Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

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England don't need Kieran Trippier at left-back

I didn’t think England needed Declan Rice, Kieran Trippier, Marc Guéhi, John Stones, and Kyle Walker in the rest-defense against Serbia, Denmark, or Slovenia. Trippier is often positioned deep to defend, which has a negative effect on how they attack.

Figure 1.1 - The difference between the opposition's back-line when Kiernan Trippier stays back (left) versus when he gets forward (right). Notice the opposition right-back.

England wants Phil Foden to invert from the left-wing. In order to invert, he needs Trippier to fill in for him, occupying the space he vacates, holding width on the left. If Trippier does not fill in that space, either Foden or Jude Bellingham will rotate in and out of that left-wing position.

If they want to stay offensive, Trippier would immediately run up the wing to force Foden and Bellingham inside. England looks more dangerous when both are in close proximity to Rice and Gallagher. If they want to stay defensive, Trippier stays back with the rest of the defenders.

Think Josko Gvardiol for Manchester City. He plays this similar role at left-back to allow Jérémy Doku or Jack Grealish to invert from the left-wing. Gvardiol doesn’t receive the ball frequently; he holds width, but every time City looks to retain possession when they break into the middle third and attack, he simply moves up as high as he can forward up the left-wing. This movement happens often, especially against lower-quality opponents. He’ll drop if the opposition is pressing high or if City wants to maintain a back-four to stay defensive, which forces Doku or Grealish to stay wide.

The problem for England is that Trippier does this half-committal movement where he neither stays back with the back four nor gets up as high as he can. That then creates this large, awkward empty space on the left-wing when both Foden and Bellingham invert. The opposition’s right-back can then push behind Foden or Bellingham, which crowds the midfield. Then the natural thing to do is play down the right-wing, but the space for Saka is smaller; Foden and Bellingham aren’t anywhere near close to Saka because they are rotating on the left, and Walker won’t overlap because they want to maintain a back-three when Trippier “gets forward.”

When Trippier pushes fully forward down the left-wing, the opposition right-back has to stay pinned back, which creates space for Foden and Bellingham in the zone ahead of Rice and in the left half-space. Foden and Bellingham can stay close to both wings, moving from half-space to half-space individually, and Declan Rice and the defenders have larger paths through the middle to pass the ball forward.

Figure 1.1 - 39th minute: Kiernan Trippier whips in a cross towards the back-post.

A left-back like Trippier is great in situations like this. To whip in a cross from the left. This is a position Josko Gvardiol would find himself in when Manchester City get into the final third. The problem is, how do you get into a position like this consistently, with high volume, if you can’t get out of the middle third? Trippier is a good crosser of the ball, but his touch isn’t that of a winger, and his short passing is inconsistent when he plays on the left. He plays right-back for Newcastle.

Why does England feel the need to have a traditional left-back on the pitch, positioned defensively in this setup, against far inferior, slower opponents? Why not have a more attacking option like Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Anthony Gordon, or Eberechi Eze in Trippier’s position? Someone who has a better touch and is a better passer who can rotate with Foden or Bellingham and just be a body out of possession while being a bigger threat in attack.

This is defending not defending with the ball. Without Trippier high in this zonal attack, I feel it’s harder to keep possession, which in turn makes it harder to sustain pressure defensively. They are shooting themselves in the foot.

Having Marc Guéhi, John Stones, and Kyle Walker with Declan Rice close, acting as the plus one, is sufficient cover to defend against the slow Benjamin Sesko and Andraz Sporar. Against Denmark, who are you afraid of on the counter, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Christian Eriksen? Serbia had Aleksandar Mitrovic, Dusan Vlahovic, and Sergej Milinkovic-Savoic, but that is still a three-on-three, with Declan Rice acting as the plus one.

They are so close, one change away, from my ideal lineup, the simple solution. I don’t think having Luke Shaw available to start will improve this imbalance because he likes to stay back more than Trippier does.

Match: England 0-0 Slovenia, 25 June 2024

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