Teachable moments: England Vs Croatia
It's coming home! Not just yet, but in 4 years time, it may very well.
The English team is wallowing in praise from its media and fans for a change. They might have overachieved in this tournament. The manager is relatively unknown in managerial circles. The expectations were not very high, to begin with, given the performance over the years. The starting 11 has a good amount of premier league experience and the squad is youthful with no baggage. They could go out there and play fearlessly.
The average age of the starting 11 of the English team is just over 25 years, while that of the Croatian lineup is just over 29 years. This is what made the difference in the end, the experience!
The Croatian midfield was stifled; with the likes of Modric and Rakitic - world-class midfielders - not given space to dictate play through the centre. Croatia still managed a good number of attacks through its wings, bothering Pickford 7 times, 2 of which were goals. The Croatian team`s heat map shows the difference in the approach of England and Croatia when chances were not coming through the centre. Croatia put in 40 crosses against Englands 16.
The Croatians kept the ball moving in the centre, changing wings when they could not penetrate through the centre. The Croatians put 594 passes throughout the game compared to Englands 496, which again highlights the difference Croatian midfield made to the game.
As the game grew tired, England started to concede the midfield to the Croats. Around the 70th minute and in bits and pieces then, Modric found his rhythm. Immediately after the equaliser from Perisic in the 69th minute, the England team were expected to hit back and they did try by bringing on Rashford. However, England could not bother the Croatian Goalkeeper at all. Meanwhile, 3 minutes after their equaliser Perisic hit the post. It took England a good 10 minutes to put together an attempt at scoring another goal. This highlights the difference in the experience of the midfield of both teams.
The criticism that would come England's way would be the lack of experience in the midfield. Jordan Henderson alone could not have run this midfield in such crucial moments in a match of the magnitude of a world cup semifinal. He grew frustrated and looked overwhelmed at times. Dier should have been introduced much earlier to support Henderson. Alternatively, Delph should have started to give more control to the England play.
Contrast England with the other finalist France. Their midfield has the best balance out of the 4 semifinalists. Pogba has power, skill and is a goal threat. Kante is the disrupter and protector in chief. Matuidi provides the industry, keeps the game ticking in the dull moments while providing an option in attack. All 3 have immense experience and so far have shown immense maturity to take the French to the World Cup Final. In Matuidi`s absence, Tolisso admirably filled in the role in the semifinal against Belgium.
What also points to the obvious lack of midfield is how the England team has scored its goals throughout the tournament. 9 out of their 12 goals have come through set pieces and that is, in fact, the clincher for the whole argument. Only 3 goals have come from open play and the role of the midfield in these goals was minimal. Lingard's stunner (Individual brilliance) and the deflection of a Kyle Walker shot from the boot of Harry Kane were amongst these goals from open play.
With the current squad selection that Gareth Southgate has taken to the World cup, they had the best people in place for their strategy. The next obvious point is to tweak the strategy to fit an experienced midfielder.
In a nutshell, England's blueprint to bring it home lacked experience all around. Something needs to change and it has to be the Midfield.