Poland – England: Last-Minute Equalizer Puts Dent In England’s Plans (1-1)

Coming into this game as underdogs, Poland hoped to be a stubborn outfit for their guests to crack once more. But even they ended up getting more out of this duel than they had bargained for. Organizing themselves in a familiar 5-3-2 defensive shape, they secured a result that could make all the difference on the final standings of the group.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

Poland are still a work in progress under the guidance of Paulo Sousa. Nine months into his reign, he has tinkered between multiple strategies and systems. But an early EURO 2020 exit signaled how they are yet to hit the right notes amid switching from one plan to the next. So could the manager find the correct box of tricks here in a stern test of their credentials?

England will wonder what could have been in the final of the EUROs this summer, but the side’s attention has swiftly turned to ensuring their place at next year’s World Cup. Back to back 4-0 defeats of Hungary and Andorra have kept up the team’s perfect winning record in the qualifying group. Take another three points, and first place in the group would almost be a certainty.

England manager Gareth Southgate organized his players in a 4-2-3-1 shape. He rang the changes, fielding a completely new starting eleven from the team that faced Andorra on the weekend. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips came back into the fold, making up the double pivot, Two central midfielders next to each other. while Jack Grealish hoped to impress once more from the left wing.

Sousa stuck with a 5-3-2 system for this fixture. He then made six alterations to the team that started in the 7-1 rout of San Marino last time out. Grzegorz Krychowiak came back to anchor the midfield in front of an entirely new trident of central defenders. Meanwhile, after netting a hat trick in a half hour cameo appearance, Adam Buksa got the chance to play from the off next to Robert Lewandowski.

Poles fall back on a solid plan of action

Having faced England in his third game as manager of the Polish team, Sousa came into this match with a plan in hand. Off the ball, his men did not press high, opting to sit off deeper in a 5-3-2 block.

Poland’s 5-3-2 defensive block against England’s 4-3-3 offensive structure.

Many similar features of their deep block from their display in March were on show once more. The backline worked as a swinging chain of five, where the wing-back on the side of the ball pushed out to close down the man on the ball as far as he could. The rest of the back five would then shuffle across, but the central defender to his inside looked to offer cover out wide. In this case, he could pursue a direct opponent man-to-man. This mechanism mainly took place on the right flank, where Paweł Dawidowicz slid into a fullback position several times.

Krychowiak also took on a key role. If the central midfielder to his outside was deeper and England were looking to recirculate the ball, he could push out from the midfield to force the play backward. This disciplined defensive setup stayed compact and hardly gave up anything to the away team in the first half.

England turn to the flanks

On the ball, Southgate’s men set up in a 4-3-3 structure. The back four was a little asymmetric due to the different roles of the fullbacks. Luke Shaw started from out wide, whereas Kyle Walker operated in a more inverted role, moving very centrally into the room around Declan Rice from time to time. In turn, Harry Maguire often carried the ball forward into the midfield. From here, England’s emphasis on stability shifted their attacking focus out to the flanks.

England’s 4-3-3 offensive shape in the first half with Kane dropping deep and many wide rotations.

Here, frequent rotations took place between the fullback, central midfielder, and winger on the side of the ball. To this end, Mason Mount often dropped out of Poland’s block to form a group of three on the left with Jack Grealish and Luke Shaw, who made several infield movements. On the right, Kalvin Phillips had the freedom to move higher into the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. while Raheem Sterling’s threat came to life through his dribbling. As is often the case, Harry Kane then dropped very deep into the midfield.

Stability focus generates stalemate

Either through Walker coming inward or Kane coming deep, overloads When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. that England created in front of the Polish midfield led to their brightest attacks of the half. In the 21st minute, a breakthrough in a one-on-one situation from Sterling teed up Kane for a header inside the box, but the striker miscued his effort. Otherwise, the away team did not create much, preferring to wear down their opponents.

Likewise, Poland did not take a lot of risks. Especially in the first half hour of the game, they relied a lot on long balls from Wojciech Szczęsny to move their way up the pitch. Such progression usually came on the right side of the pitch, where Kamil Jóźwiak pushed up higher than the left wing-back Tymoteusz Puchacz. The two strikers then moved to the right flank, helping to secure their attacks even more. However, the hosts struggled to penetrate, leaving the game scoreless at half-time.

England take the advantage

In the second half, England began to have more control of the ball than they had before the break. Poland pressed high up the field a little more often, but they ran into problems as the half went on. Above all, they ended up in more situations where the central midfielder on the side away from the ball tended to move over too far towards an opponent or free spaces, enabling fast switches of play. 

These switches mainly took place from right to left, giving Declan Rice or Maguire the chance to push their way into the final third while Shaw, Grealish, and Mount combined even more in this part of the contest. Poland’s swinging chain of five at the back pushed out less, especially in the case of Jóźwiak on the right, and the home team spent much more time on the edge of their box. Slight cracks within the block began to tell, and with just under twenty minutes left to go, England’s pressure paid off.

Kane dropped off into a pocket in front of the back five, finding himself free of any markers. Karol Linetty, who had moved into the center of the three in midfield, moved back into this role while Jakub Moder was standing next to Mount. Thus, Walker ended up free in the 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. leaving Moder unable to close him or Kane down in time. The striker turned forward between the lines, hit a long range shot at goal, and beat Szczęsny to hand his side the lead.

A dramatic conclusion

Sousa made a raft of changes before and after the goal, hoping that fresh legs would help make a difference. Upfront, Karol Świderski entered the fray in place of Buksa, and in the 81st minute, he nearly made a huge impact. Closing down an attempted long ball from Jordan Pickford, the forward diverted the ball towards an empty net, only for the goalkeeper to retrieve it and spare his blushes.

Conversely, Southgate made no changes, hoping his men would get over the line. But they ultimately came up short. Moder swerved away from Walker on the left wing, driving a cross into the box. His delivery failed to meet its target, but Lewandowski picked up the second ball and found Sebastian Szymański at the far post. 1-1 in injury time. Poland had snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat.


Poland will be delighted to have stolen a point at the death. Though first place in the group is far from likely, a playoff spot through finishing second is still very much on the cards. Sousa will hope to tighten up the fine details of his side in October, where a crucial tie at home to Albania awaits.

Meanwhile, this draw is a frustrating rather than disappointing result for England. Still four points clear at the top of the group, qualification remains in their hands. They will look to get back to winning ways next month as six points from their two games could confirm a place at the World Cup.

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"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]


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