Euro 2016: Slovakia 0-0 England - Tactical Analysis
Slovakia hold firm to deny England who failed to take their chances and ended up finishing 2nd in the group behind Wales.
Roy Hodgson made 6 changes to the side that beat Wales in injury time with goal scorers Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge starting from the off in Saint-Etienne in a 4-3-3 with Sturridge coming in from the right and Adam Lallana playing on the left. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson got his first start off the tournament alongside Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.
Captain Wayne Rooney was rested due to a mild hamstring problem while Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand replaced the Spurs duo of Kyle Walker and Danny Rose at the two fullback positions.
Jan Kozak, on the other hand, opted to start with an unchanged line-up that prevailed over Russia in search for a point which would all but guarantee progression into the knockout stages as one of the four best 3rd place teams. Their formation was a rigid 4-3-3/4-5-1, with the industrious Duda, who is really an attacking midfielder/second striker, favoured in the striking role with the aim of dropping deep and providing Weiss and Mak space to exploit behind the defence.
England midfield dominates proceedings
It was clear after the first few minutes that Slovakia were happy to sit deep and soak up English pressure with barely any threat on the counter attack. Eric Dier sitting at the base of midfield saw a lot of the ball along with Jordan Henderson due to the Slovak set up.
The duo was top two in passes completed in the match with Dier flourishing in the deep-lying playmaker role.
Wilshere, on the other hand, looked sluggish with some heavy touches, which is understandable considering he played only 141 minutes in the entire 2015/16 season for Arsenal and further questions Hodgson’s decision to start him instead of using him as an impact sub, like against Wales.
England pushed up high against the 4-1-4-1/4-4-1-1 low block, with Hamsik pushing out to press as the second striker at times. Slovakia too enjoyed a bit of possession but it was largely circulated in their backline.
Adam Lallana’s movement was instrumental in England finding space in between the lines which created a few dangerous situations although they didn’t materialise to much. The best chance of the half though came to Vardy who was set through on goal by a gorgeous through ball down the left channel by Henderson following a Slovakia goal kick.
Kozacik stood big and made a fine save to deny the Leicester man who faded out of the game as the Slovak’s sat much deeper.
England find joy down the right
Majority of England’s best play came down their right flank with Henderson, Clyne and Sturridge showing their club level interplay to release the right back as well as the midfielder in behind the Slovak left back Hubocan, who was offered little protection from Weiss.
One of England’s best moment of the half was when Clyne was played in behind after a simple one-two with Henderson to set up Lallana who contrived to shoot straight at the keeper. Clyne’s positioning high up the pitch also negated Weiss’ threat on turnovers of possession and he was much more threatening going forward than Bertrand on the other flank.
By half time, England had created 10 chances without a reply while Slovakia had a sole Pecovsky hopeful attempt which flew wide to show.
Slovakia showed some life at the start of the second half for about ten minutes or so before falling back in their shell. Their best chance of the match fell to Mak after Chris Smalling’s chest-back to Joe Hart fell woefully short although the right winger could only get a feeble touch to it.
England were finding joy through Clyne and the fullback was played in by Sturridge to go one on one with the keeper who again stood big to deny him. This prompted Kozak to make a change to negate Clyne’s influence as Dusan Svento was introduced on the left flank in place of the hard-working Duda with Weiss going up top.
Marek Hamsik was singled out as the most dangerous player in the opposition team by the English manager and with good reason. His creativity, though, was curbed as he wasn’t allowed to turn when receiving the ball due to the pressing by English midfield, especially Henderson, who did reasonably well for someone completing 90 minutes for just the third time in the past three months.
The Slovaks had to be content with lateral and backward passes or having to go long in their build-up and Hamsik was mostly restricted to playing with his back to goal and he worked extremely hard when his team didn’t have the ball and also helped relieve pressure when his side did gain possession with clever little passes.
Slovaks dig up trenches and defend deep
The set up suited Martin Skrtel and Durica with the oft criticised Liverpool man being rated as probably the best player on the pitch by many. He is a battle hardened old school centre back who struggled at club level this season but put him in a deep backline with crosses to deal with and shots to block, and he will flourish.
Vardy fails to work against a low block
Apart from his first half chance, Vardy was largely anonymous and it was hardly a surprise, considering he rose to prominence in a Leicester side in which he could hurt teams with his pace and movement. Here he was restricted in front of a deep lying defence and apart from forcing Viktor Pecovsky to foul him and earn a booking in the first half, rarely troubled Slovakia.
Sturridge was dropping deep often to help in the build-up as the fluid shape shifted to a 4-4-2/4-1-3-2 at times, and provided a few good moments with the combination play and he should have probably stayed on instead of Vardy when Kane came on.
Within the hour mark, Wayne Rooney had been brought on for the largely ineffective Jack Wilshere who was clearly lacking match fitness. Dele Alli was also introduced in place of Lallana, though Rooney took up an advanced position on the left with Alli in midfield. The Tottenham man was denied with his very first touch by an excellent clearance by Skrtel, having been found by Henderson with a cross from the right byline.
Sturridge had a good chance after a brilliant dink by Dier but the striker failed to make a connection and was shortly taken off for Harry Kane. The replacements, however, failed to provide a spark as they had in the last game.
Norbert Gyomber replaced Pecovsky who had picked up an early booking for the Slovaks with a quarter of the game left before Milan Skriniar replaced Weiss for the final ten minutes or so. Mak picked up a hamstring injury and his side had to play out the last ten minutes with a man less but they were prepared to put their bodies on the line to repel the pressure, albeit without facing any major threat in the final 20 minutes.
Man of the Match – Eric Dier
The 22-year-old was imperious with his passing range and showed the ability to break the lines and find Lallana, Sturridge and Alli in halfspaces a number of times. He has firmly cemented his position in the national side’s starting XI and credit should be given to Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino for introducing him to the role last season.
Eric Dier's passing reminds me of Roy Keane's, sharp 15/20 yard passes into players between the lines. Also has the ping in the bag.— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) June 20, 2016
Seven of England’s eight previous goals against Slovakia had come after the 60th minute but the Slovaks were superb defensively and held firm to gain the point they had come to get. England played better football again but lacked precision and three goals in three group games is a poor return, although they faced sides which were happy to set up camp and invite pressure.
In such situations, set-pieces can be quite advantageous but England failed to make any use of their 11 corners.
Their defence which has been sound so far is yet to be tested against high-quality opposition but they may yet find joy going forward against teams which would be more open. Slovakia meanwhile might come up against the World Champions Germany and it won’t be surprising if they adopt similar tactics with perhaps a little more threat on the break.