The Three Lions used their wide players to beat a very narrow opponent to advance to the World Cup Semi-Finals, as it ended England 2-0 Sweden in Samara.
A real mix of styles came together as England used their wingbacks to overcome a resolute Swedish team. Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young were the keys to unlocking a narrow defensive block. Two goals were the result as our World Cup Quarter-Final ended England 2-0 Sweden at the Samara Arena.
Sweden’s narrow block
Sweden’s compact defensive shape has been a feature of their run to the World Cup-Quarter-Finals. The Scandinavian team repeated that formula once again. Their narrow block defended the width of the penalty area, affording space to the England wingbacks, but none through the centre.
Against this setup, the only occasions where England could get attacks moving was firstly through turnovers up the pitch. Dele Alli stole the ball, but missed a through pass to Harry Kane, which was a good example. The second method was by way of dead balls from Jordan Pickford. Sweden was pushing a wide midfielder up to stop England playing out from the back. The resulting 4-3-3 defensive shape left them open to longer passes from Pickford over the top of it and in to the spaces.
The tactic sprung Raheem Sterling on several occasions throughout the first half, but the support striker couldn’t convert.
England’s wingback advantage
The compactness of Sweden’s shape made the start of the game very pedestrian. England was unable to open them up through the middle, but initially didn’t take the invite of a crossing based attacking through the wingbacks.
Ashley Young and Kieran Tripper were left free, but on working the ball out to them, the pair would often turn down crossing opportunities. The reason for this was that it is what Sweden wanted. Concede space in the wide areas and use their aerially strong centre backs to deal with the balls in to the box.
However, Trippier and Young were looking to create chances from two situations. The first was from shorter, lower crossing situations. The second was the long ball to isolate the full back on the far post, thus avoiding the aerially strong centre backs. It was this second type of cross that created two England goals.
England isolates the Sweden right back
England has been a revelation at set pieces during this World Cup and we took the lead from another gloriously conducted corner. The dead ball was won by looking to isolate the Swedish right back, Emil Krafth, at the back post.
Kieran Trippier was found in acres of space. Accepting Sweden’s invitation to cross, he looked for the longer ball to the back post to avoid the centre backs. The Swedish full back won the header, but gave England a corner.
The set piece was beautifully executed. The picking apart of Raheem Sterling’s marker was the basis for it. Sterling is no threat in the air and so the objective was to isolate his equally short marker, Emil Forsberg.
Sterling stood still to screen not only Forsberg, but also to hinder Harry Maguire’s marker. As the ball came in, Harry Kane moved out to become a second blocker as the pair paved the way for Maguire’s delayed run.
As the Swedish defenders had been forced backwards, Maguire could run around Sterling and power on to the header. Emil Forsberg stood no chance against the towering centre back.
The delivery from Ashley Young was pinpoint, as was the timing of Maguire’s run. His perfectly placed downward header beautifully bisected the Swedish defender and goalkeeper to nestle in the net. England with the vital first strike to take the lead.
Gaining the opening goal was crucial in this match. If England had gone behind this would’ve been an uphill battle. Taking the lead meant that the full back isolation crossing plan could remain in place.
Second isolation cross
Gaining a corner by attempting to isolate the Swedish right back on a cross saw England take the lead. Fourteen minutes after the interval and a second occurence would see a score of England 2-0 Sweden.
The build-up to the goal saw both Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier turn down crossing opportunities from open spaces out wide. However, it would be Jesse Lingard’s shorter cross that would isolate Dele Alli against right back Emil Krafth this time.
England had three vs three at the back post. Trippier’s delay and laying back of the ball to Lingard drew the Swedish defence out just enough to create space in-behind.
Lingard’s excellently weighted lofted cross picked out Dele Alli arriving at the back post, as Krafth was caught advancing and too narrow to recover.
Dele cushioned his header past goalkeeper Robin Olsen to make it England 2-0 Sweden and score his first goal at a World Cup.
The move was reminiscent of what we have seen Dele do for Spurs. Cesar Azpilicueta twice was the victim during Spurs 2-0 Chelsea.
Sweden had offered very little in attack prior to going behind. Their response was a very open team that shifted from 4-4-2 to 4-2-4 in the attacking phase. Wide players Emil Forsberg and Viktor Claesson pushed up alongside strikers Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen.
The formation shift created issues for England. As a result, Sweden suddenly became a threat from moving the ball quickly through the pitch and also from crosses.
Three excellent chances were created, but each time, Sweden found Jordan Pickford in their way. The England keeper twice denied Marcus Berg from crosses and thwarted Viktor Claessen on a quick counter attack.
Pickford’s saves were huge for England as they came at points in the match where a Sweden goal would’ve completely changed the flow.
Denying Berg’s header at 1-0 stopped Sweden being able to draw level and then retreat back in to their compact defensive shape. Saving from Claessen three minutes after Dele Alli’s goal gave England a confidence that might have evaporated if the score had quickly been pegged back to 2-1. The stop on Marcus Berg was a body blow. It thwarted any chance of a Swedish goal to gain momentum and set up a nervous finish like we had in conceding late to Colombia.
Pickford’s saves increased team confidence and allowed us to comfortably manage the rest of the game. The score remained at England 2-0 Sweden. Bring on a World Cup Semi-Final with Croatia!
England 2-0 Sweden overall
A serious amount of planning had gone in to this match. The isolation of the Swedish full backs on crosses was a clever way to accept the space being given out wide, but also to not fall in to the trap of picking out their centre backs.
The set piece routine for Harry Maguire’s goal was a variation on what we’ve seen so far, but extremely smart. Isolating Raheem Sterling’s shorter marker and using Harry Kane as a blocking decoy after all the attention defenders have been giving him allowed Maguire to thunder in and score.
There were many good performances after a difficult 120 minutes and penalties against Colombia. Kieran Trippier, Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson stood out. However, Jordan Pickford’s saves were absolutely vital in England being able to stay on top and make this match much more comfortable than it could’ve been.
Final score: England 2-0 Sweden.
MOTM: Jordan Pickford.