Wales – England: England Waltz Past Wales (0-3)
England dominated possession in the first half against a relatively passive Wales defense, but it took them until the second half to break the deadlock via Marcus Rashford’s free-kick. After that, things were relatively easy for England against a lacklustre Wales team as Phil Foden and Rashford added further goals.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
Wales’ World Cup campaign started with a 1-1 draw against USA in which they had to come back from behind after a poor first half. Their second game against Iran was worse, falling to a 2-0 defeat which left them needing a miracle against England in order to qualify from the group.
Rob Page switched to a 4-2-3-1 shape for this game, allowing Dan James to return to the lineup as he played in a front three along with Gareth Bale and Kieffer Moore, supported by Aaron Ramsey at number ten. Joe Allen made his first start of the tournament in the double pivot alongside Ethan Ampadu, while the back four was comprised of Neco Williams, Chris Mepham, Joe Rodon, and Ben Davies.
After beginning the tournament with a convincing win against Iran, England found their second group game more difficult as they were held to a 0-0 draw by USA. In terms of overall performance, the Americans were arguably the better side in that game as they beat England for intensity on both sides of the ball.
To face Wales, Gareth Southgate made a few alterations to his side. Kyle Walker returned at right back after injury, joining John Stones, Harry Maguire, and Luke Shaw in defense. In midfield, Jordan Henderson was also given a start, joining the usual duo of Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham. Meanwhile up front, Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford were brought in to play either side of Harry Kane in a 4-3-3 formation.
England dominate possession
Wales set up here with a 4-4-1-1 defensive shape, generally remaining fairly deep. England would only really be pressured once they entered the Wales half, and the game therefore revolved around England finding a way to break them down.
Ramsey would usually look to stay close to Rice during England’s buildup, trying to keep the defensive midfielder out of the possession phase as USA were able to do previously. Rice’s evasive movements were a bit better here though, and he was able create better angles as the sole number six than he had in a double pivot.
England found themselves trying to break down Wales’ 4-4-1-1 shape for most of the first half.
Walker would sometimes indent towards the right halfspace, while Henderson and Foden were ahead. There was rotation on both wings though, as is usual when Southgate opts for a true 4-3-3 arrangement.
On the left, Shaw, Bellingham and Rashford made a range of movements between halfspace and wing, with Bellingham’s forward runs being prominent as always. Shaw would sometimes indent, but more rarely than was seen from Walker on the other side.
Kane is also able to fit into this system suitably without a number ten behind him, since his ability to bring other players into the game with his back to goal is so strong. Overall, Engalnd’s attacking arrangement benefitted much of their personnel thanks to greater opportunities for rotation and a more balanced structure than they showed last time out. They were also naturally helped by the Wales midfield pressing, which was at a lower level than that of USA.
Rashford runs rampant
Despite their dominance, England still made hard work of breaking down the Wales defensive block in the first half. This changed early in the second half though, as two goals in the space of two minutes put England exactly where they wanted to be.
The first was a well-struck free-kick from Rashford, which deceived the Wales goalkeeper who had expected a shot over the wall. Seconds after restarting play, Wales found themselves 2-0 down as England’s high press won the ball back and allowed Kane to pick out Foden arriving at the back post to score from close range.
Southgate wasted little time in resting key players once England were two goals ahead. Around five minutes had passed since the goals before Walker, Rice, and Kane were removed to be replaced by Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kalvin Phillips, and Callum Wilson. Kieran Trippier took Shaw’s place at left back soon afterwards.
Wales coach Page had the misfortune of his first three changes being forced by injury. Williams had suffered a head injury in the first half and had to be replaced by Connor Roberts. At half-time, Bale was unable to continue, meaning Brennan Johnson had to step in, and Davies had to go off just before the hour mark as Joe Morrell was introduced.
Wales needed to move into a new gear and find a way to chase this game, but they were able to muster very little in terms of attacking intent. Throughout the tournament, they have struggled for ideas in buildup, often relying on the long passes towards Moore. This game was not much different, as England found it relatively easy to repel their attacks in a 4-1-4-1 defensive shape which could jump into a 4-3-3 high pressing shape.
The game finished in relative comfort for England after they added a third courtesy of Rashford with twenty minutes to go. Rashford himself was substituted not long afterwards, giving way to Jack Grealish knowing that he had potentially played his way into Southgate’s next starting lineup with his two goals.
Wales had already achieved something impressive in reaching their first World Cup since 1958. Their performances in the tournament itself were somewhat disappointing though. In particular, their attacking play was not at the level required. They were far too reliant on directness, especially given that they do have talented enough players to play a more complex game.
England’s possession game was an improvement on the USA game, with the move to a 4-3-3 shape creating better connections in wide areas. Henderson’s inclusion was an interesting one, but he certainly works better in a 4-3-3 shape than the 4-2-3-1 formation that England had used so far in the tournament. One would assume that Southgate will look to field a similar team against Senegal in the next round, in a game where England will most likely find themselves having to break down a stubborn mid-block once again.
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