Montenegro and Serbia are set to face each other in the UEFA Nations League, in their first match since Montenegrin independence from Serbia.
Podgorica City Stadium, Podgorica, Montenegro
Key Stat: Montenegro's win against Lithuania last time out ended a seven-match winless streak, during which they had failed to score in four of their five previous games.
Expert Verdict: While Serbia qualified for the last World Cup, since Montenegro declared independence the latter are yet to do qualify for a major tournament as an independent nation. The win against Lithuania alleviated some pressure on Montenegro - who have been difficult to score against but have lacked goals themselves - but Serbia are very much favourites for a fiercely-contested clash.
Sead Haksabanovic and Vukan Savicevic are the only two players missing from Montenegro’s most recent squad. Captain Stefan Jovetic is set to return, while Lazio defender Adam Marusic and Legia Warsaw midfielder Marko Vesovic are also among the players recalled after missing out in September.
Stefan Jovetic – Now at Monaco, the striker’s return is a timely boost as he looks to improve on his record of 24 goals in 50 Montenegro appearances.
Stefan Savic – The Atletico Madrid defender scored from the penalty spot against Lithuania – his fifth goal in 50 international appearances.
Fatos Beciraj – The most-capped player in the current squad, the Maccabi Netanya forward has scored nine times for Montenegro in 56 appearances.
Montenegro’s win last time out was their first in eight matches, as Stefan Savic and Marko Jankovic scored in a 2-0 defeat of Lithuania. It also ended a three-match goalless streak too, with goalless draws against Bosnia and Romania – the latter despite Stefan Mugosa’s sending off – sandwiching a 2-0 loss to Slovenia.
Defenders:Filip Stojkovic, Stefan Savic, Marko Simic, Zarko Tomasevic
Defensive Midfielders:Nikola Vukcevic, Neboja Kosovic
Attacking Midfielders:Marko Vesovic, Marko Jankovic, Fatos Beciraj
Serbia will be without two of their most experienced players for the big clash against Montenegro, with captain Aleksandr Kolarov and vice-captain Nemanja Matic both withdrawing from the squad through injury. Nenad Krsticic is also injured. The absence of the former two, plus Branislav Ivanovic’s post-World Cup retirement, leaves Serbia light on experience with two uncapped players - Nemanja Miletic and Branko Jovicic - in the squad.
Aleksandar Mitrovic – Scored twice against Romania last time out, and now has 19 goals in 42 international appearances, as well as five in eight in the Premier League.
Dusan Tadic – The most-capped player left in the squad, Tadic scored a penalty – his 14th international goal – in the win against Lithuania.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic – The 23-year-old Lazio midfielder is rated as one of the most exciting prospects in European football by some.
Serbia won their opening game at the World Cup, against Costa Rica, but a Switzerland’s late comeback in a 2-1 win and a 2-0 defeat to Brazil saw them knocked out in the group stages. They bounced back by beating Lithuania 1-0 in their first UEFA Nations League match thanks to a Dusan Tadic penalty, but drew 2-2 with Romania at home, despite Aleksandar Mitrovic twice giving them the lead.
Defenders:Antonio Rukavina, Uros Spajic, Milos Veljkovic, Milan Rodic
Defensive Midfielders:Nemanja Maksimovic, Sasa Lukic
Attacking Midfielders:Adem Ljajic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Dusan Tadic
This will be the first time the two nations have met each other at full international level since Montenegrin independence from Serbia was declared in 2006.
Both sides have started the UEFA Nations League with similar records, beating Lithuania and drawing with Romania in their opening two games.
That leaves them level on points going into this match, but with two otherwise vastly contrasting records.
While Serbia were off to the World Cup, Montenegro were on a seven-match winless streak – struggling for goals in the process – until defeating Lithuania last time out.
The return of Stefan Jovetic is a boost as they look to start scoring again, but unlike Serbia – who can count on in-form Aleksandar Mitrovic for goals – they have drawn too many blanks of late.
At the other end, led by Stefan Savic, they have been difficult to score against too but Mitrovic will be a key figure – backed by Dusan Tadic and Adem Ljajic – in that regard.
Serbia’s biggest issue will be the loss of Aleksandr Kolarov and Nemanja Matic – leaving them light on experience – but Matic did not start last time out, anyway.
Their absence will be an opportunity for the likes of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to step up and prove himself with a big future expected of him.
Even without their star players, and away from home, Serbia look the better team on paper, however.
In a clash between the two neighbouring countries, expect anything to happen – this is the first time they have met, and it will be an eagerly-awaited match-up.
But Serbia, with Aleksandar Mitrovic in top form, can break down the stubborn Montenegro defence and claim victory.
Serbia are favourites to beat Montenegro and can be backed at 10/11 with Bet365, Ladbrokes, Betway and 10Bet.
Montenegro have lacked goals, and Serbia are 15/8 to win to nil with Bet365 – though the return of Stefan Jovetic could help the hosts in that regard.
Nevertheless, with Montengro also strong at the back there could be little in it, and under 2.5 goals will return 3/5 with Betway.
Aleksandar Mitrovic will be a key man for Serbia, and it is little surprise to see him favourite to score at any time. He can still be backed at a best price of 29/20 with 888sport, however.
Montenegro may be at home, and facing a Serbia team missing two of their most-experienced players, but the visitors are favourites. Aleksandar Mitrovic could make the difference against a stubborn Montenegrin defence.