Czech Republic – England: Half-time Adjustment Insufficient To Rescue Result For England (2-1)
After early goals for both teams in the opening minutes, England struggled in buildup play against Czech Republic’s man-oriented pressing. In the second half, Gareth Southgate changed to a more familiar system, which helped England gain slightly more control. However it was not enough to secure a result, as the Czech Republic scored a late winner.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
Going into this European Championship Qualifier, England found themselves in a commanding position at the top of their group with four wins out of four, having played a game less than the rest of the group.
Gareth Southgate’s side have mostly utilised a 4-3-3 system in the past year, including in the 5-0 thrashing of Czech Republic at home. However in this game England started in a 4-2-3-1 shape. In terms of personnel, Michael Keane was picked to partner Harry Maguire at center-back, with Kieron Trippier being picked at right back ahead of Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Mason Mount was picked in the number ten role after some impressive displays for Chelsea. Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson lined up as the midfield pairing behind him. Up front, the trio of Jadon Sancho, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling posed a threatening prospect for England’s opponents.
The Czech Republic were second placed in the group coming into this game, having won both of their previous home games in qualifying. Patrick Schick, their top scorer in qualifying, started up front, supported by Vladimír Darida in the number ten position as they lined up nominally in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Czech Republic in possession.
England struggle to settle
The game seemingly started off in an ideal fashion for England. In the fifth minute, Kane was able to put away a penalty won by Sterling, which put England 1-0 up. The lead lasted only a few minutes though, as Jakub Brabec arrived at the back post from a Czech corner and equalized the scoreline.
Following the early goals, as the game developed, England struggled to find stability, and the game overall became somewhat scrappy. The Czech Republic were arguably having the better of proceedings, putting together a few decent possession phases.
England were operating with a nominal 4-2-3-1 system, which is something they have not used for almost two years now. Against the ball, this became a zonal 4-4-2 shape, which was relatively passive against the Czech buildup.
The Czech Republic would often form a situational line of three in buildup, with Tomáš Souček or occasionally one of the fullbacks joining the center-backs in the first line. More often though, the fullbacks would push up into higher positions.
Darida, nominally the number ten in this system, would often choose not to position himself between the lines or in advanced areas as one might expect when his team had the ball. Instead, he usually dropped deeper, into the second line of buildup alongside Alex Král, or tilted out to the right side to get on the ball.
The Czech Republic still had presence in advanced areas within England’s shape though, as the wingers Lukáš Masopust and Jakub Jankto drifted into the halfspaces, If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. offering themselves in the lanes between England’s central and wide midfielders.
These lanes were sometimes easily accessible as England’s wingers often focused quite early on the opposing fullbacks when it came to moving out of position in order to pressure them, which could leave the halfspaces slightly vulnerable.
England in possession.
England’s awkward possession phases
As the first half progressed, England gradually found themselves gaining longer and more frequent possession phases. However, they struggled to be productive in these phases as they did not have a solution against the Czech’s loosely man-oriented defensive scheme.
England started in a 4-2-3-1 shape but somewhat unexpectedly ended up producing closer to a 3-4-2-1 in possession. Danny Rose, nominally the left back, would usually shift into a back three alongside Keane and Maguire when England had the ball.
On the right side then, Trippier the right back would push up higher, while Sterling on the left side dropped slightly to offer supporting angles for Rose. Sancho drifted into the right halfspace often, and Mount would move across towards the left halfspace.
The Czech Republic operated with a loosely man-oriented defensive scheme. They would not always mark their opponent’s tightly, but would usually stay close enough, and the height that the wingers positioned themselves was determined by the role of England’s fullbacks.
This meant that Masopust was often seen in higher positions on the right, as his direct opponent Rose moved into a back three. Meanwhile on the Czech’s left, the winger Jankto could be pushed into deep defensive positions as he tracked Trippier’s movements down the wing.
Darida and Král would usually pick up Rice and Henderson respectively, while Souček found himself in deeper positions picking up Mount. This led to an asymmetric and at times strange looking defensive scheme for the Czech Republic, who based on their marking assignments were probably expecting a standard 4-3-3 shape from England, rather than the 4-2-3-1 shifting into 3-4-2-1 structure they were presented with.
The defensive scheme proved effective though, with England struggling to break through. In particular, the double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. of Henderson and Rice looked to lack ideas in getting on the ball and helping progress it. They failed to make good angles to receive much of the time and were easily kept in check by Darida and Král.
Sancho in the right halfspace was probably the player doing most to try and offer angles and create a dynamic to break through the Czech press, offering himself in the enlarged space between Jankto and his other midfielders. Sancho was often closely pursued by left back Jan Bořil though, and it was difficult for him to receive the ball in good conditions to create.
Southgate change brings improvement, but not a result
With England clearly struggling with their possession game then, Southgate decided to opt for a more familiar system at the half-time break. His England side came back out in the second half with the same personnel, but this time in a 4-3-3 formation, as Henderson pushed forward alongside Mount who took up the left central midfield slot, leaving Rice as the lone number six.
England in possession, second half.
While England were still not at their best by any means, the formation change and its effects on the Czech defensive scheme at least helped England out a bit in possession, mainly by forcing the Czech Republic into a more passive defensive stance.
In the first half, the flat positioning of Henderson and Rice alongside each other invited pressure from their opponents, which England were not equipped to break through. Darida and Král were able to step forward, while the spaces behind them were secured by Souček (with Mount) and Bořil (with Sancho).
With Rice now the only number six, Darida and Schick would work together to screen passes into him to prevent him getting on the ball, preferring to let England’s center-backs have it instead. The main difference though was that with Henderson now in a higher starting position alongside Mount, this pinned the Czech central midfielders back, creating more breathing room for England in deeper areas where previously the Czech were able to step forward and press against England’s midfield pairing.
It also meant that there was no longer an asymmetry between the Czech wingers, and the team was more clearly defending in a 4-4-2 shape. England’s fullbacks usually started in deeper positions to support the center-backs as the central midfielders were not always immediately accessible in their higher starting positions.
Henderson and Mount could make aggressive runs into wide areas, with Mount sometimes seen rotating with Sterling on the left wing to try and separate from their markers. Trippier and Rose would generally join attacks later on, when England had found an entry into the Czech half.
Overall then, the new positioning of England’s central midfielders allowed them to manipulate their opponents better, pinning them back or dragging them out of position with movement to try and open space for penetrative passes. England also showed some promise on the wings with the rotations and relationships between fullback, central midfielder and winger on each side.
However, they still could not find the goal, creating only a couple of decent breakthroughs against the Czech defensive scheme, which still proved a tough prospect. In the final ten minutes, England were punished further, as substitute Zdeněk Ondrášek shot past Jordan Pickford to put the Czech Republic 2-1 up. With little time to reply, England were unable to find an answer, and Ondrášek’s goal proved to be the winner.
GET IN!!! FULL-TIME!— Czech Football Team (@ceskarepre_eng) October 11, 2019
Fantastic performance and even better result! 🇨🇿 2-1 🏴 pic.twitter.com/FPybUblhcp
This win takes the Czech Republic top of their group, as England proved unable to crack their defensive scheme. The Czech possession game was not outstanding, but also provided some interesting challenges to England.
For Gareth Southgate there will be some reflection to be done, as his experiment with the 4-2-3-1 / 3-4-2-1 hybrid system did not seem to work as intended. In concept, the system can certainly work, but the players did not seem entirely comfortable in executing it, with the roles of Henderson and Rice being something that would particularly need work. The team looked more comfortable in the 4-3-3, as one might expect with it being more familiar. The question will be whether Southgate continues to experiment in the next game.
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