4 Things England Must Do to Beat Costa Rica
Following their 2-1 defeat to Uruguay, England’s chances of qualifying for the knockout rounds of the 2014 World Cup were left hanging by a thread. While their exit has since been confirmed by Italy’s loss to surprise package Costa Rica, the Three Lions will be desperate to save face and come away from Brazil with at least some semblance of pride intact by beating the Central American side.
Despite Costa Rica’s remarkably strong showing thus far, an England win is not beyond the realms of possibility. However, after Thursday’s lacklustre showing, they must make some changes in order to ensure a face-saving victory.
Achieve a Balance Between Rigidity and Fluidity
One of the most common criticisms levelled at England over the years has been their unerring adherence to the same tired, predictable 4-4-2 system. Roy Hodgson has set about overturning this since his arrival in the national team managerial role.
One aspect of the newly favoured 4-2-3-1 system that Hodgson has instituted has been the fluid front four, with the three behind the main striker in particular changing roles frequently. Against Italy in the first match, this served to keep attacks varied and spontaneous.
However, against Uruguay, the players allowed the fluid philosophy to go too far and become unproductive. While there’s no denying that too rigid a system will quickly become easily defendable, too much fluidity—as was the case against Uruguay—can have a similarly disruptive effect.
Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge were the main perpetrators, frequently dropping back behind the holding midfielders in order to retrieve possession and leaving England without a recognisable, consistent presence up front to serve as an outlet.
England stuck with the same starting line-up against Uruguay that played against Italy. While there’s certainly much to be said for the consistency and cohesion to be found with a steady line-up, several individual performances stuck out against Uruguay in a negative manner.
While it appears that Steven Gerrard may be preparing to hang up his international boots when England’s involvement in the tournament ends, there’s a case to be made that his World Cup should already be over, sentimentality aside.
After a solid showing against Italy, he looked significantly off the pace against the verve of Uruguay. While assigning all the blame for Luis Suarez’s winner to the England captain is harsh, he was guilty of misplacing passes throughout and was overshadowed by the strong performance of Liverpool teammate Jordan Henderson in the centre of the field.
Against a Costa Rica team likely to be quick and decisive in their passing, the aging Gerrard may need replacing. The same could be said for Leighton Baines, who was controversially selected at the expense of Ashley Cole. While the Everton left-back has shown plenty of willingness to get forward, his attacking play has been poor, and his defensive work has been even worse. Luke Shaw will be chomping at the bit for a role, and he may just get it.
Lose Their Striking Inhibitions
In both Italy and Uruguay matches, England created chances (they had six shots on target and hit the bar compared to Uruguay’s two on Thursday), but only managed one goal in each game. A goal a game isn’t exactly a bad return in the World Cup against two sides in the top nine of the FIFA rankings, but considering the wealth of striking talent they have—particularly Rooney and Sturridge, who managed 38 goals between them in the league this season—it is a definitely a return that could be improved upon.
Part of the solution would be the aforementioned fluidity issue—with Sturridge and Rooney staying closer to their assigned areas of the pitch, they’d certainly aid the attacking cause more. Some of the squad changes could also come into play; Ricky Lambert has a superb record in the famous white shirt. There’s no reason to suggest that he wouldn’t be able to continue his prolific form against a defence that has, in all truth, been largely untested so far.
Don’t Let Costa Rica Dictate to Them
One of the major positives coming out of the Italy match was the way that England diligently refused to let the game fall into a rhythm and tempo that would suit the Italian gameplan, hitting them with speed whenever they could.
However, this unfortunately did not carry over into the Uruguay match, where England looked powerless to stop the game developing into a pattern that suited the South Americans by letting them soak up pressure before launching counter attacks.
If they are to overcome Costa Rica, it will be imperative that they do not let the same theme emerge—Costa Rica also favour a counter-attacking style—and instead put a stamp on the game early on.