ANALYSIS: Croatia full-backs punish Southgate stasis

Alan O’Brien 

This was to be Gareth Southgate’s greatest test yet. After a facile route to the semi-final, throughout which England’s 3-3-2-2 was never seriously tested, the question was this: could Southgate adjust when the going got tough? The answer, after an enthralling clash with Croatia, is an emphatic no. Continue reading

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PREVIEW: Croatia 4-3-3 may spell curtains for Southgate

Alan O’Brien 

Neither England nor Croatia have reached the last-four of a World Cup in a generation. Both fell at the penultimate hurdle last time out, in 1990 and 1998 respectively. But now, with all the favourites fallen by the wayside, a golden opportunity to progress further has materialised that only one nation can grab. And, with Gareth Southgate firmly wedded to his preferred system, it’s difficult to avoid the following conclusion: victory and defeat depend almost exclusively on the tactical whims of one Zlatko Dalic. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Southgate kryptonite stalls super Swedes

Alan O’Brien 

Four decades on from falling for the humble English 4-4-2, Sweden have yet to lose that loving feeling. Popularised in the late-seventies by emigrés Roy Hodgson and Bob Houghton, the quintessentially English system is still very much Swedish football’s go-to. How ironic, then, that the most English blueprint of all would falter at its originators’ hands. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Pekerman spoiling tactics pay off until the penalties

Alan O’Brien 

José Pekerman’s plan-of-defence turned this second-round match into one long mutual nullification exercise. And, while Colombia’s safety-first system produced a penalty lottery they ultimately lost, it also exposed the South Americans’ longstanding over-reliance on one creative fulcrum. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Panama pasting papers over the cracks in Southgate’s system

Alan O’Brien 

Even the most facile of victories can harbour harbingers of future failure. So it proved for England, who coughed up four quality chances to tactically inept Panama. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Southgate resolves England’s set-piece woes

Alan O’Brien 

Perhaps the hand-wringing over the lack of adventure shown by North African sides will cease now. Nabil Maaloul’s Tunisia had a go here. And quite how they survived an absolute caning is anyone’s guess. Continue reading

Euro 2016 Day 2: England full backs show France how it’s done

Walker and Rose show France how it’s done

Like France’s Didier Deschamps, England manager Roy Hodgson selected a 4-1-4-1 system with inverted wingers for his side’s opening group game against Russia. But while the host nation’s narrowness played into Romanian hands, with ageing full backs Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra unable to regularly provide the requisite width, their younger cross-channel equivalents looked far more dangerous. Continue reading