Why England Should Win The World Cup 2014
In every major tournament, the English national side carry the nation’s hopes that they will conquer the world’s elite. The following article gives an argument why this is the best chance England have had since 1966.
A Proposed England Starting Eleven:
Age and Mentality Of Players
Michael Vaughan, ex-England cricket captain spoke prior to the 2005 Ashes about the importance of going into the series with a team who were not mentally scarred by previous losses. England had not won an Ashes series since 1989 and Vaughan constantly spoke about how he had to select a young, fearless but relatively unproven squad whom had no previous psychological scars thus would be aggressive towards the opposition. This World Cup, the England football squad have an abundance of players who fit the exact same criteria. The majority of the squad have just come from battling each other in the closest Premier League title finish in history. This is a mentality England have not had in previous tournaments where the ‘golden generation’ held the constant tag of ‘underachievers’.
In form players
Although there are lots of examples of ‘tournament players’ who seem to excel on the big stage yet struggle to have the same impact on a week to week basis at club level, having ‘form’ leading in to a tournament is very important. Liverpool challenged until the last minute for the title, City were champions, Everton played their most exciting football for years and Southampton were revolutionary in their methodology.
Philosophy and Mentality
When preparing a club side, a manager has an ample amount of time (on and off the field) to structure his side, imbed his principles, demand specific movements/rotations and establish his desired method of play. However, an International manager does not have the same luxury. He brings players together from various clubs and has two jobs: to prepare them tactically ensuring that he chooses the correct personel for the relevant game(s) and to periodise their prep so that physically they peak at the correct times. Given the limited contact time, he will not improve them technically nor should he have to worry about the psychological side. He is dealing with the elite of the elite who have competed at the highest club level possible. The prep should be based purely around tactics and avoiding fatigue. In the starting line-up (above), with the exception of Wayne Rooney, every player has played all season in an expansive possession based philosophy with a high focus on rotation, interchange, clever movement and working in a high press. All of these players are managed by Rodgers (Liverpool), Mourinho (Chelsea) Martinez (Everton), Pochettino (Southampton) and Pellegrini (Man City) who look to dominate and control games. Straight away, these players have an inbuilt philosophy with a mutual understanding. The anomaly is Wayne Rooney and although Man United had a very poor season, his playing style fits straight into these principles. As a general summary, they are all brave to receive the ball under pressure and dominate 1v1 situations in relevant scenarios an from a defensive point of view, they all play in high pressing styles showing aggressionS in 1v1 situations. This is the starting point.
CONTRUCTING A GAMEPLAN
When constructing a gameplan for a competitive scenario, there is a logical structure. Adam Booth is one of sport’s most analytical coaches (boxing) and summed up strategy perfectly “you need firstly to study the opposition’s rhythms, patterns, common structures, movements and triggers. Once you have done that, you have to plan for the opposition to perform at their absolute optimum therefore better than they ever have done previously. You MUST have a strategy to take away their main strength(s) away from them early on and then you plan exactly how you will impose your strengths on them. You must be tactically flexible but have rehearsed every scenario hundreds of times. And always remember, when constructing an attack always prepare for how that will be countered.”
England’s strengths in the above team are:
Ability to control games therefore you must establish a style which complements them. Playing through the thirds, isolating 1v1 scenarios centrally where Lallana, Sterling, Gerrard and Barkley have proven consistently that they can break lines through receiving pressure behind, on the side, in front and on the covering angle. Technically they are excellent in the spaces and understand the basic principles of circulation, progression, patience and verticality.
The ‘diamond midfield’ and personnel mean that this is actually not a diamond midfield and that it precisely the strength. It could be interpreted as 17-19 different systems depending what line the ball is on, where the ball is won on the turnover, what stage of progression the ball is in and how the opposition setup. The basic principles however allow every player to perform at their optimum…
– Baines and Johnson get as high as possible where they can deliver both on the inside and outside using both feet and also create overloads 2v1 with winger and 3v2 with winger and striker upon circulation. They both have excellent range of crossing (stand up, pull back, whipped, driven and early second six yard), can beat full backs 1v1 and understand how to break lines in deeper areas (both play around corners when pressed behind, both play one touch inside and across body well, both play through lines and both can turn defender behind). These features are imperative against a low block which is how most International sides defend as they can play in progression, in penetration, in the build up and on the counter. Luke Shaw can also play in all four but has shown less so on the counter attack given Pochettino’s front four lateral principles.
– Gerrard plays as the controller rarely going ahead of the ball but playing in the back three and a half as the deep pivot. His tactical intelligence in possession has developed hugely this season under Rodgers in all scenarios of the build up (drops wider than centre backs upon circulation allowing near side full back aggressive height, drops in between (Busquets) to receive 3v2 with Jagielka/Cahill or 4v2 with Hart, acts as the trigger for every movement in the build up phase even when not necessarily receiving the first pass and is beginning to show he can manage/alter the tempo of games like Scholes and Pirlo). His ability to play through lines but also to support wide players when pressed and switch play with excellent accuracy is vital to the ball circulation, isolation of 1v1’s and creating purposeful overloads out wide. Slow switches of play mean that the overload doesn’t exist by the time the ball has switched, a common feature of many teams at this World Cup so far. The only criticism of Gerrard in this position is that when opposition sides drop strikers to a trigger point, he continually receives in front of them playing 3v0 with Jagielka and Cahill thus meaning England then are outnumbered in the construction phase playing 7 v 11. The diamond midfield however would combat this in a way that 4-3-3 doesn’t on the 3rd and 4th receiving lines.
– Lallana’s has excellent ability to show the main two of the vital six movements when finding space: his awareness to start out of the eye line of players on the far shoulder then drop in between with impeccable timing is outstanding and he also has superb lateral movement where he constantly travels in the opposite direction of the ball. No other player in the England side has this range of movement which is why has to be the first name down on the teamsheet to break lines.
– Sterling’s outstanding ability with the defender in front scenario where he can isolate the full back (on switches of play, circulation in final third or when the opposite winger comes inside to provide asymmetry) but also gives the option of him rotating in the 3rd and 4th receiving lines where he can be the trigger for Rooney and Sturridge’s movement in behind. Only a poor full back would follow him onto the 3rd receiving line when two strikers are present thus he provides the overload. A criticism of Sterling is his final cross/pass but this should be a risk worth taking especially given Danny Welbeck’s retention percentage this season in the final third. Sterling has a 18% higher 1v1 success when pressed behind and in a diamond this is very significant.
– Barkley has developed his tactical understanding this season when playing as a 10 for Martinez having not been as effective when playing out wide. If Hodgson plays him wide in a 4-3-3 then this does not suit Barkley. There is no doubt he is excellent 1v1 with the defender front but his awareness in the spaces is outstanding coupled with his quality and weight on through balls improving game by game. He would get the space to play in a diamond because centre backs would be less comfortable holding a line with two strikers against them, worst case scenario he is isolated 1v1 against a pivot which is actually best case scenario. When playing against a one striker system, the dynamic of this completely changes and the 10 becomes much less affective.
– Lastly, all of the attacking five players offer an ability to not only build and construct but provide a counter attacking threat. They have all the relevant attributes to counter attack; break lines receiving, recognise numerical advantages particularly 2v1’s, play forward passes with accuracy, run in behind, physical components of speed and agility, attack the centre of the box in possession, show clever crossruns, are late and explosive getting across defenders and all have scored goals this season. When asking Henderson, Lambert, Jones, Milner etc to counter attack, they lack the relevant attributes thus there is less emphasis on pressing high and more on having to build and contruct to create.
Playing Between the lines
The frequency, method, structure and patterns to play through the lines will differ every game and within games dependant upon how the opposition are setting up defensively. A document stating the specific patterns and movements would take years to write given the variables. In short though, England’s goal against Italy came from Sterling opening out centrally and then playing a quick vertical pass through the lines where he had two players running in behind. Rooney played on the outside shoulder, made his movement as soon as Sterling got turned and was in a position where he could hurt Italy with Sturridge moving vertically too. It was one of the few times in the game that scenario happened.
But Why The Diamond?
In short and layman’s terms…
As an obvious rule, if a team plays with one up top, it is extremely difficult to penetrate the 4th receiving line as the centre backs are always +1 (Bielsa and Guardiola principle). You are then relying on the midfielders supporting with relevant profiles to penetrate i.e.Ronaldo coming from wide, Hazard in a 4-2-3-1 or Robben in a 4-3-3. As soon as a team plays two up top, centre backs have a major problem as they are defending 1v1 (against a common back four). When you have players with the speed, agility and ability to dominate all four 1v1 scenarios as Rooney and Sturridge have, centre halves constantly have decisions to make. Thus, playing two up top is imperative.
The next step is that if you play two up top, you lose a man somewhere else. You then need to look at how the opposition play thus where is the best place to lose that man. If you are playing Spain for example then they will look to control possession centrally thus you cannot be outnumbered in that area. Whereas if you are playing Holland (tactics against Spain) who have technically poor players centrally and are not looking to dominate in that area then this is less of an issue. As a general rule though at International level, you would not risk being overloaded centrally thus you have to play a minimum of three players in that area. With two up top and a minimum of three centrally, you have five players left. Now, if the opposition play one up top then you only need two centre backs. Playing a back three would mean that they have an overload somewhere with you defending 3v1. This would be fine if you are looking to soak pressure and not dominate or control the game (Napoli for example) but the whole point of playing the individuals above in this England team is to dominate possession. The system you have left therefore is an interpretation of a diamond. This means that you retain all of the relevant principles that a possession based team looks to have:
– You can play out effectively with 2v1, 3v2 and 4v2 scenarios
– You can get aggressive height both sides whilst retaining security on turnover
– You have width both sides (Spain lack this and become predictable and restricted with false wingers)
– You have an overload centrally regardless of what the opposition play
– You are playing on multiple receiving lines in all areas and phases
– You can overload from unpredictable areas
– You can play unpredictable rotation patterns with lots of interchange
– You can isolate 1v1’s centrally with players who can receive pressure behind and retain
– You have players who can break lines through 1v1 receiving or playing around corners with clever combinations
– You have players up top who drag defenders back with vertical movement in behind, particularly Sturridge
– You ensure both centre backs are occupied whilst full backs can’t over cover with asymmetary on one side. Against a 4-3-3, full backs can depart central areas more and press very wide
– You have players who are in positions to counter attack upon the transition (2v2 high, 1v1 out wide, 3v2 on the 4th line or 1v1 with asymmetary)
– You always have a 2v1 on the 3rd receiving line and 4th receiving line
– Allows pressure high up to hit opposition in transition. As soon as you drop a side to a low block, you give the opposition territory and control
– False wingers (7 and 11) in a 4-3-3 become dormant because the diamond ensures pressure on the ball to players receiving on 2nd receiving line i.e. Pirlo
– The weakness is in wide areas where teams would likely attack especially where Glen Johnson may be suspect 1v1. One way however of combatting this would be to leave Rooney and Sturridge 60 yards apart getting in between centre back and full back (stopping build up through full back) thus showing centre backs into the diamond where you can press zonally. This also prevents the full backs being the overload which would be the case if the strikers pressed the centre backs or goalkeeper. Employing this tactic means that centre backs would find it very hard to penetrate down the sides. In this event happening (inevitable at some point), the near side winger (Lallana or Sterling) suffocates against the line 2v2 with Baines/Johnson