England outclassed Panama in their second group game encounter at the FIFA World Cup as Harry Kane grabbed a hat trick to propel himself to the top of the Golden Boot standings, ahead of the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo. Panama were hit by a first half frenzy of goals, where England scored four goals from set plays and penalties, with Jesse Lingard grabbing the other with a shot from outside the box, from open play. They displayed some well drilled patterns of play in buildup and ensured that they maintained Panama at an arm’s distance throughout the match.
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England (3-5-2) Manager: Gareth Southgate
Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Loftus-Cheek, Henderson, Lingard, Young; Sterling, Kane
Panama(4-1-4-1) Manager: Hernan Dario Gomez
Penedo; Murillo, Torres, Escobar, Davis; Gomez; Barcenas, Cooper, Godoy,Rodriguez; Perez
England’s buildup play from the back:
Setting up his team in a 3-5-2 formation, Gareth Southgate has instilled playing out from the back in this team. Kyle Walker plays as the right sided CB solely for this reason, having played under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola for a whole season now. John Stones is an able passer as well and assumes the role of dictator in the back three. By dictator I mean that he decides the direction in which the ball shall progress, playing simple passes to either Walker or Henderson predominantly, to continue the flow of the game. His ball playing prowess means that he is capable of finding the wing backs himself, or play a line breaking pass into midfield.
There was no pressure on the English backline when they played out from the back, which led to the side centrebacks Walker and Maguire to dribble forwards and advance the ball.
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The role of the roaming 8’s:
The key aspect in Gareth Southgate’s setup is the role of the 8’s Lingard and Loftus-Cheek. The reason for this being that they are the most sought players in buildup in the second phase to advance the ball to the final third. The interaction of these players with the wingbacks is key to how England progress the ball as there is a lot of off the ball movement and fluidic interchanges between them.
The positioning of Lingard and Loftus-Cheek was pretty similar to how they stationed themselves against Tunisia in their first match (Alli instead of Loftus-Cheek), focusing on receiving in between the lines, on the blindside of their direct opponent.
There was some variation in this match, with a lot of dropping movements, especially on the right side by Loftus-Cheek to open space for Trippier to receive in space down the flanks. The motive of this movement was to ensure that his direct marker would follow him to open space down the halfspace. The vacant space was not always to be exploited, instead it was used as a decoy to receive down the flanks leaving the Panama fullback in a dilemma as to how to defend the space.
The fluidity stretched across the entire frontline, which was seen in the buildup to the second goal, or rather to the foul that led to the penalty for the second goal. Jesse Lingard occupied the space vacated by Harry Kane up top, along with Raheem Sterling and made a run in behind to draw the foul inside the box.
England did not press intensely in the opposition half, rather it was a moderated press that aimed at winning the ball down the flanks, after outnumbering Panama there. The midblock from England was in a 5-3-2 shape which meant that Panama could exploit the spaces on the sides of the front two. The ball near CM would move forward to press the ball carrier once they were inside the English half, aided by the wingback moving forward to mark the Panama winger. Using the touchline to limit the angles for passing, England would try and win the ball back and break on the counter with swift interchanges between them. Jordan Henderson was particularly very prominent in this regard as he tried to set his teammates free with quick passes once the ball was retrieved to effect counters.
Masters of the set-piece:
England scored two goals from corners in their previous game against Tunisia. They scored a couple more this game from a corner and a free kick routine, apart from the two penalties scored by Kane. The free kick in particular was a wonderfully worked routine, by making use of late runs into the six yard box and decoy runs made at the far post. The one talking point from this would be the fact that England might have given up a good ploy by making use of the routine in a match they were already 3-0 up. However, by the looks of it, England will surely have a few more routines that they would have practised, with Southgate emphasising on setpieces.
The John Stones goal was a perfect example of how a team can manipulate the opposition if they are man marking on corners. It is not the most advisable of methods when defending a corner as late runs into the danger zones can be free of supervision from the opposition marker. Stones’ goal demonstrated this perfectly as Kane and co ran forward dragging their markers along with them, leaving the centre free of any markers for Stones to head into the goal.
Problems for England- vulnerable in transitions:
England, as said above, focus on building attacks from the back. Harry Maguire in particular was a liability in such situations as his body positioning was not optimal for receiving and passing the ball forward. The problem with this was that there was not enough cover at the back (there can never be enough cover at the back for losing the ball in such situations) leading to Panama having shots at the goal in transitions. Better teams can hurt England in these circumstances and it is something that Southgate will be looking into ahead of their final group game fixture against Belgium.
England were flattered by the scoreline a bit as they did not create enough from open play as they would have liked against this Panama side. The positive for them though is that no other team will set up the way Panama and Tunisia did against them anymore as England seemed to struggle creating chances against a 6-3-1 block.
It remains to be seen if England can replicate the same sort of success from setpieces in their upcoming games against better opposition. On evidence from the first two matches so far, England look like one of the best coached sides so far in the tournament with drilled patterns of play and good focus on set pieces. Performances against Belgium and the upcoming round(s) shall speak for whether or not they have what it takes to make it to the latter stages of the tournament.