With the international break over and the players head back to their respective club duties, here are a key tactical take-aways from the qualification matches.

(These are not necessarily the entire match analyses and rather insight into some of the interesting tactical set ups from the various teams over the course of the matches)

England 2-1 Slovakia:

With England setting out in a 4-2-3-1, Dele Alli had a very important role in the set up playing in the hole behind Kane. His off the ball movement was crucial in integrating the wide players Oxlade-Chamberlian and Rashford into the game. Slovakia played a similar 4-2-3-1 with an interesting selection of personnel in midfield. Milan Skriniar of Inter played in the midfield with the intention of breaking up play as a ball winner. With Hamsik in the free role, Slovakia looked to set camp in their shape and break free using Weiss and Mak as outlets.

England displayed a few interesting features in their set up that might mature over the long term. Alli’s role as the 10 was interesting as his involvement in the build-up and off the ball movements decided the shape and runs off the ball from those around him. His familiarity with Kane also helps in the two complementing each other. With the presence of proper pacey wide players in Rashford and Oxlade-Chamberlain, England could vary it up in the final third. The two wingers oft interchanged wings with Rashford shifting to the left as the game moved on.

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With the protection of Dier, Henderson could move forward and offer himself being the better ball player among the two. To establish a numerical superiority, Dele Alli would move into the channels and instigate play into the final third. In the above instance, Rashford is found deep down while Henderson has moved to occupy the space in the left half space. Playing a double pivot, Slovakia could not match the numbers and had to rely on their compact structure to shut out the English players.

Even with Weiss and Mak falling down to form a midfield four, simple dynamics off the ball led to advantageous situations for England. It is also to be noted that England focused on presence in the box due to Slovakia staying compact in the center. This meant that the wide man (Oxlade-Chamberlain in this case) moves up with Kane. Whenever the full backs crossed, Alli would move inside the box to add to the presence.

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Another feature that stood out was how Bertrand positioned himself in the final third in some instances. With the midfield pairing of Slovakia staying quite close relative to each other, Weiss and Mak had to shift inside accordingly to make the four-chain compact. This was well exploited by England in certain instances when they had their wingers stationed out. With Kane and Alli taking turns to drop into midfield and aid in build-up, Bertrand often positioned himself in the left half space and was able to create an impact. With Skriniar having a more man marking tendency against Alli or Kane, the Slovakian midfield four could be exploited thus.

Germany 6-0 Norway:

Germany were absolutely brilliant on the night as they thoroughly outclassed Norway. Joachim Low ditched his 5-3-2 in favour of a back four. However that was just a number on the paper as they set up with Kroos being involved much in the left half space during build up. The presence of Sebastian Rudy in the midfield along with Kroos meant that Rudy could offer himself in the second line of build-up while Kimmich and Hector positioned themselves very high up the pitch.

Ozil is a gem if the system around him is right:

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Ozil found much joy on the night as he was able to have a telling influence in the game in his 10 role. Norway could not stay compact enough as their central midfield duo could not cope with the drifting inside of Ozil and Draxler. His position and receiving of pass meant that Norway are at a positional disadvantage despite having numbers. Draxler and Hector offer themselves as passing options while Kimmich also stations himself on the far side.

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The basic set up from Germany in their build-up, which oscillated between a 2-3-5 or a 3-1-5 based on Kroos’ positioning in the first phase of build-up. Ozil, Muller and Draxler took turns in dropping to facilitate a pass while Rudy acted as the balancer in the middle. Kroos shuttled forward after the ball reached the final third.

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The situation which led to the first goal was a combination of everything Germany symbolised in the game. Kroos receives the ball and turns to direct the play to the right. A sudden shift in direction ensures that Norway are shifting to the right while Hector is free on the left for a pass. With the German forwards ensuring that the backline is being dragged back, Hector can find Ozil who is running into space just in front of the defense. The role of Werner and Muller here is vital in pinning the backline while the decision making from Kroos is simply world class.

Spain 3-0 Italy:

Spain were easy winners against an Italian side that played a 4-2-4 with Verratti and Daniele De Rossi. With Isco playing as the false nine and Marco Asensio drifting into the central space from the right, Spain played a 4-3-3 with David Silva also having a role in which he could roam and link play in the final third. Isco’s brilliance stood out on the day but the result was more down to the culmination of Spain’s systemic dominance over Italy.

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The foul to that led to the goal from the free kick resulted from the above scenario. Isco replicated his role in his current Madrid side on the night with his constant roaming. His dribbling and passing coupled with the off the ball movement was crucial in taking play into the final third. The fluidity amongst the front three with David Silva’s brilliance meant that Italy could not cope with the numbers in midfield.

In this instance, Silva’s movement drags Barzagli to him just for a moment which opens space for Asensio to move to receive the line breaking pass from Iniesta. This forces Bonucci to foul Asensio who would have probably been through if it were not for the foul. The 4-4-2 from Italy here also forces them to hold their zones and with this heavy a central focus from Spain, Italy could not control the zones effectively.

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Spain’s high press was initiated when they were in Italy’s defensive third. The trigger was to direct the play to the wings and press them from there. The above scenario shows how the midfield duo is not equipped to progress the ball from the first line of build-up.

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On a final note, this scenario shows the central occupancy (or the lack of it) from Italy as Asensio, Isco and Iniesta all have almost no cover on them while Carvajal is crucial in positioning himself that high(circled). He is the receiver of the pass from Busquets. He cannot be covered instantly as Silva is attacking the nearby half space. With the non-existent pressure on Iniesta and Busquets especially in multiple instances during the game, Spain were able to exert their dominance in the game.

Conclusion:

These three matches had a few interesting tactical excerpts which were discussed above. The full backs are growing in importance in today’s football and all these matches showed the tremendous importance the full backs offer. The qualification matches offered us an insight as to which of these squads are in their stride and those who are not as the qualification rounds edge closer to the finish.

Raghunandhanan Narasimhan