England – Senegal: England Overcome Awkward Start (3-0)

England struggled against the midfield pressing of Senegal for the first thirty minutes of this match. Once they found their way into the lead though, momentum swung their way and they began to play more direct to beat the Senegal press. In the second half, things were relatively comfortable for Gareth Southgate’s men as they ran out 3-0 winners.

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.

England secured their Round of Sixteen place with a routine win over Wales in which Marcus Rashford scored twice. Rashford did not start here against Senegal though, as Bukayo Saka was preferred in the frontline of their 4-3-3 formation alongside Harry Kane and Phil Foden. Jordan Henderson joined Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham in midfield again, while the back four featured Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, and Luke Shaw.

Senegal’s defeat to the Netherlands did not stop them from making it out of their group as they went on to beat both Qatar and Ecuador. They lined up in a 4-4-2 shape, with Youssouf Sabaly, Kalidou Koulibaly, Abdou Diallo, and Ismail Jakobs in the back four. Across midfield was the quartet of Ismaïla Sarr, Nampalys Mendy, Pathé Ciss, and Krépin Diatta, while Iliman Ndiaye supported Boulaye Dia up front.

England’s tentative start

Most of the opening thirty minutes or so of this game saw England’s buildup against a 4-4-2 midfield press from Senegal. England were somewhat shaky during this period, conceding turnovers and transitions in midfield when they tried to play through Senegal’s defensive scheme.

England’s 4-3-3 system once again featured Walker often playing a more reserved role from right back as he does for his club. This left Saka to provide width on the right and Henderson playing a wide-ranging role in the right halfspace.

On the left, Shaw was more aggressive, while Foden often drifted inside from wider positions. The left side was perhaps the side where England looked more likely to succeed, as Shaw, Bellingham and Foden looked more comfortable combining in tight situations than most players on the pitch.

England struggled in these buildup situations early on. 

The 4-4-2 pressing from Senegal proved hard to break down though. The central midfielders were somewhat man-oriented, following Henderson and Bellingham when they were in central areas, while the wingers for Senegal did a decent job of tucking in to protect the halfspaces. The strikers would meanwhile try to cut off access to Rice in the number six zone.

This all resulted in England losing the ball in midfield on a few occasions where Senegal were able to counter-attack and pose a threat. By contrast, England were struggling to put together any kind of attack, and could only manage u-shaped circulation for fear of being robbed of the ball in midfield areas.

England goal shifts momentum

Shortly before half time, England were finally able to find a breakthrough from their left sided combinations as they set Bellingham free running from midfield. He was able to square the ball to Henderson who put England ahead.

The goal seemed to energise England and deflate Senegal. England also showed a change in strategy around this time in the match, as they began adopting a more direct approach against Senegal’s pressing. They sent more long balls towards Kane and looked to win the second ball high up the pitch where their talented attackers could more easily combine.

This approach was uncomplicated, but in this case it proved quite effective. Kane got on the scoresheet in stoppage time of the first half to make it 2-0 to England. Despite being poor for much of the half, Gareth Southgate’s side were now in a commanding position going into the break.

The second half did not see much of a resurgence from Senegal, aside from their possession share increasing slightly. Their attacking structure in their 4-4-2 was somewhat flat, with attackers rarely being at good angles to combine, nor could they work the ball through midfield well. England’s 4-1-4-1 defensive shape was not disturbed too much as they were able to impose control over the game.

Senegal’s front players found themselves quite disconnected.

Their fate was sealed just before the hour mark as England added their third goal courtesy of Saka. Southgate began making changes not long afterwards, removing both wingers and bringing on Rashford and Jack Grealish in their place.

England were now able to play a much more comfortable possession game against a Senegal press that was losing intensity, and they went through the rest of the game relatively untroubled. Mason Mount, Eric Dier, and Kalvin Phillips later made appearances as Bellingham, Stones, and Henderson were rested.

England switched to a 4-2-3-1 shape at this stage as Mount went into the number ten role and Phillips played alongside Rice in a double pivot. Southgate’s side were able to see out their win with relative ease as they now look ahead to facing France on Saturday.


The opening period of the game was awkward for England, and it took them a bit of time to adapt and find the right solutions. Some would theorize that they may have been punished during this period against a higher level opponent. Once the goals went in there was little for Southgate to worry about, since Senegal’s organized attacking phases were always going to struggle against England’s defense.

Senegal’s pressing in the opening phases of this game was strong. However, this was unfortunately as good as it got for them. Once they went behind, they were unable to force the issue with a higher press. With the ball, their 4-4-2 system was structurally not equipped for breaking down England’s defensive block.

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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 ]


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