England begin their Euro 2024 campaign on Sunday as one of the favourites, but Serbia are more than capable of causing them problems.

Expectations for England aren’t usually especially low at international tournaments, with the possibility of it finally “coming home” elevating feelings of hope even if the team isn’t particularly good.

But as the Three Lions prepare for their first game of Euro 2024, it’s difficult to remember a time when expectations were higher than they are now – and that’s even taking the surprise 1-0 friendly defeat to Iceland into account.

England probably haven’t had this kind of attacking talent at their disposal for decades, with Jude Bellingham, Harry Kane, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Cole Palmer and others all coming off fantastic domestic seasons.

However, as the loss to Iceland emphasised, Gareth Southgate’s side are far from perfect. They may have been favourites to go all the way in the eyes of the Opta supercomputer (well, before that defeat anyway!), though infallible they certainly aren’t.

Up first for them in Germany on Sunday are Serbia, potentially tricky and stubborn opponents. Ahead of that duel in Gelsenkirchen, we’ve identified how Dragan Stojkovic’s can pose a threat to England.

A Stacked Attack

It’s fair to say Serbia’s form coming into the tournament isn’t great. They just did enough to get through a qualifying group that many fans felt should’ve been straightforward, clean sheets are a rare commodity, and prior to last week’s 3-0 win over Sweden, the only teams they’d beaten since January 2023 were Lithuania, Montenegro (both twice), Jordan and Cyprus.

Nevertheless, Stojkovic does have some serious attacking talent at his disposal, players with the ability to trouble any team in the competition on their day.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, Dusan Vlahovic, Dusan Tadic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic collectively boast a very broad set of skills. While the latter pair are very technically proficient, capable of scoring or creating, the first two are both fine finishers and have the physicality to test the best centre-backs around.

Vlahovic plays for the bigger club in Juventus, but Mitrovic is the go-to guy in attack having been so reliable for so long for Serbia. He’s been particularly imperious for Stojkovic, netting 21 goals in 23 competitive appearances under him, while he also scored in the defeat of Sweden.

Mitrovic may no longer be playing in the Premier League, but England fans will remember him well. He scores goals, he’s aggressive, physical and good in the air. In fact, among strikers in Euro 2024 qualifying (minimum 270 minutes played), only seven who contested at least 3.0 aerials per 90 could better his success rate (54.5%) – just two of those tallied more per game (6.7) than Mitrovic.

Aleksandar Mitrovic aerial duels

Key to Mitrovic’s impact, however, will be Serbia’s creators. Tadic was as dependable as ever in qualifying, creating more chances per 90 (3.9) than any other player to feature in more than one game, with Bruno Fernandes (37) the only one to better his total (31) but from two more games.

In 25 competitive appearances under Stojkovic, Tadic has registered 20 goal involvements (16 assists, four goals). He may be 35, but he’s still a vital component in this team and remains a player other teams shouldn’t take lightly.

Aerial Threat

Mitrovic obviously falls into this to a degree (well, quite firmly, really), but he’s by no means the only player England – and the rest of Group C – will have to keep an eye on when it comes to balls floated into the box.

Serbia are huge.

Some are saying they’re the tallest squad in the competition, and while that’s pretty difficult to verify, it’s certainly believable. After all, as many as 18 of their 26-man squad are at least six feet tall.

No team matched their 37 headed shots during the qualification phase, while only Portugal and Spain (both seven) bettered their five headed goals. Going back a little further, they also tallied six such goals in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, the joint-third most in the European section.

Furthermore, it’s probably not that surprising to see they also scored three times following corners in Euro 2024 qualifiers, a figure bettered by just two teams that qualified (Slovakia – 5, Portugal – 4).

Serbia set-piece goals

As mentioned, Mitrovic played his part. Only Kieffer Moore (12), Kostas Mavropanos and Tomás Cvancara (both 10) recorded more than his nine headed shots at goal (excluding blocks), while Serbia centre-back Nikola Milenkovic ranked second (behind Mavropanos) in the same metric among defenders.

Then, with players like Tadic standing over set-pieces, Serbia are well set up to be a danger here as no one laid on more chances from set-plays in qualifying (13) than the Fenerbahçe schemer.

Dusan Tadic set-pieces

The Left Flank

Tadic may well be the key creator in this Serbia side, but Juventus wideman Kostic is an outlet they’ll regularly look to as the left wing-back.

In qualifying, 44.5% of Serbia’s attacks went down the left attacking third. Now, that wasn’t just down to him, as Filip Mladenovic has earned 10 of his 31 caps since the start of last year, but Kostic undoubtedly contributed to that significantly.

Serbia attacking thirds

Something of a throwback out wide due to the frequency of his deliveries into the box, Kostic has long been lauded for the quality of his crossing and creative ability out wide.

Since the start of 2014-15, Kostic has recorded at least 100 open-play crosses in nine domestic campaigns across the top five European leagues; only Antonio Candreva (also nine) can match that.

Unsurprisingly then, no one in European Championship qualifying could better his 45 open-play crosses. Though it’s not just Kostic who operates out wide on the left; Tadic also frequently drifts out wide from his position behind the strikers, thus explaining why 50% of their chances created stem from passes made in the left attacking third.

Granted, the defender they’ll come into contact with the most is likely to be Kyle Walker, potentially their only regular at the back and arguably one of their most dependable players. But together Kostic and Tadic have enough to worry the Three Lions’ backline, especially given the question marks over England’s defence and defensive midfield selections.

Serbia zones of control

John Stones is a doubt due to illness, Marc Guéhi is pretty inexperienced at this level, and defensive midfield has been a problem area for England for a while now. There are weaknesses to be exploited.

It of course remains to be seen if Serbia have the collective discipline and cohesion to make the most of England’s vulnerabilities. Many fans aren’t convinced by Stojkovic and they go to Euro 2024 with expectations far lower than ahead of their ultimately underwhelming 2022 World Cup campaign. Even so, there’s little doubt they have the ability and physical qualities to provide England with a thorough examination.

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