France vs. England: Tactical Analysis of Euro 2012 Group D Opener
France and England played out an entertaining 1-1 draw to blow Group D wide open.
A typically cagey game saw both sides appear desperate not to lose. We saw two very different philosophies in action as Laurent Blanc and Roy Hodgson locked horns.
Here, I will look at a good England performance and analyse how it can be improved in preparation for the coming games.
Here's how the teams shaped up.
The key area to observe was the central midfield, as France's three often outnumbered England's two. Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker worked hard in there and deserve tremendous plaudits.
The passing triangles Samir Nasri, Yohan Cabaye and Franck Ribery created were excellent, resulting in 64.9 percent possession (as per SkySports) for the French.
To put it into perspective, Karim Benzema completed more passes (42) than Gerrard (31).
Hit the channels, hit them fast
First things first—a monumental effort and thoroughly deserved point for the Three Lions. Most of England felt proud in watching their troops stand tall against the fluid French and the solidarity shown was excellent.
There were opportunities, however, for England to take advantage of a defensively suspect France.
With France's full-backs often quite high, the channels looked a real opportunity for England to exploit and gain an advantage. All it needed was the right delivery at the right time, but Gerrard and Parker were worn down over the course of the 90 minutes.
The spaces on the diagram highlight areas on the pitch that were left vacant at times. It is the holding midfielder's responsibility to drop back and cover these areas, double-cover a winger or fill the hole that their full-back has left.
Alou Diarra, as pointed out by most people, is far from mobile. His ability to drop into the space was a long way short of Yann M'Vila's, while his ability to cut out a pass is nothing short of average.
On the counter, it was Diarra who inadvertently opened up the opportunities for England. Unfortunately, Danny Welbeck and co. couldn't take advantage.
Take Antonio Di Natale's goal against Spain as an example. Andrea Pirlo was able to hold onto the ball and thread a beautiful ball down the channel. With Alvaro Arbeloa looking to push up rather than fall in line with Gerard Pique, Di Natale saw the space and pounced.
Hit them head on
When you run at Philippe Mexes, he can't handle it. Twist and turn, he doesn't like it. Mexes is the clear weak link in France's defensive setup and England weren't able to test him.
Ashley Young wasn't able to receive the ball in a dangerous area. He wasn't given the opportunity to run at the defence and as a result, the statistics suggest he had a poor game.
It wasn't entirely his fault, but he could have done a more efficient job in helping out his midfield duo.
Ukraine have issues in defence and while Sweden appear strong, their centre-backs have the turning circle of the Titanic. Young must be given license to run at them. We saw what he did to Brede Hangeland, and that is a viable option to score during this tournament.
Judging by what we've seen in Ukraine's opener with Sweden, England can rest assured they won't have to be quite so careful in the remaining group games.
Both opposition are very beatable for Hodgson's team and this was good practice for a possible quarterfinal date with Spain, Italy or Croatia should they emerge.
Looking forward tactically, England will come out of their shell slightly against weaker opposition. The defence will likely push up five yards or so, while the midfield will be more fluid and positioned higher up the pitch.
When out of possession, you can still expect banks of four and disciplined marking, but more risks will be taken and more freedom will be given going forward.
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