Two games into the FIFA Women’s World Cup group stage were enough for England to reach the round of 16, after beating both Scotland and Argentina. Their latest game is against Japan, who haven’t performed on their potential so far and earned four points after an unexpected draw against Argentina and a win over Scotland. Nadeshiko are now in a desperate need of a win, otherwise, their progress to the next stage is threatened.

The battle for the first place in group D will be tough as both teams are well prepared. Tactically both teams are enjoying the possession football and it will be difficult to outplay each other. The most valued quality would be “awareness” as both teams need to take advantage of the tiniest lapse in their opponents’ defensive efforts.

In this tactical analysis, we will explain what’s needed for both teams to take the leading spot of their group on the road to the round of 16.

Formations

As expected, Nadeshiko Japan didn’t make many changes in their formation during the first two games of the tournament. The team usually sticks to a quite conservative game plan when it comes to schemes. The coach Asako Takakura stuck to the 4-4-2 line-up and as per usual relied on changing the starting XI in order to confuse their opponents and implement a slightly different strategy.

Nadeshiko’s main problem in the 0-0 draw against Argentina was the lack of good finishing and creativity, but that seemed to have changed against Scotland in a positive way. The team created an overall of 17 shots, although only two of them were converted into goals. With some changes in the midfield and the forward line, Japan managed to get back to their usual style of play, although Scotland caught their tempo and managed to match their game plan. It is expected that Takakura won’t make any drastic changes when it comes to formations, although she might try the 4-3-3 set-up in order to apply high press and allocate more players into England’s half, trying to break their defensive structure.

England used different set-ups in their previous two games (4-1-4-1 and 4-3-3) as both seemed to work out and brought similar results when it comes to data. What makes the difference in their performance is their significant increase in the pass accuracy percentage. As mentioned above, the Lionesses enjoy playing possession football but they have often fallen into their own trap of creating unsuccessful combinations. They, similar to their next opponent Japan, prefer building up from the back.

Now, with the improvement in their passing ratio, they could take control of the game and lower the pace when needed, finding the best option for a pass. The most frequent is the use of their full-backs Bronze and Greenwood who tend to have a huge contribution to the team’s attacks. The team manages to change their strategy based on their opposition’s press intensity as they usually spread out wide in order to reach the final third, but then quickly switch to the central areas in an effort to bring more explosiveness.

Nadeshiko’s occasional defensive negligence

Defensively the team usually positions in a conservative and compact back-four, which the opponents often get caught unprepared on the wings. Due to the low covering depth awareness out of possession and the fact that Japan often fails to re-organise to match the opponents offensive actions, the defenders are quite easy to be dragged out of position without additional support. This causes gaps opening and most of the times result in a dangerous opportunity for the opposition.

England’s full-backs could easily use the spaces that Japan often leaves on both sides of the pitch. Should Nadeshiko try to cover them, they would allow the back-line to be stretched and that creates an equal danger as The Lionesses attacking players are a huge threat due to their off the ball movement.

FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 Tactical Preview: Japan vs England
Right-back’s Bronze heatmap against Scotland, showing her importance in the attacking phase.

England’s highly positioned back-line

England often utilise a high defensive line as the full-backs would station themselves near or above the central line, with the central-defenders performing short pass combinations to take control of the game and then pass out wide and start an attack. This creates problems during defensive transitions, especially if they lose the midfield battle.

As they often rely on a defensive midfielder as a pivot for pass distribution, this attracts a lot of press, therefore an increased probability of individual mistakes. This is when the vacant space on the sides gets risky as the usual extra defensive support get taken on. With Japan midfielders’ press and control on the ball this might cause issues.

Nadeshiko’s players have mastered their smart pass intuition and they often tend to find the tiniest passing lanes in order to get the ball in more advanced areas. That’s why England need to make sure they have enough players to cover depth if needed. Especially if Japan line-up with a front-three, as the midfield players as Hasegawa could recover the ball perfectly and use the attacker’s positioning to create goal scoring opportunities. England’s low percentage of won defensive duels is proof that they would struggle against players with strong technical skills.

FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 Tactical Preview: Japan vs England
The full-backs have to cover Japan’s wide midfielders as they cut inside should they see an opportunity. In here Endo cuts inside and eventually assists Iwabuchi for her goal.
FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 Tactical Preview: Japan vs England
The defensive midfielders lost the battle in the middle of the pitch, and this, combined with Bronze’s struggle to get back on position on time, resulted in chaotic actions in the box and conceded goal.

Possibilities

This could be as big of an advantage as it could be a disadvantage. If Japan sticks to this strategy, this would force England into sending long balls, which might turn in their favour if used right. For example, Jody Taylor is good at staying on the defenders’ back and waiting for her moment.

FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 Tactical Preview: Japan vs England
Jody Taylor’s off the ball movement was crucial for England’s goal against Argentina. The Lionesses were able to build-up from the back without much resistance. In this case, they attacked through the middle and spread out wide in the final third, seeing Argentina’s compact defensive line and the uncovered spaces on the sides. This versatility when it comes to building an attack with the opposition’s weaknesses in mind is very important.

England need to try pressing high too as Nadeshiko defenders’ decision-making under pressure isn’t that good. They wouldn’t feel comfortable on the ball and would try to free themselves and change the ball carrier way too soon. This results in some individual mistakes that England could take advantage of it they’re switched on.

FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 Tactical Preview: Japan vs England
Ichise was forced into an individual mistake due to the numerical advantage Scotland had. This also stretched the defensive line out wide and created newly opened space in the central areas, which could easily be exploited.
FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 Tactical Preview: Japan vs England
Nadeshiko should be careful with England’s aggressive approach in the final third. Sometimes they would overload the box and create 3vs4 and 4vs5 situations which could result in dragging players out of position and opening spaces.

Conclusion

Using analysis, both teams could experience struggles if in-game changes are needed. Especially when it comes to their defensive efforts. They could adapt their attacking actions to match their opponents’ defensive structure more easily and it would be a game of outwitting. Japan and England are one of the most experienced teams out there and it would be a matter of strong decision-making on the ball to get the three points.


If you are following the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 then you will find our FREE tactical preview magazine the perfect compliment to the tournament. You can download it HERE – each nation is previewed and we also profile their key player and young player to watch. Enjoy!