Harry Kane celebrates a goal during England 2-1 Tunisia in the World Cup.

England 2-1 Tunisia: beating the system switch

The Three Lions overcame their opponent’s switch of formation and defence of corners to earn a vital World Cup victory as it ended England 2-1 Tunisia.

England showed considerable resolve in order to overcome a tricky opponent in Group G. Fighting to the bitter end; it was our domination at set pieces that proved the difference. Two Harry Kane goals saw a final score of England 2-1 Tunisia.

Tunisia’s high line

The match opened with England successfully attacking Tunisia’s high defensive line. Nabil Maaloul’s men tried to play a medium block. Their objective was to keep space as tight as possible between the back four and the striker.

Tunisia's high line playing in a compact medium block during England 2-1 Tunisia.

Tunisia’s high line playing in a compact medium block.

The issue for Tunisia was twofold. Firstly, they had little pressure on the ball, which meant England could pick their passes. Secondly, England had a great deal of speed on the field. As a result, England had great success firing balls in-behind Tunisia’s high line for Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard to chase.

Henderson finds Dele running beyond Tunisia's high line during England 2-1 Tunisia.

Henderson finds Dele running beyond Tunisia’s high line.

Chances were created from this tactic as Lingard, Alli and Sterling all had good opportunities to open the scoring, but couldn’t find the back of the net.

England’s corner dominance

England couldn’t find the back of the net, but did often win corners. These set pieces allowed Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier to showcase their good dead ball deliveries. They also permitted Harry Maguire and John Stones to demonstrate their aerial power.

Tunisia’s set up at corners played right in to the England centre backs’ hands. Nabil Maaloul’s men played a hybrid system. A five man line played a zone across the six-yard box. Ahead of them, only three would defend man-to-man and track England runners.

Five man zone and three defenders marking four at edge of box during England 2-1 Tunisia.

Five man zone and three defenders marking four at edge of box.

As a result, England was often left with a numerical 4v3 advantage at the top of the box. These players were also given a free run at the ball as the Tunisian markers backed off.

England took the lead from exploiting Tunisia’s marking. Ashley Young whipped in a perfect cross. England again had four vs three on the edge of the penalty area, all unchecked with free runs.

England numerical advantage on the edge of the box allows Harry Kane to open the scoring during England 2-1 Tunisia.

England numerical advantage on the edge of the box.

John Stones was first to the cross, but Harry Maguire was equally free leaping in-behind him.

Stones’ header brought a fantastic save from goalkeeper Mouez Hassen who did brilliantly to claw the ball out of mid-air. Sensing a rebound, Harry Kane was first to the loose ball and expertly cushioned it in to back in to the net. Cue celebrations that befitted England’s excellent start.

Tunisia press up

Conceding a goal saw Tunisia change their stance. Instead of playing a medium block to keep a compact shape, their team became very expansive. Tunisia pressed with five players and dropped five players. The result was a stretched team that left a huge chasm between their defence and attack.

Tunisia's press leaves a huge chasm for Trippier and Young during England 2-1 Tunisia.

Tunisia’s press leaves a huge chasm for Trippier and Young.

The structure did prove effective. England struggled much more to play the ball easily out from the back and hit passes in-behind the high line as we had been. England often turned possession over or out for throw-ins due to being rushed.

The huge chasm in the middle of the park did allow Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young to have more freedom. The pair both came much more in to the game as a result of this space and provided even more telling crosses.

Tunisia plunders a penalty

Tunisia’s initial compact shape had left Wahbi Khazri isolated up front. Their switch to push four men up behind the striker suddenly gave them width and players to get in the box.

Tunisia became more of a threat from crosses. Firstly they saw a good effort deflected wide by Harry Maguire. Next they won a penalty as Fakhreddine Ben Youssef was unceremoniously dropped by a Kyle Walker forearm.

England should’ve defended the passage of play better, but slow cover from both Jesse Lingard and then Ashley Young allowed Dylan Bronn to get his cross in.

Young gives far too much room for Bronn to cross during England 2-1 Tunisia.

Young gives far too much room for Bronn to cross.

Kyle Walker then looked like a full back playing as a centre back. Body position all wrong, he tried to slow down Ben Youssef from getting to the ball. However, he got caught with his arms up as he tried to hinder the Tunisian midfielder who crumpled in a heap holding his face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan pointed to the spot. Ferjani Sassi duly dispatched the kick and somehow it was England 1-1 Tunisia.

Tunisia becomes heavy handed

Tunisia had gained a lifeline from a generous decision by the referee. England had complained about the award of a spot kick and then had more cause for feeling justice wasn’t being done. Harry Kane was frequently being hauled to the floor at set pieces with the referee turning a blind eye in spite of England players pointing out to him what was going on.

Tunisia switches formation

Struggling to cope with England’s wingbacks, Tunisia opted to change to a 5-3-2 for the second half.

Tunisia back five marks wingbacks and keeps a spare centre back during England 2-1 Tunisia.

Tunisia back five marks wingbacks and keeps a spare centre back.

The change had a great affect on the match as it slowed us down. Our wingbacks were unable to get in to the spaces they had been enjoying against a back four. In the middle it meant that Tunisia had an extra centre back to have a 3v2 advantage. The additional defender could also cover the passes in-behind that had caused havoc in the first half.

The match spent a long period where England struggled to break Tunisia down. However, with such a defensive scheme, Tunisia couldn’t orchestrate any attacks themselves.

Corners count again

Gareth Southgate made substitutions to change the flow of the game. It was the introduction of Ruben Loftus-Cheek that had the biggest impact. Dele Alli had continued to play after pulling up with a thigh injury, but he wasn’t at 100% and had drifted out of the game after being its biggest factor early on.

Loftus-Cheek was able to introduce more penetrating runs through the inside right channel, as he looked to get down the sides of Tunisia’s three centre backs.

One such run was thwarted by Tunisia. However, Loftus-Cheek’s pressing and closing down Mohamed Ben Amor forced an injury time corner.

Tunisia had been playing five men in a zonal line with only three players man-marking. England had dominated aerially as a result. Tunisia then got very hands on, grappling Kane to the floor on several occasions. The Tunisians then switched to have one less man in the zone and have him join the man markers. They also got tighter and tried to interfere with the England player’s runs by grappling and pulling.

One less man in the six yard box sees 4v4 man markers during England 2-1 Tunisia.

One less man in the six yard box sees 4v4 man markers.

Kieran Trippier swung in another pinpoint cross. Harry Maguire rose above the close attentions of Syam Ben Youssef. As Maguire leapt, Harry Kane had escaped from his marker Yassine Meriah to take up a similar position to his first goal.

With barely any power on a looping ball to work with, Kane’s swivel header was neat, intuitive and accurate to wrong foot the goalkeeper and bulge the back of the net. Kane’s second World Cup goal and one that proved to be the hammer blow against a spirited Tunisian team.

With only seconds left to play, the score was now England 2-1 Tunisia and a richly deserved victory for a team, which kept faith in playing its football.

England 2-1 Tunisia overall

VAR once more proved to be an annoying subplot in a World Cup match. This time it was inconsistency. Tunisia were awarded a penalty for grappling in the box, but in denying England at least two obvious calls, the use of the system was once again thrown under the spotlight.

England was excellent in the first half, but Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard were far too wasteful in front of goal. What’s more, Dele Alli’s injury clearly hampered him. After being the most devastating player on the pitch early on, in staying on the field, England looked light of a player.

Harry Kane came to England’s rescue, but Kieran Trippier was the standout performer. His constant attacking movements and willingness to get in to good crossing positions tormented Tunisia. His accurate deliveries and precision dead balls caused havoc and played a huge part in the winning goal.

Final score: England 2-1 Tunisia.
MOTM: Kieran Trippier.

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13 Responses to England 2-1 Tunisia: beating the system switch

  1. Daudi 19th June 2018 at 4:03 pm #

    nice to see you again Mark. I had mixed feeling for this game, given that am African I was obviously supporting Tunisia, but my world cup teams are England and Belgium so I just conditioned myself to enjoy the game whichever way it went.

    England seemed to struggle in the second half though, Kane to me was mostly absent except for when it mattered, not that am complaining… there were also some glaring misses from the kinds of Rashford, Lingard, bet they are working on finishing in the next practices.

    No wonder Ali wasn’t effective second half, hope he recovers soon, really want him to do well.

    Also have to mention Trippier too, did really well, I was really not into some of his crossing though some were proving problematic for the Tunisia defence,, maybe its because I just like fast, pacy corners, crosses and freekicks. but not taking anything away from him, he did well.

    Also, seems a hard W.C this team, so called small teams looking good, defending well… just waiting for the next rounds and hoping to see some more upsets…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th June 2018 at 4:26 pm #

      Trippier was really good this game and he took full advantage of the space he was being given.

      Hopefully Dele isn’t too bad. Thigh injuries could affect him being ready for the premier league, which is a worry. He played on so shouldn’t be too bad, but I’d rest him against Panama. No need to risk him.

      This World Cup is hard to call at the minute. Lots of teams have started slowly. I really think the pitches are playing a part. They appear to be playing quite slowly. I’m not sure if they haven’t cut the grass as short as it should be or if they aren’t watering them before kick off and at half time to make them slick, but, for me, there is definitely something up!

      • Shuban 19th June 2018 at 7:01 pm #

        Hendo for me struggled as more a box to box than a sitter…not sure what the answer is

  2. Andy B 19th June 2018 at 9:03 pm #

    An enjoyable write up, which is more than I can say for the game, that ended up another borefest.

    England were okay for the first 20 minutes, when they did a lot of running about. After that they just slowed right down and for the rest of the game they were poor.

    The big problem for the England team is the lack of creativity. There are no real creative players.

    Alli has never really done much for England, so it is not as if we are missing out there, if he doesn’t play against Panama.

    Trippier was the only England player who played well. Obviously Kane scored the goals and made one quality pass, but was quiet throughout the game. It doesn’t help him that the rest of the attacking players are so average. Sterling was particularly poor. The way Kane was manhandled on corners, by their defenders, was crazy.

    The referee was just as poor as the game. As well as the fouls on Kane, there was the occasion when their player was standing right in front of Trippier to put him off taking the freekick. The referee didn’t seem to be strong enough to take control.

    When the main chances created come from your right back, you know how poor the midfield is.

    The last time I saw England play well was when Terry Venables was the manager. His team had an identity and were entertaining.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th June 2018 at 9:17 pm #

      I thought England were decent for most of the first half, but yes we do lack creativity in the middle of the park. Sterling, Lingard and Dele are too much to have in the game together and we really need a creative passer. It’s a shame Lallana isn’t in the squad or someone like Harry Winks as they could do it. Henderson was obviously in the team to provide this, but is not up to the standard needed. Tough to fill the void with this squad.

      • Andy B 19th June 2018 at 11:05 pm #

        I agree that Winks would have made a difference with his passing and Lallana is more creative than any of the current players in the England team. It still wouldn’t be enough.

        Other players who know how to pass the ball are Shelvey and then you have Grealish and Maddison from the championship.

        Just seen that Leicester have bought Maddison. He could have been a good backup for Eriksen at Spurs. Hopefully we will get Grealish instead.

        Spurs need quite a few players this summer. At least replacements for Dembele and Alderweireld, if they leave. Cover for both Eriksen and Kane. I would also replace Aurier, with a more reliable player.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th June 2018 at 11:25 pm #

          I think the full back positions need serious consideration this summer. Tough decisions need to be made over Aurier and also if Davies and Trippier really are what we need to take us to the next level.

    • Chas 20th June 2018 at 2:05 am #

      Fair call in the main, Andy, but I would add McGuire to the played well list. I thought he pretty much cemented a place in the XI after a couple of early shaky moments.
      And so did Rose…Young was abysmal!

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 20th June 2018 at 10:02 am #

        Maguire did do well after some shaky touches at the back. I think he was the centre back with the most touches and chances created in the opposition box during last season’s premier league. Definitely showed that at set pieces in this match.

        • Andy B 20th June 2018 at 11:56 am #

          I agree and forgot to mention Maguire. He certainly has a lot of potential. He does seem to stop running though, once he has got into a dangerous position. Maybe he should take some tips from Kane, or the striker coach on how to finish what he started.

          Maguire would be a good replacement for Alderweireld. Then we would have Vertonghen and Maguire as left sided centre backs and Sanchez and Foyth on the right, with Dier as cover. I doubt if Leicester would sell him though.

          I also agree about addressing the full back positions at Spurs. We discussed it a bit before, that the ideal full back would be able to defend, have pace and the ability to cross the ball.

          Walker had pace, but couldn’t cross the ball. The same with Aurier and Rose. Trippier can cross but lacks pace, the same as Davies.

          Kieran Tierney would be great for us, because he has everything. Sadly he is Celtic through and through, so not sure he would want to leave them.

          Going back to England – I am surprised that Walker is playing in a position that he has limited experience of playing in, for the biggest tournament in the world. When we face Mertens, Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne, surely the defence needs to change.

          Walker is one of those players that has a stupid mistake in them like Heurelho Gomes and David James, so that makes the England defence even more vulnerable. Unfortunately for Spurs, Aurier takes this kind of calamity to a whole new level.

          • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 20th June 2018 at 12:19 pm #

            Spot on about our full backs. We have a little of something of what we need in all of them, but not the complete package in any of them. I would say Rose is the closest, but he seems a completely different player since being out injured. I always watch him feeling that he is playing well within himself so as not to get hurt again. Completely understandable given how much time he has missed, but also frustrating as it has really taken away from his natural energetic and bustling game. He’s also pretty much out the door!

            I like Maguire, but I’m not sure i’d want him at Spurs. He is excellent in the opposition box, a real powerhouse in the air and has been all season for Leicester. However, he never looks the most assured defensively at the back, especially if he is rushed or under pressure. I do wonder if a good coach can raise his game, but he’d always be a punt that might never pay off for me.

            Walker does have a stupid mistake in him, as we saw against Tunisia. I think he is in the back three so as to have a player that can bring the ball out quickly or race forward and join in the attack unexpectedly, but with good speed to get back and defend. It’s a bit like Azpilicueta at Chelsea. He makes surges out of their back three to create an unexpected midfielder or even attacker. However, the flip side is that he is undersized and so potentially mismatched to defend big centre forwards on crosses. The concept is similar with England though, three centre backs, but one who is an auxillary full back. I guess they’ll be calling it a false centre back or false full back soon!

  3. Matt 20th June 2018 at 6:13 pm #

    Good to see you back Mark. Just think how many Kane could score if someone actually passed to him. Did Sterling or Lingard record a single meaningful pass to Harry? Mistake not taking Lallana.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st June 2018 at 4:37 pm #

      I can’t remember too many. Sterling, Lingard and Dele are too many of similar type of player. Really need a busy between the lines type player to link them.