England’s Tactics Playing into Croatian Hands?

    10 Jul 2018 | World Cup | Preview
    England’s Tactics Playing into Croatian Hands?
    Marco Iacobucci EPP / Shutterstock.com

    The second semi-final of the 2018 World Cup is between Croatia and England in Moscow.  Both teams have featured in lists of potential dark horses to win the tournament and one of them is guaranteed a place in the final.

    Despite reaching the semi-final of the World Cup for this first time in 28 years, England have received a great deal of criticism on social media.  This may be coming from fans of other countries who have already been knocked out of the tournament or didn’t even qualify but they are keen to point out the ‘easy’ run of games England have enjoyed in the tournament.

    It’s impossible to deny reaching a World Cup semi-final is a good achievement but England have enjoyed the luck of the draw. Tunisia and Panama were weak opposition in the group stages and to meet Colombia in the Round of 16 without their best player, James Rodriguez, was a huge bonus.

    If Gareth Southgate was told before the tournament he would meet Sweden for place in the World Cup semi-final, a smile would most certainly have broken out across his face.

    The match against Belgium in the group stages was between two much-changed teams and had nothing riding on the result.  Croatia will be the first real test for this England team at the 2018 World Cup.

    England have been playing a 3-3-2-2 formation, which can also be seen as a 5-1-2-2 depending on your preference for the wide players.

    While this can work well when England are on top, such as the first 30 minutes of the match against Tunisia, there is one area of the team which is under-maned and that’s the central midfield.  If Southgate is to stick to his regular starting XI for this game, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard will be operating behind the front two and neither are natural central midfield players.

    This looks good and works well in attacking situations but it leaves the central area exposed, with one player in the middle of the pitch.  Jordan Henderson is left as the sole midfielder and when the game is played a slow pace, like the opening exchanges against Sweden, he has few options when on the ball.

    Henderson is also left exposed to the counter-attack and both could be huge problems for England against Croatia on Wednesday night.

    Croatia will be play with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in midfield plus Marcelo Brozovic could also come back into the team. Both Modric and Rakitic are comfortable playing further forward or as deep-lying playmakers and it may be the latter which hurts England.

    If they expose the central area of the pitch, where England are lacking in numbers, it could prove to be a very long night for Henderson.  Modric and Rakitic are world class midfielders and if they get time on the ball they will ultimately cause damage.

    Southgate may decide to bring an extra central midfielder into the team, such as Eric Dier, to help Henderson.  That would mean one of Alli and Lingard dropping to the bench.

    It’s a huge call for the England manager and one area of the game which could decide the result.

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