Out of possession
Defensively, Jordan Pickford was more than capable of coming for crosses and set-pieces, despite his apparent lack of height and reach. He added security at England’s defensive set-pieces and, of course, saved a crucial spot-kick in the last-16 shoot-out victory over Colombia.
The back three were solid when defending one against one, while Stones and Maguire’s aerial presence provided stability from crosses and set-pieces. Walker’s lack of central-defensive experience showed more than once, however, as he was caught out from crosses against both Tunisia and Croatia. His natural body shape as a full-back was exploited as he was required to tuck around far more than he is used to, enabling attackers to move blindside and attack the ball at pace. That said, Walker’s trademark pace and speed on the defensive transition ensured England were rarely punished from opposition counter-attacks.
In midfield, Henderson, Lingard and Alli formed a central trio, while the two wing-backs recovered back into the last defensive line, forming in essence a back five behind a tight central midfield three. From here, England lacked cover in the wide areas, as opposing full-backs had ample space to drive forward – witness the display of right-back Sime Vrsaljko in the semi-final defeat to Croatia. The protection of the central lane was justified, as the majority of teams failed to centrally penetrate England’s block. However, this defensive set-up could be exploited from switches of play, and subsequent attacking crosses, especially from England’s left. Walker was clearly targeted as teams tried to avoid both Maguire and Stones in the air.
Throughout the tournament, England often left Kane and Sterling high, ready to transition into attack. Despite this proactive approach, England often looked overrun in midfield; with multiple games in such a short period, a more shared defensive workload across the starting XI could have seen England benefit. As the tournament progressed, England faded much earlier from match to match. They generally peaked within the first half and gradually waned – particularly with the quality of opposition increasing from game to game.