Welcome back to England at the Euros! It’s nearly crunch time, we’ve named a provisional squad, and are about to play two warm-up friendlies against Sweden and Romania to get us tournament ready. Before that though, we need to talk tactics.

Controlling Play

I have an admiration, but not a fascination, for Tiki Taka football. As I’ve mentioned more times than anybody cares to remember in previous blogs, I’m a pragmatic manager at heart and choose to use conservative shapes and systems. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to play exciting, attacking football, but it does mean I tend to avoid extreme mentalities and asymmetric shapes. England’s current crop of players are arguably the most technically proficient the country has ever produced, and especially in attacking areas we have players that would get into every other national side in the world. Due to this, it seems silly not to try and get those players on the ball as much as possible. I’m not looking for passes for passing’s sake – if the direct route is on and we can find the likes of Rashford, Saka or Sterling who can run at opposition defences then we’ll do so. But in the majority of games I’d expect us to be superior technically and so I’m looking to lean into that and take advantage of it.

Rotations

With such a flexible forward line, it only makes sense to take advantage of rotations to confuse and displace opposition defenders. Decisions about these rotations will be personnel based; sometimes we may ask the two wingers to swap, sometimes it will be a winger and the ten, sometimes we may even ask Kane to drop deeper and let a winger have a run through the middle for a while. In doing so I hope we can add an extra edge to our attacking play and make us difficult to deal with.

Build-up Shape

A big decision that I needed to make fairly quickly was the build-up shape I wanted to try and create. The two most common are the 3-2-5 and the 2-3-5, although I have also had success with a 3-1-6 shape at Tokyo Verdy in my previous save. 

Our primary build-up shape actually tends to end up as a 2-4-4 with a box midfield. As with many tactical decisions, there are numerous ways that we can work towards this shape. 

For his club side Manchester City, John Stones often steps into the midfield from centre-back, something we could also replicate. To make this work we would need one of our full-backs to tuck inside as the second centre-back and the other to bomb on and provide the width, and ask the more adventurous of our pivot players (usually Bellingham) to arrive from deep and act as a second number ten.

Another approach would be to ask both full-backs to invert and form the pivot, allowing both Rice and Bellingham the freedom to venture forwards. The problem with this lies in our width, as all of our wide players prefer to cut inside as part of their natural game.

I think the approach that suits the skillset of the majority of our players is to ask one full-back to invert into the pivot, and ask the other to provide the width to the attacking four. The below screenshot is taken from a qualifying victory over Malta; in this instance it was actually Phil Foden playing as an Inverted Winger on the left who remained slightly deeper to create the box midfield, while Jude Bellingham playing as the number ten pushed forward to become an additional striker.

Herein lies what I like the most about this approach, the sheer amount of combinations we can create and change between depending on who is on the pitch. This gives us the ability to change our dynamics within a game without having to fundamentally change our approach. 

For example, we have players who prefer to play as an Inside Forward on either side, so we could swap sides, or play with two, or not play with any. Saka predominantly plays on the right as an Inverted Winger, but we have Sterling and even Grealish that could play as an out and out winger if needed. We tend to use Foden in behind Kane who is best as our Advanced Playmaker, but we could move Bellingham further forward and change him to a Shadow Striker if we want to increase our goal threat. The quality doesn’t suffer by adjusting the starting players and roles because we possess so much quality and flexibility.

Looking at the defensive areas, the obvious beneficiary of this approach is Trent Alexander-Arnold, a man that many believe should be starting in England’s midfield anyway, and so asking him to invert like he does for Liverpool is something he should be entirely comfortable with. During qualifying he’s played excellently in this role but there are question marks about his defensive ability, and there’s no guarantee he will displace Kyle Walker from the eleven. Walker is not as much of a creative threat once he joins the pivot, but is still capable of tucking inside and getting on the ball, plus his recovery pace is a huge asset that not many countries will have.

It’s fair to say that against opposition of England’s calibre and higher, the ability to get results has been limited. Although I fear no nation, that doesn’t mean that some tweaks won’t make a positive result more likely. In the tougher games I’m likely to ask both full-backs to invert and join Rice in the pivot, creating a 2-3-5 in build up. Having the extra player slightly deeper will help our initial progression, but also leave us slightly less vulnerable to counter attacks. Of course we will need to compensate for this further forward by asking our wide players to stay wider, but as mentioned above I have no concerns about the ability of our players to perform multiple roles.

Controlled Aggression

I like my teams to press hard, but not always necessarily high. I tend to rely on my striker to set the tone for my pressing structure; I hate trying to press high with a striker who has no interest. Give me Jamie Vardy over Anthony Martial any day.

Harry Kane is our captain, our talisman, and for my money the best number nine on the planet. One thing you don’t really associate with him though, is a ton of pressing. Don’t get me wrong, Harry isn’t a lazy striker, and his work-rate and team work are both excellent attributes. However, a look at his domestic metrics for Bayern show that it isn’t the strongest area of his game.

Just shy of seven pressures per game for Bayern only puts him in the 30th percentile for strikers, which isn’t enough to convince me that our chances of success will be higher by relentlessly pressing as high up the pitch as we can. I’d much rather sit in a mid-block, confident that not many sides in the world will have defenders with enough technical quality to break our press, and pick our moments to press hard once the opposition engage us a little. Going into a major tournament games against minnows won’t really be a thing, but in the groups particularly sides may want to sit in against us and catch us out with a long ball, which becomes less likely if we try to make them play a little.

It’s not just pressing though, I want us committed in the tackle, and that’s where individual player instructions come in. We want to defend inside out, meaning that we’re looking to push opposition towards the flanks and away from goal. Asking the pivot and our number ten to tackle harder should help to reinforce this; one crunching tackle early in the game and players will start to look to get the ball out wide as soon as possible.

Set Pieces

At the 2018 World Cup, England thrived from set-pieces. Nine of England’s twelve goals at the tournament were from set-pieces, beating a record set by Portugal in 1966, and their corner routine was so effective that it was dubbed the ‘love train’. 

Things have slowed slightly since for Southgate in terms of output from set-pieces, but there is no doubt that we possess some excellent aerial weapons. 

Our provisional squad has twelve outfield players over six feet tall, giving us not only the opportunity to try different routines with different players going forward, but also means that our aerial threat isn’t diminished late in the game when substitutions are made. 

Our primary plan is to whip inswingers to the front post, hoping our tallest players can either glance a header goalwards or win a flick-on for somebody lurking at the back post. I’m a big fan of varying our routines though, so we will also have a back post variant and maybe a short option too.

Putting it Altogether

Click images to enlarge.

These are the three variations I feel we will use the most often, but as I’ve mentioned above the tactical flexibility of our players means that there are other variations we may turn to for certain game states. I expect to use the first two variations for the majority of the group stage and potentially the second-round match (assuming we make it there, of course!), as I expect the 2-4-4 build-up to overwhelm the sides we are expected to beat with what can essentially become a front six. 

If we reach the latter stages and face nations of a higher calibre then plan A is to shift towards variation three with both full-backs inverting, allowing one of our major game changers in Jude Bellingham the freedom to leave the pivot and attack from deep, while also producing a more standard 2-3-5 build-up shape.

This would actually be a massive gamble, as it’s not actually a system I’ve tried in any competitive fixture. Added to that, we’ve had two games against similar ranked nations already in the save, and with our other variations we secured a 5-2 win over Italy in qualifying and a 1-1 draw against Germany in a friendly. However, in my mind a change to this would potentially allow us an extra degree of control and get our most dangerous players in the most dangerous positions, which is crucial in tournament football.

The instructions set the style of play we’re looking to implement, so they remain consistent across all three variations. We do use in-game tweaks to mix things up, most commonly increasing the tempo and passing directness to try and hit the forwards more quickly from time to time. 

So with our tactical approach decided, all that is left is to trim the squad down to our final 26-man selection, and head to Germany ready to win! The final post of the series will be a run through of the whole tournament. Hopefully it will be a long one, it could be the shortest post I ever write! 

Until then, it’s coming home!

Author

  • adam_otbfm

    Adam, known in the Football Manager (FM) realm as @adam_otbfm, is a fervent gamer and content creator. With a penchant for football simulations, Adam delves into the intricacies of FM, sharing his findings on his blog "On the Break." His creative ventures include replicating football legends like Kaka in the virtual pitch, showcasing a blend of nostalgia and modern gameplay. Adam's musings extend to social platforms like Twitter, where he actively engages with the FM community, sharing his gaming journey with @SJK_Seinajoki. His insightful content and avid participation enrich the FM community, making him a valued member in this virtual football world.

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