Team speed, structure and strategy were all lacking as our Euro 2016 clash finished England 1-2 Iceland in Nice.
It was the tactically adept versus the tactically inept. England crashed out of Euro 2016 to a side that had a defined system and structure. It may not be progressive, but it is effective. Roy Hodgson certainly had no solutions for it, as it finished England 1-2 Iceland in Nice.
Iceland structure and fluctuating back line
Iceland’s setup is nothing new. In fact, this re-invention of 4-4-2 is becoming vogue again in football.
Iceland’s version of it works off similar principles to other 4-4-2 deep lying counter attacking teams. Minimal possession and maximum attacking devastation of the open spaces by two front men, all executed by a strong, tall and powerful side.
Without the ball Iceland, as they have been in other matches at Euro 2016, were fluctuating their back line. When they had pressure on the ball, the rest of the team squeezes up to be ultra-compact from back to front. The defensive line is high to stop opponents trying to play through.
There are spaces in-behind them, but the opposition has a very difficult time in trying to find it as they are being closed down.
The back line drops when they don’t have pressure on the ball to safe guard being attacked in-behind. They still aim to keep the opposition out of the middle of the pitch. They do this by the two strikers screening from the front and the central midfield duo are narrow behind.
We did manage to break their initial press and catch the defensive line up high. It was just that we didn’t look to quickly capitalise on this before Iceland could regroup.
Gary Cahill slips past the pressing forwards here. He doesn’t then immediately look for Harry Kane or one of the wide forwards to hit the space behind the high Iceland back line.
Iceland were also using their two strikers to try and take Eric Dier out of the game. Dier has dictated tempo and been afforded time and space on the ball in these Championships. Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Jon Bodvarsson were both taking it in turns to track him as he drifted left and right in to their zones. This saw Dier frequently struggle to get the ball and often have to lay it off backwards or sideways under pressure.
Iceland’s setup was strong and for the most part it did flummox England. Our ball movement was slow and our team structure wasn’t set up to constantly pull them both across and up and down the pitch.
The ball in-behind should’ve been our weapon of choice as we learnt after just three minutes. Daniel Sturridge found Raheem Sterling’s run beyond the back line, which was caught high with little pressure on the ball.
The goalkeeper slid out, Sterling went down and Wayne Rooney despatched the spot kick, 1-0.
This should’ve been the signal to look for the open spaces behind the Iceland back line with quick early passing.
Daniel Sturridge had a chance after a quick ball forward found Dele Alli. He span and lofted a pass over, but Sturridge cut back inside on his left foot, allowing the defence to get back.
After the interval and Harry Kane sent Jamie Vardy in. An excellent sliding recovery tackle by Ragnar Sigurdsson denied him.
Overall, these passes to turn and test the Iceland defence were rare.
Iceland long ball
When in possession, Iceland were looking to hit long balls to spring their attack quickly forward. Attacking the space created by drawing other teams on to them has been their route to goals this tournament and it was so twice in this game.
Just 90 seconds after falling behind, Iceland were back in the match. Form the restart, a long ball forward was headed in to touch by Danny Rose.
Iceland’s other trademark has been the long throw. We knew it was coming; yet we seemed ill prepared to stop it.
Raheem Sterling was standing in space not affecting anything. The aerially weak Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge were marking the flick-on targets. Kyle Walker then got caught on his heels, as we failed to track the runners looking for the second ball.
Having had all week to prepare for this, it seemed absurd that Eric Dier was in space and not on one of the flick on targets and that Kyle Walker wasn’t ready for the man running beyond him.
Iceland had scored an exact replica of this goal against Austria, yet it caught us off guard.
The long throw has disappeared from the Premier League since Rory Delap used to hurl them in. A tactic back then used to be to station a player on the touchline who would stand there or jump to affect his ability to deliver. I’m not sure why we didn’t use Raheem Sterling for this job? He was simply in no man’s land.
Getting the score back to 1-1 through a long ball and a long throw, Iceland then took the lead. Again it was from a cross-field long ball. Aron Gunnarsson swept play out to Birkir Saevarsson. He then laid it off to Johann Berg Gudmundsson. This had stretched and moved our midfield triangle across the park, allowing Gylfi Sigurdsson to drift away from Eric Dier.
Gudmundsson’s ball in was touched on first time by Sigurdsson, which didn’t allow Dier time to get back to him. His pass went straight to Bodvarsson, who laid it off to his striker partner Sigthorsson.
Dier was slow to react, but by now Iceland had three players splitting the lanes between our back four. Chris Smalling was drawn out and Gary Cahill got stuck shuttling back between the two strikers. This gave Sigthorsson enough time to use Cahill’s momentum against him. He shuttled one way and then the other to open enough space for his shot.
Joe Hart made another error to let it squirm under his hand and suddenly it was England 1-2 Iceland.
The long ball from Iceland caused us problems all game and led to their best chances. Another long diagonal ball out to right back Saevarsson saw him drive a shot just over the angle of upright and bar. A long, lofted ball sprung Aron Gunnarsson in-behind our back line, but Joe Hart beat away his effort at the near post.
Iceland’s most spectacular attempt was an overhead kick by Ragnar Sigurdsson. Another long ball that won a corner set up the centre back for his athletic effort.
Iceland narrow vs England wide
As the match wore on, Iceland began to tire. They dropped deeper and begun to play much narrower, backing themselves to force England wide and clear the crosses.
The problem for England was in the wide areas. We started the match with Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge as inverted wide men. Both players were cutting back on to their stronger feet and in doing so missing crossing opportunities.
Daniel Sturridge here is free and gesturing for the ball. But he takes away his own time and angle by checking back on to his left foot.
Roy Hodgson didn’t switch his wide players at any point in the game to get them on their natural sides.
The Full backs, who should also provide width were struggling to get forwards as well. They were concerned with leaving Iceland‘s strikers 2v2 against our centre backs, but were also running in to congested zones going forward. Sturridge and Sterling were taking up wide positions to start with, which meant they were also playing 2v2 against Iceland’s full back and wide midfielder.
As a result of the crossing angle being affected by players cutting back on their stronger foot and delivery point, we rarely gave Iceland trouble on crosses. They backed themselves to deal with them and they did. Kari Arnason getting his head to our most dangerous cross to deny Jamie Vardy at the death.
It raised the question of why England left a powerful aerial player that thrives on crosses in Andy Carroll at home? Also why didn’t we have a natural winger on the bench?
Marcus Rashford came on for the last five minutes and his direct dribbling gave Iceland a problem. However, being on the left, he to couldn’t find a pull back with his unfavoured foot when England absolutely needed one.
Roy Hodgson was throwing on strikers, as he had done against Wales, with a real lack of strategy and further unbalancing the team. Maybe he was hoping for another scrambled goal in the box through sheer weight of numbers? But it did nothing to alter the final score line of England 1-2 Iceland as time ran out.
England 1-2 Iceland overall
Speed of ball and player movement was the thing that Roy Hodgson talked about in several of his press conferences in the build-up to the match. Ray Lewington could be heard yelling it from the touchline during the game. Yet England distinctly lacked it throughout. Poor touches, miss-controls and we struggled to play many one-touch or first-time passes.
The structure of the team was lacking. We needed to pull Iceland both horizontally across the pitch and stretch them vertically up it. Roy needed natural rather than inverted wide forwards here and even a winger option. As can be his tendency against sitting teams, Wayne Rooney was coming far too deep for the ball. This meant we lacked levels in midfield to play passes through the Iceland lines.
There wasn’t an overall strategy, as to how we were going to try and attack Iceland. Whether it was to consistently play balls in-behind, be a crossing team or create through the lines, there was no overriding tactic as to how we would try and break them down.
Iceland ended up being deserved winners and had all of this. They had speed in their ball movement to go long and hit their two strikers early. They also had the pace of player movement, as men burst around the attacking pair and quickly sought to recover their defensive positions.
Their team had a structure to it. Everyone knew their role and the team functioned as a unit. Players were in their natural positions and not ratcheted in to accommodate them.
They also have a strategy. They are well coached at their defend deep and then get the ball quickly forward plan. Long throws, packing the six-yard box at set pieces, its old school, but effective.
Out-muscled and out thought, the pressure of the occasion got to us. We ended up with four strikers on the pitch, as Roy had no answers for the problems posed.
Final score: England 1-2 Iceland.