Czech Republic – England: England Show Improvement With Fluid Attack (0-1)
England’s switch to a 4-2-3-1 system seemed to pay off in the first half, impressing with a fluid attacking setup featuring Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka and goalscorer Raheem Sterling. His goal ended up being the winner, as England tailed off a bit after a promising opening period, but were still able to hold onto their 1-0 win.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
England made a promising start to EURO 2020 with their win over Croatia on the opening weekend, before their momentum was somewhat blunted by a lethargic performance in a goalless draw with Scotland in their second match.
To face Czech Republic, Gareth Southgate made four changes from the side that drew with Scotland. In defense, Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire both came into the side, making up the back four alongside John Stones and Luke Shaw. England were set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation this time around, with Kalvin Phillips moving deeper to join Declan Rice in the double pivot. Two central midfielders next to each other. Ahead of them was an attacking midfield trio of Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling supporting Harry Kane as striker.
Czech Republic came into this game level on points with England, having beaten Scotland in their first match before being held to a draw by Croatia. They also lined up in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with their back four consisting of Vladimír Coufal, Ondřej Čelůstka, Tomáš Kalas and Jan Bořil. Tomáš Holeš partnered Tomáš Souček in central midfield, while Vladimír Darida played number ten. Finally, Lukáš Masopust and Jakub Jankto were the wide attackers either side of Patrik Schick.
England attack with fluidity
Against Scotland, England had struggled to free themselves from their opponent’s pressing scheme, with the midfield being easily marked out of the game. Here against Czech Republic, the rotations among England’s attacking midfielders meant that they could not be easily marked out of the game, and instead found themselves able to receive the ball well.
Czech Republic started with a compact 4-4-2 medium block A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half.without the ball, and looked to push into higher pressing when the opportunity presented itself. The willingness of Czech Republic to press higher actually plays into England’s hand to some extent from a strategic point of view, as it allows larger spaces in attacking areas for England’s quick and skilful dribblers to exploit, while avoiding some of the problems England have faced with ball progression against deeper defenses.
Nevertheless, these problems were less present in England’s possession phases in the first half anyway. The first line of England’s buildup often shifted to a back three when they had organized possession, as any one of Walker, Phillips or Rice could slot in alongside Stones and Maguire to make a back three. The issues with occupation of the number six space seen against Croatia when Rice dropped into the backline were therefore less present here, as Phillips often filled this space, and Walker occasionally made indenting movements too.
One of many different buildup variations used by England in the first half.
The ball circulation in deep midfield was sped up by the likes of Sterling, Grealish and Saka dropping in to offer connections. From here they could either bounce the ball back to the center-backs to keep the ball moving, or turn and try to generate tempo with a dribble or combination play. This was especially the case for Grealish, who constantly looked to draw defenders with his elusive dribbling.
The positioning of the three attacking midfielders was impressive in its fluidity, especially compared to the fairly rigid attack of England in the previous game. Sterling often drifted into the central lane when England had the ball, which was complemented by Grealish positioning himself in the left halfspace, and Kane dropping off the front to pick the ball up deeper, which then created space for Sterling to make runs in behind. Saka meanwhile played mainly between the right wing and right halfspace, 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. filling positions intelligently depending on the movements of Walker and Phillips.
England were rewarded for their improved performance just over ten minutes into the game, as good play from Saka and Grealish helped set up Sterling for a back post header, scoring his and England’s second goal of the tournament to make it 1-0.
Uneventful second half
Czech Republic got into the game a bit more as the first half went on, as their compact counterpressing After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. approach helped them to keep territory in England’s half, putting crosses into the box and looking to overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. the zones nearest the ball, as was seen in their opening game against Scotland. They threatened England’s goal with a couple of shots, but England were able to go in 1-0 up at half time.
Both sides made changes during the break, as Czech Republic brought on Petr Ševčík for Jankto, while England brought Jordan Henderson into midfield to replace Rice. This saw Phillips shift into being the slightly deeper midfielder of the double pivot, as Rice had done previously.
Czech Republic continued to try and threaten England’s goal, primarily attempting to create with crosses into the box where they had good presence against the England center-backs. Against the ball England mostly defended in a 4-4-2 shape with Kane settling alongside Grealish to try and screen passes into midfield. England were not overly aggressive in terms of high pressing, satisfied with playing often in a medium block against the Czech attacks.
England’s tempo and cohesiveness with the ball had dropped a bit as the game drifted past the hour mark. Southgate tried to shake things up by bringing on Jude Bellingham to replace Grealish, meaning England moved to a 4-3-3 with Henderson and Bellingham as central midfielders, while Marcus Rashford also came on to replace Sterling on the left. There were also further Czech changes, as Alex Král and Adam Hložek replaced Darida and Masopust respectively.
England were relatively comfortable defending in their 4-1-4-1 shape at this point, and had some fairly unthreatening possession spells of their own. Both teams put together one or two decent moves in the second half, but it took until the last ten minutes of the half for either team to attempt a shot at goal. Southgate gave a substitute appearance to Tyrone Mings as he replaced Stones in defense, and also finally gave Jadon Sancho an opportunity late on as he replaced Saka.
Despite being 1-0 down, an attacking onslaught from Czech Republic was not forthcoming, and England were able to see out the game fairly easily to finish top of the group.
England arrived with a much-improved attacking performance in the first half, with a fluid attack able to move the ball more swiftly against the opposing defense. Grealish, Saka and Sterling showed flair in attack, while Maguire’s ball-progression abilities from defense were a welcome addition.
England’s tempo dropped off a bit in the second half, and worryingly they did not shoot at all after the half hour mark, but there was a bit more cause for encouragement from this England performance in comparison to their previous one.
Czech Republic meanwhile brought a decent approach to the game as they did in their previous games, making it competitive with their compact and intense approach. They were not able to really push England in the second half, but advance to the knockout round in third place thanks to their results in the first two matches.
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