Ukraine 0-0 England – World Cup 2014 Qualifying – Group H – Tactical analysis
England, sitting at the top of Group H, would be happy to avoid a defeat here in Kyiv against challengers Ukraine. The Eastern European outfit were hot on the tails of England prior to the game in 2nd place, trailing only by a single point. The game marked Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard’s 100th cap for England as he started for The Three Lions.
On paper, this is the type of game England should be winning; a gritty 1-0 win would more than suffice against a team ranked joint 28th in the world. Even more so with England short of attacking options through Danny Welbeck’s suspension, and Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge’s injuries. It will be interesting to see if they feature for their clubs on the weekend. Ukraine had the luxury of a fully fit squad to choose from going into this encounter.
The two nations met at Wembley in the reverse fixture last September, drawing 1-1. Ukraine proved tough opponents with England needing a late Frank Lampard penalty to snatch a point. Yevhen Konoplianka scored a first half scorcher to break the deadlock in the game, cutting inside before producing a world-class effort. This should encourage England’s full backs to show him down the line.
Ukraine lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, as expected. This gave them the ability to match England’s 4-1-2-2-1 because both formations are variants of the 4-3-3. Both sides could boast 3 central midfield players, 4 wide players and 1 striker. Although hampered by injuries and suspensions, England were the better side on paper and had the ability to win, even if it be by one goal. The formations cancel each other out in each position in theory, but would this be the case on the pitch?
England edge it early on
It took less than 2 minutes for one of the main talking points of the first half to be made when Ukraine had an ambitious penalty shout turned down. A cross from the left-hand side allowed striker Zozulya to receive the ball in the penalty area with a rather loose touch, which made Joe Hart to stretch for the ball, triggering a rather dramatic tumble from the striker. Had it been given, it would have been a soft penalty, but the referee did well not to buckle under pressure from Ukraine appeals.
It was clear early on that England wanted to stretch the play when in possession and use their paciest players to match their counter-attacking strategy. The full backs, in particular Walker, got high and wide when England had control of the ball. Walker got caught too far up the pitch on a number of occasions, allowing Konoplianka space in behind the defence. The opening 15 minutes saw England press quite high up the pitch in what appeared to be a fluid system as players were happy to cover in a number positions. England were just about on top, shown by the fact that they had won 3 corners by the 13th minute, all of which were targeted at Cahill. The Chelsea defender got his head to the ball once, but the goalkeeper wasn’t tested.
Wide play takes centre stage
Whether it was an instruction or pure coincidence, England seemed to be targeting Ukraine’s ageing left back Vyacheslav Shevchuk. The 34-year old found himself having to face speed merchant Theo Walcott, whilst the pacey Kyle Walker tried to provide an overlap. However, Ukraine’s positional discipline and willingness to track runners helped to counteract the threat as Konoplianka regularly followed Walker’s forward runs (see below). Ukraine were no doubt helped by England’s poor ball retention; ten yard passes were being misplaced at a shocking rate despite having midfielders such as Lampard, Wilshere and Gerrard on the pitch. Even though England stretched the play, they didn’t have the passing accuracy to get the ball in a good advanced position.
The systems employed by both teams allowed the full backs to overlap and both teams took advantage of this. The home side were doing a better job of threatening from the wings. As shown in the image above, Walcott favoured running on the outside of the full back, as did Walker, which only hindered England’s build up because there was no space to run into, whereas Ukraine’s wingers were cutting inside allowing space for the overlap.
The majority of the play, from both teams, was being played down Ukraine’s left side of the pitch. Walker was caught high up the pitch as his attacking style of play naturally drew him out of the defensive line. England’s system required Walcott, who played in front of Walker, to start in a high position in order to utilise his pace on the counter-attack, whilst Milner’s position on the opposite flank needed to be more defensive to provide balance. Lampard, on the right side of central midfield, was also required to support attacks quite often. In turn, England’s right side was higher up than the rest of the team, which conceded space at the back (see below).
Ukraine made use of this space. When Konoplianka got the ball he drifted inside, whilst Shevchuk, despite his relative old age, overlapped. This allowed for many crosses from the left, which often caused problems when Cole was required to challenge for the ball in the air. Ukraine’s right winger Yarmolenko, standing at 6 ft 2, had a clear height advantage over the England left-back and nearly got his head to the ball on a couple of occasions. However, Cahill and Jagielka were dominant in the air and managed to clear most of the crosses away from an insecure-looking Joe Hart.
Ukraine win central battle
Rickie Lambert, playing in his third game for England, was largely isolated for the majority of the game. This was evident as he tried for a while to come deeper to receive the ball with in space, but he was required to stay high up the pitch to fulfil his role of being the target man. The Southampton front man was marshalled well by the impressive Khacheridi and Kucher, only winning one crucial header which put Theo Walcott through on goal, proving to be one of only two half chances for England. Lambert’s inability to make his mark on the game was in large part due to how poor the midfield kept the ball. Passes into space were usually gobbled up by holding midfielders Stepanenko and Brazilian-born Edmar before Lambert had the chance to even move.
If Ukraine were going to avoid being hurt on the counter-attack they needed to keep a good balance with regards to shape and mentality. They did this well. They had a clear plan when it came to pressing: the striker and attacking midfielders pressed the ball and, when called upon, a defensive midfielder also joined in (see below). They also had a plan when it came to attacking: depending on which side they attack on, the full back overlapped but the defensive midfielders always stayed in a deep position (see movement diagram above).
Game ends in an uninspiring and unsurprising goalless draw
The game finished 0-0, which did not come as a great surprise. Hodgson’s men seemed happy with the draw and so did Fomenko’s. Although quite dull and unentertaining, the game made for a good tactical battle. The systems used by both sides had the ability to cancel each other out in theory, and they did exactly that in practice. Ukraine were perhaps the better team but it must be said that England deserved a point.
There was only 1 clear cut chance on show throughout the entire game, and that fell to Ukraine in the 74th minute. A corner from Konoplianka found Fedetskiy, who had the goal at his mercy. His header was weak though, and despite being from point-blank range, the chance was spurned as Joe Hart gratefully caught the ball. Other than that, England’s second of 2 half chances came in the 92nd minute when Frank Lampard had the opportunity to mark his special occasion with a late winner. Ukraine couldn’t manage to clear Kyle Walker’s long throw out of danger, but the ball bounced awkwardly for Lampard who headed wide at full stretch. It would have been a fantastic time to score and would have put England in good stead to qualify.
England can secure their place in the 2014 World Cup, hosted by Brazil, by winning their 2 remaining qualifying games. They are to face both Poland and Montenegro at Wembley Stadium in front of an expectant crowd. Only one problem: the only 2 teams England have beaten in their qualifying group are Moldova and San Marino. They have drawn their other 4 games and will more than likely need at least 3 points to take them through.