Five Spurs players start, but the Three Lions fail to take advantage of their pace in-behind as it finishes England 1-1 Russia in Marseille.
It was a proud moment to see five Spurs players in the starting line-up for our opening Euro 2016 match. They all contributed to what was an excellent performance, but failure as a team to take advantage of our pace in-behind saw it unfortunately end England 1-1 Russia in Marseille.
England running in-behind
Roy Hodgson named a very attacking line-up as he went 4-3-3 with plenty of pace in the side. With an ageing Russian back line, his game plan soon became apparent. The England manager was going to use the speed of Sterling, Alli and the full backs to get at and beyond the defence at every opportunity. It started with just a couple minutes on the clock, Raheem Sterling trying to run through from Rooney’s pass. Then Sterling turned provider as his chip looked to get Adam Lallana beyond the centre backs.
It continued throughout the half. Adam Lallana returned the favour and Raheem Sterling was sent through, only to be denied by a last ditch challenge.
Wayne Rooney then looked for Dele Alli’s run, which was unfortunately just cut out for a corner.
Rooney, who was moved in to a deeper triangle with Dele Alli and Eric Dier, was excellent and the game’s most influential player. His passing to shift the ball around the park to the speed players was exquisite. Raking balls out to Rose and Walker on the run. Through balls for Sterling and Alli to go after. Had he connected with Dele in the second half on a long back to front pass, that we’ve seen Alli convert for Spurs this season from Alderweireld, it would’ve been apt for what was a tremendous display.
Rampaging full backs
England’s control of the midfield allowed Kyle Walker and Danny Rose to play extremely high up and look to use their pace to run in-behind the Russian back four.
Rose fizzed several balls through the six-yard box that just missed Kane and Alli on separate occasions. After the interval his outside burst created an excellent chance for Rooney that saw the keeper manage to claw the ball on to the bar.
On the other side, Kyle Walker and Adam Lallana struck up quite a rapport. Maybe because both have been coached by Pochettino or maybe they just have a natural chemistry, but they dovetailed nicely. Lallana drifting inside, Walker flying around on the overlap, it was a joy to watch at times. Walker created twice by getting in-behind the defence to cut the ball back for the Liverpool man to fire once at the keeper and drag another shot just wide.
England Between the lines
England trying to exploit the Russian back line by using pace in-behind both the centre and full backs was allowed by two factors.
Firstly, the midfield trio of Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Wayne Rooney were superb. All three were good at recovering the ball, but Dier was immense at the base of midfield. He was not only screening his own centre backs but also moving forward to often seal Russia in their own half with timely tackles and interceptions.
Alli and Rooney were giving the Russians a different headache. Rooney was dropping off and spraying passes around. Alli was looking to make constant runs off and past Harry Kane.
The movement of our midfield trio made the second factor possible. Getting players in-between the Russian lines of defence and midfield.
Getting players in to this zone allowed us to play neat little through balls and find the full backs more easily as the passers were closer to their targets.
England open up space
Whether it was the temperature in Marseille (23 degrees at kick-off) or whether this was by design to open up space, England dropped off after 20 minutes. We’d flown out the traps and started on the front foot in search of a goal.
It didn’t come, so as we’ve seen in many an England match, we dropped in to our usual counter attack 4-5-1 shape to engage the ball as it enters our half.
Whether Hodgson did this to try and conserve energy due to the temperature or whether it was by design to open up space by drawing Russia forward, it had an effect. Russia’s back four were moved up the park and we could launch counter attacks at a more exposed back four.
Chances came, particularly for Raheem Sterling. He had the opportunity to run in-behind from Lallana’s pass, but was caught by a last ditch tackle. After the interval he snuck in-behind but couldn’t get a shot away as he tried to bring a looped ball down.
Russia narrow up
The game seemed to have a tiring effect on Russia. It was often being played at Premier League pace and they were getting through a lot of work without the ball.
After 60 minutes they started to noticeably play much narrower. Maybe this was from fatigue to be more compact? Maybe this was to stop us getting in-behind through the centre and force crosses from wide that their big centre backs could deal with?
It did let our full backs in to the game more. Danny Rose got wide to cross in for Rooney’s shot that was pushed on to the bar.
Kyle Walker then got away to put in a dangerous cross that was headed clear.
What narrowing up also did was condense the space we had been enjoying between the lines. More bodies were now in the central zone and there was more contact. We earned a free kick that Wayne Rooney fizzed just over the angle of bar and post, flicking the top of the net. Harry Kane also tried to piledrive a long-range free kick that went high over the bar.
The came the game-changing free-kick. Wayne Rooney found a neat pass through a mass of Russian players to Dele Alli. He then tried to snake his way through two defenders with a customary nutmeg, but saw himself fouled by Georgy Schenikov.
With a much more central location, England did something quite cute. It was not only the surprise of Kane stepping over the ball and leaving it for Dier, but also the alleyway being opened up in front of him. Gary Cahill and Adam Lallana had been allowed to attach themselves to the end of the wall. Lallana peeled off behind, dragging a Russian defender with him. Cahill moved out and then back in to the lane to obscure the goalkeeper’s vision.
By the time Kane had stepped over and Dier was steaming in to unleash a thunderous effort towards the top corner, a huge lane had been opened up for him to send the ball through. Igor Akinfeev had taken a step across his goal and stood no chance of getting back with the ball past him before he could react, 1-0 and England had the lead they deserved.
Russia set pieces
Russia were failing to find much of a cutting edge. They had been targeting their big centre forward Artem Dzyuba and using him as a hold up player to bring down longer balls forward.
He gave Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill a few problems but nothing untoward. A cushioned down long ball that ran nicely for Fedor Smolov to guide a shot past the post was a rare moment of joy for the big man.
Where Russia were a threat was from set pieces. At these they could send their centre backs forward and they were always an underlying threat. Sergei Ignashevich stung Joe Hart’s palms with a header from a wide free kick in the first half. After the interval and Vasili Berezutski planted one header wide from a set piece before getting an unlikely injury time winner to make it England 1-1 Russia.
After we took the lead, Russia began to win some corners and Chris Smalling cleared a cross towards the sizeable Dzyuba for another. We dealt with the first ball in, but there were a number of errors as our organisation broke down to allow the return cross.
James Milner went racing out to close down and sold himself. This allowed Georgy Schenikov past him to put the second cross in that was headed home by Berezutski. Milner was criticised by some pundits, but the centre backs were also at fault too. Both Smalling and Cahill got detached from picking up the Russian centre backs. This left Berezutski to out jump and outmuscle Danny Rose.
Jack Wilshere also had his part to play. Wilshere cleared the initial corner and then moved out. He attached him self to Berezutski but then ran away from him, recognising the size advantage the centre back had on him.
Wilshere would’ve been no contest for Berezutski, neither was Rose, but he needed to stay in with the numbers Russia had up. He could’ve at least checked Berezutski’s run or made it more difficult for him to get going. Moving away just gave the big Russian centre back a clean run-up to make his leap.
Wilshere also didn’t communicate with Dele Alli or Chris Smalling for help. Alli tried to get back in, but was caught wrong side. Smalling was outside full back Danny Rose and could see two red shirts in front of him in the central area and was trying to get back to cover them.
It was an unfortunate, but well-taken goal. England committed a number of minor errors as we tried to adjust from a zonal scheme at the corner to a man-marking one from the cross in a short space of time. It was a sucker punch just as time was running out to make the final score England 1-1 Russia deflating what was an excellent performance.
England 1-1 Russia overall
This was best I’ve seen England play in a while. Kudos to Roy Hodgson for selecting a very aggressive line-up and trying to use pace to get in-behind and unsettle Russia’s defence.
Whilst the starting line-up was bold and purposeful, his changes were not. Removing Wayne Rooney, who was dictating much of the game, was unwise, as was bringing on James Milner wide.
There are some other questions for Roy to answer. Harry Kane on corner duty? Kane can pass and play the ball, but his delivery from corners is not so good that it warrants him taking them all.
Raheem Sterling was obviously in the side for his pace and he did a lot of good things in the game that justified his selection. His finishing has always been something that has needed work. With the more creative, but an equally unnatural finisher on the other side in Adam Lallana, we really needed some firepower from the left. This has been Sterling’s deficiency in his short career and you can’t help but wonder how Jamie Vardy would’ve faired in the role?
Final score: England 1-1 Russia.