo Lloris
Croatia: Danijel Subasic
Hugo Lloris has been one of the best players in Russia, as he’s come up with a few big denials for France throughout the knockout phase.
Danijel Subasic hasn’t produced as many highlight-reel saves as Lloris, but he’s come up big in a pair of penalty shootouts.
If the game comes down to penalties, Subasic could hold the slightest of edges just because he’s reached that point in the tournament.
But in order to get to that point in the match, you have to be able to make the big saves at poignant times in regulation, which is what Lloris has done with regularity.
France: Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez
Croatia: Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic
Both set of full backs have been quietly impressive throughout the stretch of six games, and they’ve shown flashes of brilliance moving forward.
Benjamin Pavard produced one of the best goals of the tournament in the 4-3 thriller against Argentina, while Sime Vrsaljko thrived on the right flank in the semifinal win over England.
Both sets of full backs face a tough challenge in the final, as Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic will be tasked with keeping France’s speed at bay, while Pavard and Lucas Hernandez can’t afford to allow space to Ivan Rakitic and others.
With both sides looking to feel each other out at the start, expect the full backs to be tucked back in order to limit the breakaway opportunities of the opposing attacks.
As the game gets stretched out, the full backs will have a chance to dart forward and be the difference makers in the final third.
This is one of the most even positional battles on the field, but Croatia receives the slightest of edges because Vrsaljko and Strinic have more potential to play a key role in attack.
France: Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti
Croatia: Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida
France and Croatia’s center backs have been two of the best positional unites in Russia, and that shouldn’t change on Sunday.
France’s duo of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti turned in a massive performance against Belgium, as they shut down Romelu Lukaku’s influence in the final third.
In addition to being a solid pair in defense, Varane and Umtiti are difference-makers on set pieces, which we’ve seen to be a X-factor throughout the tournament.
Dejan Lovren’s shook off the reputation he earned at Liverpool by playing strong alongside Domagoj Vida.
Lovren and Vida will be tasked with shutting down Olivier Giroud, and their aerial presence should help contain the French striker.
However, the Croatian pair don’t possess the skill set on set pieces Varane and Umtiti possess, and in a game in which small margins matter, that will matter.
France: N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann
Croatia: Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic
Forget any of the flashy strikers or attacking midfielders that have caught your eye in Russia, N’Golo Kante and Luka Modric should be the only frontrunners for the Golden Ball.
Kante is the best defensive midfielder in the world, and he’ll have his hands full against a Modric-led Croatia midfield that picked apart countless opposing attacks.
Kante is accompanied by Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann centrally, with Griezmann occupying a more forward role
Just like their French counterparts, Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic are the engine room of Croatia’s lineup.
While most of the focus, and rightfully so, will be on Kante blocking Croatia’s midfield channels, Pogba could be the most important player for France in the final, as he tries to break down Croatia’s defense with incisive through balls into the final third and movement up and down the field.
Modric is expected to feature in a similar role, as he sprays balls forward in an attempt to break an early deadlock and put the pressure on France.
Both sets of midfielders possess similar skill sets, but they also fit in differently to mold into the team-specific tactics.
It’s hard to give an advantage to either group since they’ve both been dominant.
France: Kylian Mbappe, Blaise Matuidi
Croatia: Ante Rebic, Ivan Perisic
France and Croatia don’t employ a pair of traditional wingers, as Blaise Matuidi and Ivan Perisic occupy wide positions, but the players inserted into those spots on the field work for different reasons.
Matuidi combines well with Kante and Pogba in the middle of the park, and he can interchange with Pogba if the Manchester United man wants to become a larger part of the attack.
Perisic could easily slide into the middle for Croatia, but he carries more importance on the flank with his chance-creating ability and the runs he makes in the final third.
However, the true difference-maker in the wing positions is Kylian Mbappe, who has become the breakout star of the tournament.
The 19-year-old Frenchman has the best pace of anyone expected to start on Sunday, and all he needs is one opportunity to break free and finish past Subasic.
No matter how well Perisic played against England, he doesn’t possess the dynamism of Mbappe.
France: Olivier Giroud
Croatia: Mario Mandzukic
If you break down the starting forwards in the World Cup final based off goals alone, Mario Mandzukic has the edge, as he produced two goals compared to none from Olivier Giroud.
Mandzukic is going to cut through the box in an attempt to find the slightest bit of space between France’s center backs over 90, and potentially 120 minutes.
All it takes for the Croatian forward is one perfectly-timed run to connect with a cross and finish into the back of the net.
Giroud might be asked to do more dirty work than Mandzukic because of his aerial ability that will test Lovren and Vida.
Both players average 2.2 shots per game, while Mandzukic is averaging 1.4 key passes per contest compared to one from Giroud.
When it comes to breaking down the forward play, it ultimately comes down to which player you trust to capitalize on scoring chances more.