What adjustments should the World Cup favorites make?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 17: Jerome Boateng of Germany gestures during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 17: Jerome Boateng of Germany gestures during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images) /

Several of the World Cup favorites have struggled so far. Here’s one adjustment they can make ahead of the next round of games.

Not even a week has flown by, and we’ve already seen some incredible things happen at this World Cup. You couldn’t possibly imagine a better start to this event, but for the major sides it has been anything but.

Holders Germany were stunned by Mexico in a 1-0 defeat, while England grabbed a late winner to beat Tunisia 2-1. Spain and Portugal battled to a 3-3 draw in one of the best games in World Cup history, while France edged out Australia 2-1 in unconvincing fashion. Belgium comfortably dispatched Panama 3-0, while Brazil and Argentina could only manage 1-1 draws against Switzerland and Iceland respectively.

Nobody said getting past the group stage would be easy, but these big teams certainly expected to get off to a nice start. Yet, it’s still early days and there’s time to improve. Here’s how every World Cup favorite can adjust for their next game.

Germany: Drop Sami Khedira and start Leon Goretzka

The reigning champions will feel lucky not to have lost by more than one goal on Sunday, as Mexico ripped them to shreds on the counter. Germany sent so many men forward in attack, there was often as few as two or three players left to defend, with Sami Khedira in particular struggling to get through the work demanded of him.

Joachim Low should consider replacing Khedira in the starting XI with the younger, more mobile Leon Goretzka, who should be better suited to covering the space left behind when Germany go forward. This should also help provide Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels the support they need when they opposition are on the counter.

Spain: Drop Nacho Fernandez, start Dani Caravjal

Spain looked arguably the strongest of the favorites. However, Nacho Fernandez had an up-and-down game against Portugal, giving up an early penalty before making amends with a perfect volley in the second half to give Spain a 3-2 lead.

Nacho’s a center-back by trade, and sometimes isn’t on the same level technically as many of his teammates, meaning he can slow down Spain’s attack. Dani Carvajal has been dealing with injury problems, and missed stretches of time at the end of the club season with Real Madrid, but he raises Spain’s ceiling. If he’s fit, Fernando Hierro should start him ahead of Nacho.

France: Start Thomas Lemar and Olivier Giroud in a 4-3-1-2

France won their opening match against Australia, but they were hardly convincing. The 4-3-3 they employed looked exciting on paper, but didn’t quite work, with Ousmane Dembele and Corentin Tolisso particularly struggling to make an impact.

Thomas Lemar is a sparkplug going forward and is threat when he drifts wide to cross the ball. Olivier Giroud, who is great for his country and played well after coming off the bench against Australia, is the best target for those crosses in the squad. Giroud also works well with Antoine Griezmann.

As Didier Deschamps continues to look for his best lineup, he might consider playing Griezmann off Giroud and Kylian Mbappe up front, with Lemar alongside Pogba and N’Golo Kante in midfielder against Peru, who should provide a stiff test.

Portugal: Pair Andre Silva with Ronaldo in 4-4-2

The brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo was on display against Spain. A hat-trick for the ages shows that he ain’t slowing down at the age of 33, and he’s now the favorite for the Golden Boot. However, Portugal’s over-reliance on the Real Madrid player is alarming.

That’s why Fernando Santos should give AC MIlan striker Andre Silva a start to ease the pressure on Ronaldo. Goncalo Guedes performed ok as Ronaldo’s striker partner against Spain, but couldn’t provide an end product. Against Morocco, whose defense is spear-headed by the tough Medhi Benatia, Silva and Ronaldo will have to work hard.

Argentina: More attack-minded midfield and play through the wings

Argentina might be in trouble. They remain far too over reliant on Messi in attack, the midfield and defense are unconvincing and they don’t have the personnel to press the way Jorge Sampaoli likes his teams to press.

Iceland defended deep and in numbers, which only exacerbated Argentina’s lack of width. Against Croatia, Angel Di Maria will most likely be dropped for the faster and more direct Cristian Pavon. Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia didn’t create much going forward; Giovanni Lo Celso or Ever Banega, who replaced Biglia against Iceland, would both be upgrades.

Belgium: Start Mousa Dembele

The 3-4-2-1 system Roberto Martinez has implemented is working like a charm. Kevin De Bruyne was brilliant against Panama, Romelu Lukaku is an absolute beast in the box and Dries Mertens scored a sensational volley. But now the real tests begin.

While Belgium ended up winning easily, they struggled to consistently create chances in the first half. One reason for that was that De Bruyne was playing in a midfield two with Axel Witsel. Introducing Mousa Dembele to the starting XI, either for Mertens or one of the wing-backs (resulting in a switch to a back four), is the easiest way to ensure De Bruyne can impact the game in the final third.

Next: The best player on every team at the World Cup

England: Start Ruben Loftus-Cheek over Jesse Lingard

Sweet attacking play in the first half should’ve given England an easy victory over Tunisia, but they needed a stoppage-time header from Harry Kane to secure the win after a poor second half.

Raheem Sterling had his moments, but his execution in the final third was off. Still, he should retain his place against Panama. Dele Alli was great moving the ball up the pitch and leading most of England’s attacks, while Jordan Henderson was good passing the ball.

Jesse Lingard is probably the weak link in the attack. If Gareth Southgate wants to switch anything, he might consider giving Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who made a big difference off the bench, a start ahead of Lingard.

An imposing figure on the ball, Loftus-Cheek can take on defenders while also providing some more steel when England don’t have the ball. Playing Loftus-Cheek with Henderson and Alli in midfield could work wonders.

Brazil: Start Douglas Costa ahead of Willian

When their attack is clicking, Brazil can beat anyone. But against Switzerland, there wasn’t much creativity from Paulinho, while Danilo barely ran up field to provide width on the right flank. The loss of Dani Alves proved much bigger than expected.

Danilo won’t be dropped against Costa Rica, but he should roam forward more so Brazil don’t become one-dimensional and rely on Marcelo on the left flank. Speaking of the left flank, Neymar took too much responsibility trying to carry Brazil to victory. Too many dribbles led to a bit of showboating, which slowed down Brazil’s attacks.

Philippe Coutinho provided us with a sublime curler to give Brazil the lead, but he’s more of a winger than a traditional box-to-box midfielder. Paulinho will have to do more tracking back and making late runs into the box. Douglas Costa is an x-factor, and his pace and skill could be the difference late in games. But he should start over Willian to give Costa Rica a difficult time.