England – Czech Republic: Raheem Sterling Shines as Slick England Pick Apart Czech Republic (5-0)
Gareth Southgate’s England continued their good form with an impressive victory at Wembley Stadium to kick start their qualifying campaign for the European Championships. Dominance in possession, impressive runs from wingers and fast breaks forward would break down an inferior but well-organised Czech Republic – for a good hour at least.
Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.
England topped their UEFA Nations League Group – which contained both Spain and Croatia – as well as winning four out of their last five games. Southgate has been rotating his team’s starting formation after the World Cup and would do the same here, putting England in a 4-3-3 shape. Jordan Pickford retained his goalkeeper spot behind a defensive line of Kyle Walker, Michael Keane, Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell. Eric Dier would play as anchor in midfield, with Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli alongside him. Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling and captain Harry Kane would make an exciting front three.
zech Republic finished second in their UEFA Nations League Group, going through inconsistent form as of late. Jaroslav Silhavy started his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Jiří Pavlenka making just his eighth cap for his country in goal, followed by a defense of Filip Novák, Tomáš Kalas, Ondřej Čelůstka and Pavel Kadeřábek. David Pavelka and Tomáš Souček made Czech Republic’s midfield, with Jakub Jankto, captain Vladimír Darida and Theodor Gebre Selassie in front of them. Roma striker Patrik Schick completed the Czech Republic team.
England start to assert dominance but struggle in the final third
From the very early stages in the game, Southgate’s team took control and positioned just like your average ball-orientated team. A midfielder dropping deep to allow both center-backs to move wider and fullbacks essentially turning into wing-backs. England were very good at distributing the ball across the defensive and middle thirds but struggled to link in the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. A big part of this was due to Czech Republic’s low block setup, A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. holding their position and remaining compact.
England were facing a number of problems in possession, Dele Alli and Harry Kane dropped deeper and deeper to receive the ball, but the only way England were making progress forward was long channel passes from the fullbacks. The constant rotation between England players (predominantly from the midfield) was confusing and made Czech Republic’s job easy throughout the first half.
Due to injury, Dier would go off just seventeen minutes into the half, being replaced by the more forward-thinking Ross Barkley. Despite this, Henderson would still remain on the right of midfield, meaning Barkley would pick up the ball in ineffective positions. Far too many England players remained deep when they had possession, so when the ball would go further up the pitch, the opposition could easily overload the player on the ball.
As well as keeping in a low block, Czech Republic captain Darida would often push up next to Schick, making it harder for Keane and Maguire to access passing options forward. The visitors would constantly bounce between 4-4-1-1 and 4-4-2 formations off the ball, remaining compact and behind the ball if England would find themselves in the final third.
General shape of both teams when England had the ball.
As the half progressed, Sterling and Sancho would begin to be a focal point in England’s attacks. Both of them were constantly dropping in central, into the space created by Kane and making runs off the England captain. The first goal was an absolute joy to watch, a brilliant line-breaking pass from Harry Kane found Sancho who had made a superb run behind the fullback. Sancho found Sterling in space and with an open goal in front of him to make it 1-0. The hosts had the lead, but this would be the only shot in the first half-hour, whilst having had three quarters of the possession share.
Harry Kane made it 2-0 with the last kick of the first half, scoring from the penalty spot, giving England a big advantage going into the second half.
Ambitious Czech changes to formation and tactics
Silhavy made a neat change at half-time after seeing his team take just one shot throughout the first half. Left-winger Jakub Jankto was replaced by Matěj Vydra, Czech Republic’s formation moving into a 4-3-1-2. It was not just a change of formation, but the visitors moved out from their low block and started to press much higher up the pitch, especially in central areas to gain possession back quickly.
Czech Republic started to utilise the right channel, Kadeřábek in particular pushing more forward from right-back to support Gebre Selassie. For the first fifteen minutes of the second half, Czech Republic started to churn out opportunities and came close from two set piece chances. Souček’s header bounced the wrong side of Pickford’s post, inches away from rolling into the net whilst David Pavelka placed his shot perfectly into the goalkeeper’s hands from just a few yards out from a corner.
Czech Republic’s tactical changes were very ambitious, and they came out the second half the better team for a short period. That is, until their new offensive strategy showed its side effects, setting a highline for England’s rapid wingers to exploit. Silhavy’s team overcommitted players forward, and as a result became very vulnerable to fast breaks forward. Darida was replaced by Lukáš Masopust who would go into left-midfield, thereby changing Czech Republic’s formation back into a 4-2-3-1, but to little effect.
England’s fast breaks and Sterling’s world class ability
Just after the hour mark, Raheem Sterling would extend England’s lead – showing incredible composure inside the penalty area. Czech Republic lost their organisation, leaving plenty of space behind them when pressing forward. A nice exchange between Alli and Barkley baited the opposition players towards them, creating space for Kyle Walker to sprint in to. His pass would ricochet off two Czech defenders before the ball found Sterling who turned his marker and finished into the far corner.
From here England asserted their dominance even more. Dele Alli was replaced by Declan Rice, who made his debut for the national team. His presence in deeper midfield allowed Ross Barkley to go into the acres of space and carry the ball into the final third. Barkley had a big part to play in England’s fourth goal, driving the ball forward from deep and finding Sterling out wide. His shot took a big deflection but found the back of the net and completd the first hat-trick seen by an England player at Wembley Stadium since Jermain Defoe back in September 2010.
England were very dominant from Sterling’s left flank.
By this point, England were in total control, with Rice now helping distribute possession from defense to midfield, the hosts continued to retain possession and beat Czech Republic’s high press. Southgate’s final change would see Sterling being replaced by Callum Hudson-Odoi, who instantly made an impact and kept the incredible pace upfront. Sancho would make a brilliant run from deep and found Hudson-Odoi on the left wing – a similar pattern to the fourth goal – whose shot was turned away from Pavlenka but then put in the back of the net by Kalas to make it 5-0, an own goal which is worth another watch.
It is fair to say that England are fully expected to go through this qualifying group. However transitioning form from these early stages into the tournament itself has been a big problem in recent years. With so many younger players involved, England are a very exciting team to watch and in a 4-3-3 formation, Gareth Southgate’s team looks a lot more balanced in comparison to the 3-1-4-2 seen at the World Cup last summer.
The second place in Group A is definitely up for grabs and despite a 5-0 defeat, there were signs of promise for Czech Republic. They were well organised, compact and tough to break down for good periods in the game. But once you allow Raheem Sterling into the match, it often comes with severe consequences.
Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots.