Two heavyweights of European football will meet this week when France take on Spain in their 2014 World Cup qualifier on Tuesday afternoon.
The pair currently hold the two top spots in Group I, and will be desperate for the three points on offer here to confirm their status as a World Cup contender.
That—and a host of other key storylines—make this fixture a very fascinating affair indeed, and a game that cannot be missed this weekend. Read on to see what the key storylines heading into this one are, and how they'll play out in this World Cup qualifier.
Spain's Recent Draw Against Finland
It came as a huge shock given their attacking strength and complete international dominance over the past decade, but Spain's 1-1 draw against Finland on the weekend is a huge storyline to watch here.
La Fura Roja enter every match as the favorites, but were found wanting in attack against the bottom team in the group in Finland. Their midfield just wasn't on the same page with their attackers, and they dearly missed the presence of Xavi pulling the strings across the middle.
And whilst the Barcelona star will return, having both Jordi Alba and David Villa out of this one will again prove interesting for the away side. France have shown already they can mix it with Spain (picking up 1-1 draw when they played earlier in the year), so it will be fascinating to see how those injures affect the reigning World Cup champions.
Spain are under growing pressure heading into this one, and they'll know it too. It's not a position they would have found themselves in too many times before either, so there's little to guide us as to how they'll respond to the performance-based pressure.
Given their talent, you'd have to think they'll bounce back well. But France are a very good team, and more than capable of challenging the away side, which could lead to further pressure on Spain here.
How Will France's Attack Line Up Here?
France opted for a more defensive lineup when they played Spain in their first World Cup qualifier—leaving star striker Olivier Giroud on the bench.
Yet after the Arsenal talisman netted an injury-time header to snare a point in that one and showed domestically that he can be a key striker when needed, it's hard to see Les Blues not wanting to use the dominant attacker in this one.
So, with Giroud likely to start, how will their attack line up?
The most likely option would be a 4-3-1-2 from France, that sees Giroud and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema at the top of the attack. That would allow the in-form Mathieu Valbuena to play in behind the pair and give France a very strong attacking lineup in this one.
However, with Jordi Alba out, don't be surprised to see Didier Deschamps try and attack Spain down the sides—perhaps utilizing a 4-3-3 formation with those players. Benzema and Giroud would be given luxury to play as wide strikers, and Valbuena could push up in the middle as a third striker or central attacking midfielder, depending on how Spain's defense is playing.
I'd expect to see France attack a lot more in this one given their home-field advantage and Spain's recent form, so the formation they choose to use here will be key to the final result.
Whose Streak Is Going to End?
As mentioned before, both Spain and France are very strong teams that have rich and illustrious histories throughout Europe and indeed the world. In fact, both countries come into this fixture on the back of remarkable runs—one of which could very well end in this one.
According to Yahoo! Sports, France haven't been beaten in their last 13 World Cup and European Championship qualifiers. Spain, on the other hand, haven't been beaten since November, 2011—a streak that has seen them undefeated in their past 19 international matches.
Unless we see a draw here, one of those streaks will end; the question that remains is as to which streak it will be that potentially falls in this one.
And the answer to that, we'll soon find out.
What do you think will happen in this 2014 World Cup qualifier?
Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre