FIFA World Cup 2022: England’s dominance over Wales in the last group game – tactical analysis
In the final game of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Group B, England faced Wales. Although Gareth Southgate’s side were already in a superior position to qualify for the knockout stages after drawing with the USA and beating Iran, they still played at a good level in this game to maintain positive feelings in the squad. This tactical analysis will show England’s tactics with and without the ball, and how they dominated the game for victory.
Wales started with a 4-2-3-1 on paper with Leicester City goalkeeper Danny Ward in goal. In the last line, they had two Tottenham Hotspur players – Ben Davies and Joe Rodon, who partnered with Neco Williams and Chris Mepham. In front of them, there were two defensive midfielders, Ethan Ampadu and Joe Allen. The attacking players were Daniel James, Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale, and Kieffer Moore.
England made some changes compared to the lineup they used against the USA. Kyle Walker replaced Kieran Trippier in the right-back position, but the rest of the defence was the same with John Stones, Harry Maguire, and Luke Shaw. In midfield, Jordan Henderson came in at the expense of Mason Mount, but Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice kept their place. Harry Kane was the starting striker but the wingers were Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden in this game.
Stability in England’s construction
Southgate was so experienced in big competitions as he was also the English manager of the 2018 World Cup and EURO 2020. In these games, he would opt for a careful approach both offensively and defensively. England were not creating a lot through their offensive organizations but they have a good structure to maintain stability, then they can dominate the game with more possession without facing Wales’ pressure too often.
With the ball, England always plays with four players, or we can describe that as 4+1 as they also involved Jordan Pickford sometimes. One improvement of Southgate’s side was their better fluidity in the structures, they were more rigid in the past competitions. That means the four deep players can form by different personnel as the players were able to read and interpret themselves.
Wales defended with a 4-2-3-1, or a 4-4-2 because Ramsey always tried to mark the England 6 and he would work with Moore on that. Meanwhile, the England deep players always had Rice, Stones, and Maguire, and they would have an additional player which is Luke Shaw in this case to give enough short passing options to the ball holder.
The next image shows the English shape engaged Wales 4-2-3-1 in an effective way. Firstly, in the first line, England always had enough players to open options on both sides, and most of the time as Rice fixed Ramsey, there would be another player coming in to help in the centre. For example, Walker in this case. Also, because there is enough width with Stones to attract James, Walker was free from marking to receive that ball so England had good continuity in their ball possession.
We can see another scene in which England use a similar way in concept but with different players to execute the tactics. This time, Rice dropped himself a bit deeper and wider, so Shaw pushed higher, and then they had Bellingham moving out to support just like what Walker did previously. The effect of that Bellingham move is they fixed Ramsey’s attention, you could tell with his body orientation that he was more interested in the pass centrally. Then, as a result, Rice received freely on Maguire’s left side and England played out from the back again.
The purpose of these kinds of plays was to eliminate any Welsh pressure on their first line because Wales knew they would not be able to get the ball, they were not really chasing the opponents in the first line of press.
Most of the time, England were looking for a pass like this (above) as we have drawn here. It seems like Southgate wanted to use a bit of socio-affective superiority on the sides as he put players with the same club as a winger and full-back on the same flank. Particularly, many England plays went to the left side where Shaw were able to receive in an advanced position, and then Rashford would drift inside to open the wide channel.
Furthermore, England had a very talented and energetic boy, Bellingham, the Borussia Dortmund player could make runs from deep or travel across space to support So whenever Rashford went in, he should take Williams with him as we have shown here, then Shaw could see Bellingham running towards flank or staying in space as an option to receive. But this idea did not work so effectively because England were rushing a bit in the attack, so that might be the reason Southgate switched Foden and Rashford’s flanks during the break.
If we checked Maguire’s pass map here, obviously he has an important role in ball progression as he always played the forward passes to the left side, sometimes to Shaw, sometimes to Rashford, or on a few times, he made diagonal switches to find Foden on the other side.
The next example shows England’s rapid ball movement in a smart way. Sometimes they were not able to generate a free player on the left side as Wales identified the targets and man-marked them. Here, Williams on Rashford, Allen on Bellingham, and Ramsey marked Rice. But Wales are so weak at intercepting the ball or forcing errors, even Rashford received on his back foot initially, he was allowed to take more touches and find the angles for the next play. It was good that England did not get stuck because the initial play is not successful.
In the sequence before, Wales were attracted to England’s left side and if they could not win the ball back from there, they were in trouble. Now Rashford managed to use Rice as an escape route, then the Three Lions tried to attack the other side where the opposition were opened. They also have the individual qualities to make a good plan, as Foden was running with Davies, he suddenly stopped with a dummy, so the marker reacted one second later as Rice would find Foden first. Then, Walker just simply outran James to create a temporary 2v1 and into crossing positions.
Quality England press limits Wales
Without possession, England were good too. Wales had eight shots in the entire game, it sounds okay, but the sum of the total xG was only 0.12, which means their xG/shot was 0.015, Rob Page’s team had so many problems at getting into good positions to attack the opponents.
Some might wonder why Henderson came into the team and Mount was rested in this game, but the Liverpool skipper showed he was a very good pressing player, with his energy and intensity, England’s press was so good, and they barely let Wales play before killing the game.
For example, England defended in a 4-3-3 and Wales had a back four in the build-up, then we knew they were going to create 2v1 situations on the wingers to play out in the initial phase, but with Henderson’s efforts, that possibility was nullified.
Here, when Ward played a lofted pass to Davies, the ball was behind Foden but the Man City winger worked so hard to chase back. Meanwhile, Henderson also saw that early as he came out to press from the centre too. Then, Davies would have problems as he was controlling a pass from the air, with two oppositions running into him.
Another example is when Foden was in a deeper position to control the Wales left-back, Henderson ran straight towards Ampadu to put pressure on the ball holder. But the condition was not promising to England because they still conceded a 2v3 numerically on the flank as we highlighted.
It shows that with Henderson’s energy and understanding in the pressing game, England could push the opponents in different ways that allowed more flexibility and ability to adapt to more scenarios, that was a good step from the team compared to how they played before.
But that was how Henderson’s presence was important to the team, with intensity, he was able to press more than one opponent as he chased Ampadu’s pass to Rodon, then it completely nullified Wales’ advantage as Foden could stay in position to wait for the pass to Davies. But before that, one more condition was to be met as Allen was helping, Rice, as England’s defensive midfielder, must cover the space left behind Henderson in the press.
Then, all Wales’ attacks were so predictable, and England could easily deal with them. As Davies received, Henderson already returned and close the central lane, which blocked the pass to Allen. Then, the only option remaining was James on the outside, who was left with no support, and Walker was closing him in the meantime. It became easy for England to win the ball back on the side and attack again according to the plan.
Pressing is the best mate of chance creation
But as we have suggested, England did not create so many with their offensive organizations. Instead, they were decent at using counter-pressing and pressing as a tool to create shooting opportunities. When they recovered high, they were so close to Ward and would take those situations to shoot before Wales retreated.
As this high regains map of England shows, they have a total of 14 high regains, and 19 counter-pressing recoveries on the pitch. From there, there were nine dangerous recoveries, which means the team were able to create nine shots within 20 seconds after a recovery, they were very decent numbers and suggested how they defended to attack well.
The second goal of the game came from Foden, but also came from this kind of defending. Initially, Rodon received from the keeper and Rashford wisely stayed than committed to the centre-backs, as he knew the primary objective is to control Davies. Instead, it was Kane who put pressure on the ball holder with Henderson jumping out to close Ampadu.
As Henderson closed Ampadu early, Wales were afraid of going into the centre, then Davies was confronting pressure from Rashford. There was a big space left in England’s press shape but not all players had the ability to carry the ball into that in 1v1 situations, Davies was not one of them, and so Wales got stuck as the other short passing options, Ramsey and James were closed by Rice and Walker. Then, England recovered high and finished the second goal quickly.
England looked fresh in this game, they have rapid ball movements, some set-plays attack, good counter-attacks, and good defending as we have shown in this analysis. Southgate would have a difficult choice in his selection of players as both Rashford and Foden shined, he had to decide if any of them should start in the next game as they also had Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling on the bench.