England – Scotland: Southgate Unable To Change Stalemate (0-0)

Scotland’s 5-2-1-2 shape against the ball posed a puzzle for England’s 4-3-3 system, and they were unable to solve it for the most part, lacking the movements to combine through midfield. England were able to force Scotland a bit deeper in the second half, but continued to lack creativity and were unable to play at a high enough tempo to disrupt Scotland’s backline. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.

England made a promising start to EURO 2020 last Sunday with a 1-0 win over Croatia at Wembley. To face Scotland, Gareth Southgate made two changes from the side that faced Croatia, replacing the fullback Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier with Reece James and Luke Shaw respectively. The rest of the lineup remained the same, with John Stones and Tyrone Mings at center-back and a midfield three of Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips and Mason Mount. Up front, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling were the wingers, while Harry Kane played as striker in England’s 4-3-3 system. 

Scotland meanwhile suffered defeat in their game against Czech Republic, and despite racking up a few chances with their direct play in the second half, they were generally at quite a low level tactically. Steve Clarke was able to call upon Kieran Tierney to return from injury, and he started in the back three of Scotland’s 3-4-1-2 shape alongside Grant Hanley and Scott McTominay, flanked by wing-backs Stephen O’Donnell and Andrew Robertson. Billy Gilmour started in midfield with Callum McGregor, as John McGinn played ahead of them. Finally, Che Adams joined Lyndon Dykes up front. 

England struggle to settle

Southgate’s side had 60% of the possession in the first half, but did not threaten the Scotland goal from organized possession. Their best two chances of the first half came just after ten minutes, with Stones’ header from a corner hitting the post, and Sterling robbing McTominay of the ball before setting up Mount, who missed from close range. 

Much of England’s difficulty arose from the fact that Scotland had seemingly set up their midfield to counter their 4-3-3 shape. Whereas Scotland had defended with a 5-3-2 formation in the previous game with one deep midfielder and two ahead, in this game against England they played with a number ten in the form of McGinn, who was able to pressure Rice in England’s buildup, while Gilmour and McGregor behind him dealt with England’s number eights Phillips and Mount. If McGinn had to drop deeper to fill the gap between Gilmour and McGregor, the Scottish strikers could then drop to screen passes into Rice.

England could not consistently solve these situations against Scotland’s 5-2-1-2 system. 

There was an initial struggle then for England to progress through midfield, since all of the immediate options were usually marked. Given spaces naturally afforded by Scotland’s 5-2-1-2 defensive shape, England started working the ball wide to the fullbacks and using this space alongside the Scottish block to try and prepare attacks.

The outcomes here were still not great, although there was some promise on the left where it seemed as if they might be able to isolate Gilmour in certain scenes and make breakthroughs behind the Scottish midfield from the left 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. </span

Gilmour’s role was such that he was often required to cover quite large distances to pressure the ball on the wing when Shaw would receive the ball, or Mount dropped into these areas. On one or two occasions, England were able to draw Gilmour out and combine into the space behind him on the left side, however they were still left with a five-man Scottish defense to beat. 

On the right, James often looked for the flat diagonal pass inside towards Kane who would drop towards the ball, however Kane was usually pursued quite strongly by the Scottish defenders, and the follow-up actions in these scenes in terms of third-man runs from midfield were typically not that well prepared anyway. England were therefore once again quite dependent on chipped passes in behind the defense in order to progress the ball. 

Slow stalemate

The first part of the second half featured a couple of potentially dangerous attacks from Scotland’s front three, who had threatened well throughout the first half with Adams in particular impressing. However, during this period England also began to show somewhat more control with the ball, forcing the Scotland defense further back and having longer possession phases.

One of the key spaces within Scotland’s shape which was potentially exploitable for England was the number six zone between Gilmour and McGregor, since the distances between them could become quite large at times. 

However, England did not really exploit this to its potential. Sterling made movements into this space in the first half, but England did not find ways to reach him with the ball. Kane similarly tried to drop in, but the exploitation of the space would have been more optimal with Kane pinning the center-back.

The first change for Southgate was just after the hour mark, with Grealish replacing Foden, meaning that Sterling moved over to the left side. Grealish added his typical individual skills to proceedings, drawing defenders and helping make combinations and dribbles on the left. The home side also appeared more often in 4-2-3-1 structures after Grealish’s introduction, with Phillips staying deeper and Mount playing close to Grealish. England continued to push for an opening goal, but Scotland’s defense remained strong, and the forwards continued to pose a threat to England’s penalty box. 

Marcus Rashford was also brought on ten minutes later, while Stuart Armstrong replaced Gilmour for Scotland. England’s attacking struggles continued, and as the game went into its closing stages the performance from England could be reasonably characterised as lethargic and lacking in ideas. The game ended in a 0-0 draw with no further changes attempted by Southgate. 


England got matched up man for man in midfield in the first half and did not have the solutions for it. This is not the first time this has happened to them in their 4-3-3 system in a competitive game. In the second half, Scotland were a bit less aggressive in midfield and sat deeper, but England still did not have the solutions, lacking energy and creativity against the Scotland block. Expected goals will favour England, but their two best chances came from a set-piece and a transition after a high press, not creating from possession. Above anything else, England struggled to change the tempo and create dynamic situations from static ones, leading to a lack of breakthroughs. In these circumstances, the non-involvement of Jadon Sancho, and Southgate’s cautiousness in making changes must be points of discussion. 

Scotland played their part impressively, selecting a suitable tactical setup, and constructing some dangerous attacks with a direct style and a front three who showed good chemistry in their game with the ball. 

We decided to make all of our EURO 2020 articles free to read. If you want to support our work, consider taking a subscription.

Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


Be the first to comment on this article

Leave a Reply

Go to TOP