The use of full backs overcame wingbacks in the World Cup Semi-Final as it ended Croatia 2-1 England in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
The two teams played with contrasting setups. England’s use of wingbacks initially opened Croatia up. However, Croatia’s fullbacks would gain the upper hand and force England in to a back five from which they could not get out. Two goals were conceded, both from full backs crosses, as our World Cup Semi-Final ended Croatia 2-1 England after extra time.
England’s Wingback advantage
England flew out of the gate, gained the upper hand and took the lead. The Three Lions 3-5-2 formation contrasted Croatia’s 4-3-3 and the England wingbacks were the key.
Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young were able to advance up the pitch and join in the attacks. England were moving the ball quickly forward to get Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli the ball on or behind Croatia’s back line. The England wingbacks could get involved, as they had space from Croatia not handling the flood of players getting forward.
England looked menacing and scored an early goal as a result of this tactic. Kieran Trippier received a long pass downfield. Already on the Croatia back line, Trippier cushioned the ball to Jesse Lingard. He, in turn, laid the ball off to Dele Alli racing through the middle directly at the Croatia centre backs.
Trailing Dele, Luka Modric brought him down from behind and a free kick was awarded. Kieran Trippier, who has been a revelation at this World Cup, curled a sumptuous dead ball in to the top corner. Danijel Subasic was left flapping at air as Trippier’s precision strike hit the back of the net, giving England a crucial lead.
The wingbacks continued to be vital in allowing England to escape any Croatian pressure. Jordan Pickford always had an out pass despite Croatia trying to force the ball back to him and a make him kick clear. Further chances were therefore created for Sterling, Kane and Lingard due to England being able to get the ball quickly out and up the pitch avoiding Croatia’s press.
Croatia’s full backs regain control
England had the chances to be two or three goals up. However, we failed to capitalise on this period of the game when our wingbacks were high and able to expose Croatia’s full backs.
Croatia then made adjustments to wrestle back control. Wide forwards Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic switched sides and positioned themselves higher on the England trio of centre backs.
The full backs then pushed England’s wingbacks deeper and in to a back five. Croatia’s midfield then swung the ball from side-to-side in order to wear down midfielders Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli. The England pair not only had to deal with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic in the centre, but also race out to help cover the Croatian full backs and wide forwards
The changes made by coach Zlatko Dalic swung the game in Croatia’s favour. Two goals were the result as his full backs supplied the crosses for both. England’s wide midfielders, Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli, were unable to get out to them in order to stop the crosses coming in.
Croatia’s creative full backs
As a result of the changes the Croatian full backs could get forward and supply crosses. Two goals were the result as the pesky Ivan Perisic buzzed around the England defence and caused havoc.
Perisic levelled the scores up, as Croatia was able to switch the ball from Ivan Rakitic on one side to full back Sime Vrsaljko in space on the other. Ashley Young was caught marking Ante Rebic and too deep. Dele Alli was in the centre and unable to get out to Vrsaljko in time.
The full back’s cross was whipped in to the middle, where Ivan Perisic ran off Kieran Trippier and past Kyle Walker to meet it. The ball flew off the outside of Perisic’s high boot and past Jordan Pickford to level the scores.
Surprisingly, England did little to address the situation during 90 minutes and extra time. Two forwards were not needed at this point and a sacrifice needed to be made. Clearly light of an extra man in midfield to control Croatia’s side-to-side passing to their full backs, Gareth Southgate only made like-for-like changes to retain the 3-5-2 shape.
Marcus Rashford replaced Raheem Sterling up top when a striker needed to be removed. Danny Rose came on for Ashley Young as a straight left wingback swap. Eric Dier for Jordan Henderson in central midfield. It was only after Mario Mandzukic scored to make it Croatia 2-1 England that an alteration was made. Jamie Vardy came on for Kyle Walker, but injury to Kieran Trippier immediately reduced England to ten men. Any chance of a comeback was instantly thwarted.
Mandzukic’s goal came following a switch of play out to Croatia’s left full back this time, Josip Pivaric. England wingback Kieran Trippier had been forced back to mark Ivan Perisic. As a result Jesse Lingard couldn’t get out from central midfield to Pivaric in time.
The Croatian full back’s cross was partially cleared, but a backwards header from Perisic bounced in to a dangerous channel between our three centre backs. Mario Mandzukic was first to spot the opportunity and was on to the loose ball in a flash. The striker got a step on John Stones and lashed the ball in to the corner of the net before the centre back could recover. Suddenly it was Croatia 2-1 England and elimination was on the cards.
Mario Mandzukic’s winning goal came from one of a number of England errors that crept in to our play as the match wore on.
Jordan Pickford and John Stones had got in to a mess on the edge of the England box. Kieran Trippier under hit a back pass that forced Kyle Walker to slide and fire the ball back at Jordan Pickford. He in turn struck the ball first time straight back down the middle. Fortunately, John Stones was there to receive it. Pickford then made a horrendous punching error that went straight to Perisic. However, he couldn’t keep his shot down as he tried to return the misguided clearance back in to the net.
Ultimately, England’s errors, both tactical and personal, cost us dear. It was a poor clearance from Pivaric’s initial cross. Then both Trippier and Stones got caught out.
Croatia 2-1 England overall
England overachieved to reach the 2018 World Cup Semi-Final, but were in a position during the first half to put Croatia away.
The England wingbacks were on top and exposing the Croatian Full backs. A slight change of shape to push their wide forwards higher and play from side-to-side to expose England’s three man midfield made the difference. England’s wingbacks were forced backwards and in to a five man defence. A shape from which England couldn’t escape without a formation change, which never happened.
England have restored a great deal of pride during this World Cup. The future is bright for the youngest team in the tournament with a Tottenham core at its heart. The 2018 World Cup will be remembered with a twinge of what might have been, but will also be marked as the starting point for the resurgence of the England national team.
Final score: Croatia 2-1 England.
MOTM: Luka Modric.