Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Kobbie Mainoo shows what England lacked at holding midfield

Kobbie Mainoo’s first thought is always forward, he’s comfortable finding ways to turn when receiving with his back to play, and always goes for the least obvious pass first. England have missed having a holding midfielder that does this.

Figure 1.1 - Kobie Mainoo's first touch, on his left foot, towards the center of the pitch.
Figure 1.2 - Uses his body to guard the ball.
Figure 1.3 - Scan inside to see where the defender is and spot how much separation he has.
Figure 1.4 - Scan upfield for space.
Figure 1.5 - First touch driving off his back foot into the space, while scanning upfield for the next pass.

The problem Declan Rice currently has is that he ignores this step. He doesn’t scan forward when he has his back to play. He likes to recycle play first before checking to see if there’s a channel to turn.

Figure 2.1 - Declan Rice receives with his back to play.
Figure 2.2 - Declan Rice does not turn into the space behind, he immediately plays the ball back.

Rice doesn’t turn when he’s receiving the ball like this. He knows he’s deficient in his ability to rotate his hips so he almost always elects to pass back. He does not have that same quality Foden has, so he passes back.

Kobbie Mainoo is the opposite. He’s scanning upfield and the moment that space opens, he’s there to turn.

Figure 1.6 - Scanning for the pass, spots Jude Bellingham.
Figure 1.7 - Plays the pass with the outside of his dominant right foot to Jude Bellingham, while still looking upfield.
Figure 1.8 - Kobie Mainoo continues his run as Jude Bellingham receives on the half-turn. Bellingham scans upfield for the pass to Ivan Toney.
Figure 1.9 - Ivan Toney is fouled in the box for the penalty.

This penalty and the subsequent goal doesn’t happen if he doesn’t turn. And then he has the vision to spot the pass to Jude Bellingham.

If England want to get the best out of their forwards, they need separation. It’s the push before you begin to peddle. The bigger the push, the faster you move. That pass pushes the forwards and gives them the momentum to quickly enter the box.

Figure 3.1 - Declan Rice moves wide and then plays a line-breaking pass forward, facing place.
Figure 4.1 - Declan Rice line-breaking pass receiving the ball, facing play.
Figure 7.1 - Pep Guardiola demonstrating how to orient your body to face the play.

Rather than receiving with his back to play, Declan Rice positions his body “to continue” as Pep Guardiola explained here.

Touch, you’re facing play, and then he can play that line-breaking pass.

Figure 5.1 - Declan Rice receives the ball and sees the space to carry into.
Figure 5.2 - Declan Rice ignores the line-breaking passes to the forwards and continues to carry wide.

Rice has a carry first then pass second mentality, which is both a positive thing and a negative thing.

It’s a negative as a holding midfielder because you normally wouldn’t want your holding midfielder carrying.

You draw the defenders to you when you limit your movement. When you draw players to you you open space for others ahead of you. You can scan more frequently, take more in.

It’s positive because most players don’t have this natural quickness and coordination when dribbling at speed.

You wouldn’t want this type of player playing as a holding midfielder. You’d want someone in the middle of the field, like a Mainoo, to allow him to run around the pitch.

Figure 5.3 - Declan Rice passes to Jared Bowen.
Figure 5.4 - Belgium converge on Jared Bowen, cutting off all the passing lanes forward. Declan Rice calls for the ball back.

He’s now drawn all of Belgium’s midfield wide to Bowen, and now Bowen is pinned. Passing lanes are cut off forward. Rice has the vision to see the play, immediately calls for the ball to be played back to him to switch to the other side of the field. That’s two teammates not on the same wavelength.

The holding midfielder is the heartbeat of the squad. If they aren’t performing as you’d expect, the team won’t perform as you’d expect. It doesn’t matter how good the squad is.

Figure 6.1 - Illustration of my ideal England lineup.

I snuck into my ideal England lineup the idea to have Kobbie Mainoo as the holding midfielder with Declan Rice at left center-back in possession. This is where I think England could get an edge.

The inability to turn and find the least obvious pass forward inhibits the ability to progress forward. They move like a crab back and forth, only penetrating through an act of individual brilliance.

Allow Rice to play on the fringes, out wide, carrying infield or down the wing, switching play, playing line-breaking passes facing play. Then let the creatives occupy the middle of the pitch, the players that can turn in the tight spaces: Mainoo, Foden, Bellingham, Alexander-Arnold, Maddison, Palmer, Lewis.

Match: England 2-2 Belgium, 26 March 2024

Players: Declan Rice, Kobbie Mainoo

Back to top Share on Twitter Email this post Copy link