HNK Rijeka’s 8,000-capacity temporary home was already a peculiar venue to host Friday’s Nations League scuffle between Croatia and England. It will be made even stranger for both teams as the ground will be deserted while the country’s football federation serves a one-match stadium ban.

Not only will Three Lions handler Gareth Southgate have to prepare his players for the unique challenge, he will also have the usual expectations back in England to contend with. Progression following a semifinal finish at the summer World Cup must be evident, and three points are made more vital following last month’s defeat to Spain.

Here are four specific things England supporters would like to see in Friday’s game in Croatia:

Harry Kane score a goal

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Kane hasn’t scored from open play for England since Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s shot ricocheted off his heel and over the Panamanian goalkeeper during the World Cup group stage in June. The Golden Boot winner fired fewer shots than Aleksandar Mitrovic and Toni Kroos at the tournament, despite the pair playing half the games of Kane.

His concerning form has continued into the club season. Those sympathetic of Kane’s below-par performances have suggested the Tottenham Hotspur striker is often cropping up in deeper positions, but he should still be firing more shots per 90 minutes in the Premier League than West Ham United’s Michail Antonio and Cardiff City’s Josh Murphy.

Scoring against Croatia – against whom Kane didn’t muster a shot on target in the World Cup semifinal – and inspiring an England victory could belatedly kick-start the striker’s season.

Craft behind frontline

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Kane’s deceiving scoring numbers at the World Cup may be a byproduct of his less advanced role. He was often looking to release Raheem Sterling in Russia when he should have been the one receiving deliveries from the flanks and probing passes from behind.

Kane needs the ammunition, so Southgate would be wise to deploy a creative force in the middle to supplement the width England already possesses via its wing-backs. Southgate may have addressed this dearth after calling up uncapped youngsters James Maddison, Mason Mount, and Nathaniel Chalobah while returning Ross Barkley to the England squad.

Maddison and Mount playing meaningful minutes against Croatia or Spain would be unlikely – they may have to wait until November’s friendly against the United States for their senior England debuts – so Southgate may favor a box-to-box player to bring defensive solidarity and attacking graft.

Barkley and Chalobah should be the front-runners for the busy No. 8 post. Victory in Rijeka would be huge after opening the Nations League campaign with a defeat to Spain, and the attacking threat would look rather bleak with both Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier in the starting XI.

Vision from base of midfield


Football is, unfortunately, like the fashion world in some ways. Claude Makelele’s rise at Chelsea prompted English clubs to send scouts around western Europe searching for the next midfield anchor, and players like Papa Bouba Diop soon emerged. Claudio Bravo’s struggles for Manchester City didn’t prevent the surging popularity of goalkeepers passing it around from the back.

So, now the likes of Jorginho and Lucas Torreira are beginning to make an impression in the English game, fans are wanting to see an alternative to the oft-conservative play of Henderson or Dier.

Spurs’ Harry Winks would fit the bill. His work rate sees him rack up numbers in tackles and interceptions, he has the agility to shake off opponents and find space, and he often makes the correct decision when releasing the ball. It may be a tough assignment for the 22-year-old as he’s still looking to find his rhythm after a long-term injury, but he looks to be the best candidate for a mobile No. 6 role.

John Stones could also fill in there, just as he has in recent months for Manchester City. He exudes calm and can be a decisive passer from a withdrawn midfield role.

More youthful progression

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Southgate has handed debuts to 19 players since taking the managerial reins in October 2016, and Roy Hodgson also introduced the likes of Stones, Kane, Mason, Dele Alli, Dier, and Marcus Rashford to the England fold. The Three Lions squad has been undergoing gradual changes since Fabio Capello’s listless tenure, with six more players potentially making their first senior England appearances this month. Plenty more youngsters are promising to follow after the Under-21s smashed Andorra 7-0 on Thursday.

One of the key figures in this emerging generation is Jadon Sancho. Borussia Dortmund’s super-sub has fashioned one goal and six assists in the Bundesliga this season, further enhancing a reputation that has grown since he worked through the youth ranks at Manchester City.

There are fewer enthralling aspects than seeing an exciting prospect get an opportunity in the senior lineup of your team. An explosive cameo from Sancho would get a whole nation buzzing.