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.

England's formation featured a three man backline with Kieran Tripper pushed much higher than his usual fullback position. Tunisia's initial formation was conservative before conceding.

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 press down the right hand side and force a mistake.

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.

Areas of possession where the ball was lost - Tunisia (red) lost the ball frequently in their own half where England were effective in the press.

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. 

Tunisia aimed to beat the English press in order to play their fancied possession-based game.

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.

Positive passing statistics highlighted in the Sportscode output window.

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.

Quick movement from England's centre backs to launch another attack.

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.

Lingard using his pace to access the space behind the Tunisian defence.

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.

Ashley Young is pulled inside, allowing for Tunisia get in behind. Future opponents may use this scenario to counter England's wingback setup.

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.

Key sub­sti­tu­tions:

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.

Star play­er:

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.

Maguire was dominant in the air, accurate with the boot, and a nuisance in the box.

Post-match recap:

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.