Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Czech Republic vs England – tactical analysis
October 2009, Ukraine defeated England at Dnipro Arena in Dnipropetrovsk. That was the last time the Three Lions lost a game of World Cup or Euro Qualifiers, until the Czech Republic broke their 44 games unbeaten streak last Friday. The Czech leave it late at the Sinobo Stadium; credit to Zdeněk Ondrášek’s 85th-minute close-range strike, thus giving England a shock defeat away from home in the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers.
Jaroslav Šilhavý’s defending tactics in this game was the main reason of the home side’s victory, proven by his team successfully nullified Gareth Southgate’s rather unorthodox 4–2–3–1. This tactical analysis will inform you how the match unfolded.
Šilhavý chose 4–2–3–1 for his team. Tomáš Vaclík started between the sticks, with a back-line consisted of Vladimír Coufal, Ondřej Čelůstka, Jakub Brabec, and Jan Bořil in front of him. Upfront, RB Leipzig striker Patrik Schick led the frontline, supported by the trio of Lukáš Masopust, Vladimír Darida, and Sampdoria’s Jakub Jankto. Jaromír Zmrhal, Jan Kopic, and FC Dallas’ Ondrášek started the game from the bench.
In the opposite side, Southgate also opted for 4–2–3–1; an unconventional choice from his usual choice of three at the back or even the more recent 4–3–3. Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and West Ham’s Declan Rice was picked to play as England’s double pivot. In front of them, Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho flanked debutant Mason Mount. Talisman Harry Kane led the attacking line ahead of the trio. The bench was filled with names like Marcus Rashford, Ross Barkley, and Tammy Abraham.
Two goals in the opening ten minutes
A quick combination in the left flank between Mount, Kane, and Sterling resulted in a penalty just after five minutes. Sterling, found by Kane in behind, went down after Masopust fouled him inside the box. Kane calmly slotted the penalty home, and it seemed England were having a dream start in Prague. Four minutes after Kane’s goal, Czech got a corner kick and Brabec scored to even the scoreline; credit to their smart corner kick tactic.
England used a hybrid of zonal and man-marking to defend the corner with two players defending zonally; Kane, in front of the near post, and Danny Rose, sticking to the far post. How did Czech outsmart England in this corner kick sequence?
First, Czech put a huge number of players to attack the corner; up to seven as their potential targets. Second, when the corner was taken Czech flooded the near post with three players, with only two players moving up centrally. This flood-the-near-post scheme was a clever disguise because the ball was being played to the central part of the box; making Kane and Rose’ zonal marking counterproductive.
Third, in the centre of the box, there is a 2v2 duel between Čelůstka and Brabec against Rice and Michael Keane. Čelůstka won the duel and flicked the ball to the far post. Brabec, who was coming from Keane’s blindspot, tapped the ball in freely and make the score even. Rose, staying at the far post, was too far to cover Brabec’s run and couldn’t do much to prevent the goal. 1–1.
Czech on the front foot (part one)
Playing at home, the Czechs took the attacking initiative by having the lion’s share of ball possession. The home side’s main plan in possession was to overload the right flank. They did that by putting at least four players in the right flank and half-space, which consisted of Masopust, Coufal, incoming from central Darida, and one of the defensive midfielder, particularly Alex Král. Behind them, Tomáš Souček provided the defensive cover if the overload failed.
If the overload succeeds, Czech would have two options in the final third. First, by sending a cross to the far post for Jankto. The left-winger was chosen as the target because he had a height advantage over England’s Kieran Trippier; with more than 10 centimetres gap between them.
Czech on the front foot (part two)
This overload by Czech often tilted England’s shape because both Rice and Henderson would go to the side where the ball was being played. They had to do this because of England’s wingers’ tendency to come late to defend in transitions; mainly due to the away side’s focus on counter-attacking.
The second option was to release overlapping Bořil in the left flank with a grounded switch. Due to England’s tendency to rely more on counter-attacks, space would be opened in between Trippier and Sancho. This space would be attacked by Bořil with minimum defensive cover from the Dortmund starlet. In that flank, another overload would be made with Bořil and Jankto against Trippier.
However, both approaches had some issues. The far-post cross often failed because the crosses itself were lacking quality. In the other side, the grounded switch approach’s issue was a minimum presence of any Czech midfielders in front of the box, added with their lack of aerial diagonal pass. This allowed Sancho more time to track Bořil, thus preventing the switch to be made in time.
Czech’s high press nullified England’s short build-ups
Šilhavý instructed his men to play man-oriented defending against England, starting with their high press. The men in red practised the instruction effectively by closing nearby passing options for the on-ball player, mainly Jordan Pickford.
If the ball was being played by one of the centre-backs, either Schick or Darida would make a curved run and close the passing lane for the on-ball defender’s partner with their cover shadow. This approach limited the player’s time on the ball and forced him to play long balls to the frontline.
England were lucky having Pickford who is very comfortable with the ball. This alternative tactic deployed by Southgate was mainly using his great passing ability to access Kane with a long ball from the back. Kane then would drop a bit to receive the direct ball before laying the ball off to space he just vacated.
In the space (also left by Brabec who was following Kane), incoming Sancho would receive the ball with still being followed closely by Bořil. After receiving, the winger could try to beat Bořil and Čelůstka with his dribbling ability or give the ball to Mount, who was making his run into the right-side half-space when Kane headed the ball.
Czech’s midfield defending
Not only pressing high, but Czech were also brilliant when sitting in a medium block. They kept the same principle from their high press, which is by closing nearby passing lanes for the on-ball English player.
Add to that, they closed the central lanes when sitting and forced England to build their play from the flanks. Šilhavý would put their attackers narrow and tasked them to close central passing lanes so nor Harry Maguire or Keane could access Rice, Henderson, or even Mount in the next line.
England’s midfield problems
The main problem in England’s attack was their midfielders’ lack of movements to open passing lanes or provide passing angles. None of the defensive midfielders ever tried to drift wide or dropping between Maguire and Keane to make an overload at the back as well as to create a gap in the midfield.
Even when England were able to make an overload at the back, their offensive midfielders would tend to stick to the Czech’s backline alongside Kane. The huge distance from the players at the back and the attackers were bridged by Czech’s midfielders, rather than a dropping forward. This problem combined with static double pivots as mentioned before equals disaster for The Three Lions.
Another notable issue came from debutant Mount. For any offensive midfielder, mobility is a key aspect, especially in a 4–2–3–1. The mobility is needed to help teammates in creating an overload in one side or making combination routes so the ball could progress more smoothly. Yet, such mobility was not shown in Mount’s performance. Too often he was very far from the ball, therefore minimising overload or combination potentials; further damaging England’s already minimum offensive threats.
Keane: another offensive issue
For a lot of times, Czech put Keane as their pressing target. They would allow Keane to bring the ball from outside the box, then Schick or Darida would press him, put Maguire in their cover shadow, and close his nearby passing lanes. The reason they target Keane was because of his lack of on-ball quality compared to Maguire.
Sometimes one of England’s attackers would drop to space in between the lines, mainly Sancho. Sancho’s smart dropping movement would set him free from Bořil’s marking for a limited amount of time. However, Keane was never able to pick him with a forward pass; either by making an inaccurate effort or by holding the ball too long and didn’t try at all.
Southgate shifted the shape
Southgate realised his 4–2–3–1 was far from effective, therefore he shifted his team’s shape to 4–3–3. Even though the lack of movement from Rice still occurred as showed above, at least one midfield issue was solved.
As mentioned before in this analysis, with only two midfielders England were having a problem to contain Czech’s overload because a huge space would be available in the ball-far side; allowing the home side to make a switch.
By moving to a flat 4–3–3 when sitting, England could put an equal number against Czech’s overload attempt as well as having a player to cover the ball-far side. This would limit the men in red from utilising the overload easily, as well as prevent the ball-far full-back to be exploited by two opponents.
England found a way past Czech’s defence, but …
… not quite fruitful. The men in white managed to exploit Czech’s man-oriented defending for a couple of times in the second half. They usually started the movement by switching Sterling and Mount’s positions to confuse the defensive department. After moving to the left flank, Mount would drift wider and hug the touchline to pull Coufal out from his position.
Coufal’s tendency to follow his man would open a gap between him and Čelůstka. This space then could be attacked by Sterling, who would make his run from one of Czech’s defensive midfielder, or by overlapping Rose. However, both Coufal and Čelůstka were always able to read the play brilliantly, especially by leaving their man, closing the space, and intercepting the pass in the perfect time.
Southgate’s experiment to play 4–2–3–1 bear no fruit; forcing England to taste their first World Cup or Euro Qualifiers defeat since 2009. In the opposite side, Šilhavý’s smart defending set-up successfully nullified the group leaders’ offensive threat almost to absolute zero. With only two more games to play, Šilhavý and his staff need to work harder to guarantee a ticket for the Czech Republic to next year’s Euro.
And for Southgate’s England, as they say, a reality Czech.
Until next time.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the October issue for just ₤4.99 here