An insight into how England have set up shop in this World Cup
An insight into how England have set up shop in this World Cup
We learned a lot about how England will set up shop during the World Cup in their 2 – 1 win over Tunisia. Our guest analyst from the EFL looks deeper into how Southgate’s high press and three-man backline fared against a plucky Tunisian side.
How did both teams set up?
England started with a 3 – 5-2, with Jordan Henderson screening the three-man defence that coach Gareth Southgate has continued to favor.
Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard were the more advanced central midfielders, with a license to make use of their pace to make runs from central areas in behind the Tunisian defence.
Tunisia started with a rigid 4 – 5-1, with Wahbi Khazri the lone frontman. However, they immediately switched to a 4 – 3-3 in the 12th minute after Harry Kane’s first goal, with Naim Sliti and Fakhreddine Ben Youssef flanking Khazri up top.
Tunisia changed formation again to a back five at half time, appearing to play more conservatively having claimed parity with a goal of their own. Ben Youssef dropped all the way down to a wingback position to complete Tunisia’s block of five in defence.
Which areas did England dominate?
England dominated both territory and possession throughout the match and completed 99 successful final third entries compared to Tunisia’s 35. England had possession of the ball for 33 minutes compared to Tunisia who had 26 minutes of ball possession.
Press, press, press:
England pressed the Tunisians extremely high up the pitch and looked to win the ball back as quickly as possible after losing it.
Tunisia have qualified for the world cup by employing a possession-based game, so it made sense that England did not want to give them the opportunity to play.
Henderson did a great job of his screening role by completing 5 interceptions, while Alli, Lingard, Trippier and Young all contributed with an interception of their own in the midfield.
In total, England had ten interceptions, with every instance leading to a counter-attack towards the Tunisia box. In comparison, Tunisia had four interceptions with only two leading to an attack on England’s box.
England’s interceptions came as a result of a unit press, or in other words England had more bodies higher up the pitch when the ball was turned over.
Over 55% of Tunisia’s turnover from attack to defence happened in their defensive third.
Tunisia were averse to playing long ball to Khazri at centre forward. This was down to two reasons; Firstly, Tunisia are a possession side and they want to play their football on the floor.
Secondly, Harry Maguire dominated the airways, winning a match-high 8 aerial duels.
Forced to play the ball to feet both by habit and necessity, Tunisia were open to England’s pressing tactic.
Breaking the press:
On a couple of occasions, Tunisia’s quick-tempo passing broke England’s press, the results of which can be seen in the image below.
What did possession mean in the context of this match?
England dominated possession in regards to time spent holding the ball. However, possession is meaningless unless you play the ball positively and try to get behind the defence or force openings by dragging players out of position.
England had a far higher final third entry compared to Tunisia. It was apparent from the outset that England wanted to play forward as quickly as possible. Our output window, courtesy of Sportscode, shows that England played 210 forward passes in comparison to 165 from their opponents.
There were a number of ways in which positive passing was effective in this match.
Firstly, England played with a tempo between the back three where they did not take too many touches before looking to play forward.
Lingard and Alli (later Rashford) had the remit to run beyond Tunisia’s defensive line. This was very difficult for Tunisia to defend against as their centre backs were already marking England’s two centre forwards.
This overload higher up the pitch resulted in the 99 penalty box entries for England as opposed to Tunisia’s 35 mentioned earlier.
Threat from wide areas:
England were a lot more dangerous down the right-hand flank as Kieran Tripper swung in twice as many crosses (4) than any other player. 80% of England’s crosses came from the right.
This is likely due to not having a natural left footer in the starting line up which might be an area to address should smarter teams cut Trippier’s supply line in later matches.
Tunisia could have caused more problems for England’s wing backs, but failed to use their numerical overload in wide areas to get in behind.
Where was the game won?
For all of the pressing that took place, ultimately set pieces won the game for England.
England were far superior in the sky, winning 15 aerial duels in total compared to Tunisia’s 5. Harry Kane won five of these himself and helped himself to two goals in the one area where his opponents couldn’t match him — height.
With the game tied going into the last 20 minutes, Southgate made two positive changes bringing on Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Both had positive impacts on the game. In their 32 minutes on the pitch, the two England substitutes had 16 touches in the Tunisian half, with 7 of these touches being attacking dribbles.
Rashford and Loftus-Cheek also completed 11 successful forward passes during their second-half spell.
Harry Maguire was dominant in the air, with an aforementioned match-high 8 successful aerial duels. He was also overall accurate with his distribution, completing 73 passes at a 94% accuracy rate.
Maguire also put himself about in the box, chipping in with two on-target goal attempts and the headed assist for England’s winner.
Despite only claiming all three points at the death, this was a performance that was statistically dominant for the Three Lions.
Southgate will be impressed at how his press was effective in winning back the ball in enemy territory and how the distribution of his centre backs was for the most part tidy.
With Panama likely to employ similar deep-lying tactics in the next match, there should be no surprises in how England line-up next Sunday.
However, with one eye on the Belgium match that will define Group G, England must be wary of the fact that the occasional casual passing errors or lazy pressing that was not capitalised on by Tunisia, will be punished by players of the quality of Hazard, De Bruyne and co.