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Jun 12

England 1-1 Russia: Hodgson’s fluent midfield impresses, though second half change gives Slutsky an undeserved point


The high standards in the English media have often seen Hodgson face the stick for playing uninspired and mundane formations despite getting the crucial 3 points via narrow wins. England’s game in Marseille on Saturday would have been the perfect occasion for the media to announce England as title contenders; but ironically Hodgson’s fluid and entertaining system was unplugged by a late goal by a largely under par Russian team.

Roy Hodgson spent much of the pre-tourney friendlies looking for a system that could fit his stars Vardy, Rooney and Wilshere. When his midfield diamond against Portugal didn’t please the crowds, there was a lot of media hype to drop Rooney in favor of someone like Wilshere. But Roy’s team had been playing their captain in a much deeper role over the last few practice sessions in Marseille, and that’s how England lined up against Russia.

With Rooney given a midfield role alongside Dier and Alli, England looked to be playing a 4-1-4-1 with Lallana and Sterling playing the wider roles. Though this is how England looked while defending off the ball, once they got possession Roy’s team looked much more like a narrow 4-3-3.

Slutsky’s Russia on the other hand came into the Euros after some disappointing performances in the friendlies and without few of their most talented players. Slutsky lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Shatov playing a No.10 role behind Dzyuba, and Kokorin and Smolov in the wider roles. Russia’s aging defence was protected by the newly instated Russian Neustadter.

How they lined up.

How they lined up.

England dominate the 1st half, with freedom to Rooney and Lallana drifting in

When England were playing with Rooney in central midfield and another midfielder Lallana drifting in from a wider role, they were always going to dominate the centre of the park against a team that essentially started with 2 deeper midfielders and 4 attackers. Oleg Shatov and Dyuba looked to press Eric Dier and the 2 English Centre Backs higher up the pitch, which basically meant that Russia were looking to close down England’s midfield trio using their own trio (Neustadter on Rooney and Golovin on Alli). So when England were able to pass the ball out to Rooney, Neustadter had to push up from his deep midfield role to close down the England captain. This deeper midfield role was mainly due to England’s narrow shape upfront that often saw Sterling from the Left and Lallana from the Right drift in next to Kane, which forced the Russian midfielders to stay closer to their Centre Backs.

Rooney's distribution in the first half

Rooney’s distribution in the first half

So Rooney was essential free to ping his precise long balls to Walker on the Right flank. Russia’s Left winger Smolov did try tracking Lallana into narrower midfield positions, but Slutsky was more interesting in using him as counter-attacking force. So Smolov from Russia’s left and Kokorin similarly on Russia’s Right were seen in positions suited to break on the counter rather than slot in next to their outnumbered midfield.

Rooney’s position was pulling Neustadter out of position, and similarly Dele Alli’s role as a No.10 and as the Right side of the midfield trio was equally crucial for England’s domination. When Neustadter was pulled out of position, both Alli and Lallana lined up next to Golovin in midfield in the No.10 zone, which forced Golovin as well as Smolov to cover these 2 and leave the flanks free. On all these occasions Rooney chose to find Walker out wide, who often had the beating of Russia’s LB Schennikov with his pace.

Lallana’s role became important at this point, as the Liverpool player now already in a narrower position on this flank was often the cut-back that Walker looked for after beating Schennikov. This resulted in Lallana finding himself unmarked in the box on 2-3 occasions, and he should definitely have done better with his finishing. So basically Lallana, Alli and Walker were able to play triangles on the Right against Golovin and Schennikov, as Smolov rarely looked to tracked back completely.

Walker looked to play in Lallana in narrower positions, than cross into the box

Walker looked to play in Lallana in narrower positions, than cross into the box

Slutsky narrows his front 4 for the 2nd half

Neither manager changed the shape or personnel at the break, but Slutsky did change the manner in which his 4 attackers worked. In the first half Russia allowed England to get the ball out to Rooney and hence the English fullbacks were able to push much higher up the pitch. This resulted in the Russian wingers also having to track back somewhat, and so Russia didn’t have the numbers when breaking on the counter.

Second half change.

Second half change.

In the 2nd half, both Smolov and Kokorin played a much narrower role upfront and basically Russia were now pressing with a front 4 uptop, rather than just 2 like the first half. This resulted in both English fullbacks now being forced to stay deeper so that Dier and the CBs do not get outnumbered by the Russian attackers. This was observed more on England’s Left flank where Danny Rose’s attacking endeavor was affected crucially by Kokorin’s narrow position in Russia’s inside-right flank, and also by Smolnikov, who turned out to be Russia’s best player on the night, overlapping energetically from Right back.

Danny Rose in the first half.

Danny Rose in the first half.

Danny Rose in the 2nd half

Danny Rose in the 2nd half

With this high press by Russia, Rooney no longer had the freedom in midfield that he enjoyed in the first half. The captain was often seen drifting wide onto Rose’s flank to get some more space, but he didn’t have the same number of passing options as both Alli and Lallana also were being kept in close check.

Hodgson’s brave move to bring off his captain for Wilshere made sense, as the Arsenal man was able to come on and quickly take control of the ball in the middle, with his style of carrying the ball into attack useful Alli and Lallana to make runs off him. Sterling and Lallana now looked to play much wider and higher up so as the stretch Russia’s midfield and fullbacks who were looking to press higher up at every opportunity.

Apart from the final few minutes where Russia through the likes Shirikov in the box and finally got the equalizer, Slutsky’s men were much below par in terms of quality. Though the likes of Kokorin and Smolov were quick on the break and threatened in the 2nd half, rarely did they pose a threat to Joe Hart’s goal.

England on the other hand should have easily wrapped up this game based on their first half performance. Lallana’s performance though excellent on and off the ball, his finishing needs a lot of improvement. Raheem Sterling played the role of running in behind the defence when Kane came to collect the ball deeper, but the City striker wasted couple of good chances against Russia’s slow defence. Questions will be raised on why Vardy wasn’t played in this position instead, but Sterling did provide his fair share of wing play in the 2nd half which would not have been the case with Vardy.


About the author

Abhay Raj

Abhay is one of the editors of this website. He prefers to write only tactical analytical pieces on matches, players and coaches.
Abhay is a huge Arsenal fan, but Mourinho and AVB are his 2 preferred managers. He hates beautiful football and ultra-attacking football( arsenal-esq with both fullbacks attacking simultaneously), and is a huge fan of the defensive/reactive football that mourinho and simeone play

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