Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Harry Kane after Croatia 2-1 England in the World Cup Semi-Final.

Croatia 2-1 England: Full backs beat wingbacks

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 wingbacks (WB) get forward to force Croatia Full backs (FB) to retreat during Croatia 2-1 England in the World Cup Semi-Final.

England wingbacks (WB) get forward to force Croatia Full backs (FB) to retreat.

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

Croatia's three up top and full backs (FB) push England Wingbacks (WB) in to a back five during Croatia 2-1 England in the World Cup Semi-Final.

Croatia’s three up top and full backs (FB) push England Wingbacks (WB) in to a back five.

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.

Young too deep and Dele narrow as Rakitic finds Vrsaljko to cross for Perisic's goal during Croatia 2-1 England in the World Cup Semi-Final.

Young too deep and Dele narrow as Rakitic finds Vrsaljko.

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.

Trippier (WB) forced back and Lingard unable to reach Pivaric to stop the cross during Croatia 2-1 England in the World Cup Semi-FInal.

Trippier (WB) forced back and Lingard unable to reach Pivaric to stop the cross.

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.

England errors

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.



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13 Responses to Croatia 2-1 England: Full backs beat wingbacks

  1. Zaph Mann 12th July 2018 at 7:22 pm #

    YEp, it’s easier to say afterwards but Hoddle (In commentary) identified it before they scored and repeated the need for it. Southgate exposed his lack of experience – should have been Rose on earlier for Young (he immediately forced the full back, back) and Delph for Sterling.

    Something that Pochetino has learnt to do

    Oh well

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th July 2018 at 9:58 pm #

      I think we should’ve switched sterling for Loftus-Cheek much earlier and gone to an extra man in midfield. Loftus-Cheek can move the ball much better and is a beast to knock off it. Would’ve cut down the running Dele and Lingard were having to do as well.

  2. Iain 12th July 2018 at 7:50 pm #

    Nailed the issue Mark but as Zaph says it was obvious during the game. We simply had no plan b. It was a bit like potch’s first season! Also the rigidity was there from the start. Front 5 far too rigid, none of the fluid changes we see from spurs these days. Harry having to drop deep to be the 10 as Dele too wide and Henderson playing deep midfield, leaving sterling to run around a lot and create not much. It could have been different if H had taken his chance but I think k France would have e slaughtered us in the final! But we (spurs) can be so proud of how many players we had performing well at this tormament – thank God we tied potch to a long term contract!

    • YouShubes 12th July 2018 at 9:55 pm #

      1. Trippier has been incredible with his set piece delivery. I hope this and the love train is brought to the training complex in Enfield.

      2. Do you think the Harry Winks we saw play against Real make could have made a difference

      3. Do you think Southgate missed a trick not using Delph the way Pep did against us?

      Enjoy the move to Madrid Mark they will love the analytical work you have done

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th July 2018 at 10:11 pm #

        Harry Winks could’ve made a difference. His retention and usage of the ball in midfield would’ve been an asset for the team.

        I dont really rate Delph and the team shape has been quite rigid, so i don’t believe he’d have made too much difference.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th July 2018 at 10:04 pm #

      Yes it was a bit like Poch’s first season. Difficult for Southgate to put too many plans in place having such little time with the team until the tournament itself though. A lot of training and planning went in to the set pieces, so the team probably didn’t practice in too many other formations or styles. Spurs players can be proud though. Good tournament for all of them.

  3. Carrigbawn 12th July 2018 at 10:44 pm #

    Southgate proved to be naive and inflexible in the 2nd half. He looked like a manager who had been sacked by Middlesboro’. His plan, which he stuck to rigidly throughout the tournament worked against the weaker teams, but Croatia had the more talented players and overcame his rigid 3=5-2 formation in the 2nd half and it was obvious that it soon became a 5-3-2. I couldn’t understand why Southgate didn’t take off Sterling and replace him with Dier, or Loftus-Cheek. That’s not just hindsight on my part because I did raise the idea of bolstering the English midfield against Croatia in your previous blog. We were lightweight in the midfield in the 2nd half as Lingard, Deli & Henderson tired following all their running. Understandable because Modric & Rakitic are world class. Personally I would have taken Tripper off early in the 2nd half when we were under the cosh and reverted to a back 4 with Walker as a conventional right back. I would also have taken off Sterling and put on Loftus-Cheek to bolster the midfield. Kane could then be the lone striker, up front, as he often is at Spurs.

    I think England were lucky to get as far as the semi finals. If they had beaten Belgium and been in the other half of the draw for the knockout phase they would have come up against more talented sides than Colombia (and they only scraped beat them courtesy of a penalty and penalty shoot out) and far more talented players than the Swedes.

    I know that England haven’t the world class players that France, Belgium & Croatia have, but I don’t believe that Southgate wasn’t flexible enough to change his tactics when things started to go wrong. Too inflexible. Having said that he (or his assistants) picked Trippier & Young as the best deliverers of the ball for corners & free kicks and devised a good strategy at corners and other set pieces. Just as well because apart from set pieces & penalties England never created many chances from open play. I think England haven’t really progressed much from the Iceland debacle 2 years ago. Perhaps Hodgson’s team would have beaten Iceland if he had had a creative plan for set pieces & corners.

    England have a dearth of creative talent. Just a team of runners in midfield and when up against quality opposition our 3 centre halves, especially Stones & Maguire were found wanting defensively. We don’t have a Varane & Umtiti.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th July 2018 at 4:43 pm #

      I think the creative player is what is missing from this team. Insert an Eriksen type of player in our lineup and that would realy help build during open play and create chances. The issue is that we don’t have creative players at the World class level and of the players we do have in this mould, they either weren’t fit (Lallana, Barkley, Winks) or close to the level we require (Wilshere, Shelvey).

  4. Carrigbawn 12th July 2018 at 10:48 pm #

    Should read “but I don’t believe that Southgate WAS flexible enough”

  5. Brian 12th July 2018 at 11:59 pm #

    Anather very and made England commit summing up Mark.Have to agree with many others on here.That Southgate seemed too lack a plan B.And to be honest his contued use of Sterling,got my damder up.Yes he ran into spaces,but continued to loose the ball,time and time again.and his lack of intelligent plan,was there for all to see.Henderson worked his socks off,although his passing game deserted him in the Croatia game.While Alli game in for critisism from non Tottenham fans,at least he tried too play teh ball forward,on a number of occaisons,wheres Lingard,continued to play either sideways or backwards at every opportunity.Plus Englands inability to move the ball quickly enough,was anather major factor(hence they gave the ball away many times,in the 2nd half)Credit too Croatia,they persevied,and made England commit errors..

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th July 2018 at 4:49 pm #

      I thought our use of Sterling was wrong. He’s not a central player and a much better wide forward. I felt Southgate wanted his speed to stretch defences, which Sterling did. However, Sterling is a much more dangerous player cutting in from wide where he can run off the full backs unmarked. If Southgate wants to play three centre backs then a 3-4-3 would suit him. Otherwise a 4-3-3 would be a much better formation to get the best out of him.

      Apart from the first 30 minutes of the Tunisia game, Dele hasn’t looked fit all tournament. Now its over, he may well come out sand say it, but I thought he shouldn’t have started in the knockout games.

  6. Grum 13th July 2018 at 12:31 pm #

    Really disappointed at the lack of action by Southgate in this game. It was clear to see that he need to change the team to try to get some control in midfield. I said to my friends, take off Stirling and put on Loftus-Cheek and maybe also Delph for Lingard as Loftus Cheek prefers right side.

    I was obvious that we needed to do something at the start of the second half otherwise Croatia were going to score, and score they did. Even at 1 -1 it might have made a difference or at least got us to penalties.

    Really hard to understand why Southgate did nothing.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th July 2018 at 4:55 pm #

      I couldn’t fathom it either. I guess that a lack of time on the training pitch before and during the tournament is a factor. Much of what was done was probably on set piece routines. Unlike being with a club side, there is probably not the time to spend on new formations. However, at least being able to switch to a back four and play 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 should be the bare minimum.

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