How England Need To Change to Beat Uruguay

Posted: June 19, 2014 in Football
Tags: , , , , , ,


As an Englishman I want to see my country lift the world cup once more. I know that the chances to do so this year are severely limited, but sometimes when you’ve been written off that’s when the time is right to achieve something.

England line up today against Uruguay in a must-win game to keep their hopes alive of getting out of the group stage of the tournament. Unlike in previous campaigns, this do or die matchup has not been brought about because of underperforming. No, in this instance it’s been brought about by bad luck and brilliant Italy defending.

In the opening game Italy took a one goal lead early in the second half. For the next 40 minutes England attacked. With each attack more Italy players joined their defense and formed a barrier around their goal. They dropped deeper and deeper to ride the pressure England was sustaining. It was truly a masterful display of defending from an Italian team doing so well what we’ve seen for so many years – protecting a one goal lead like their lives were on the line.

A little luck of the roll here, a slip by an Italian defender and it would have been 2-2 and the momentum would have swung England’s way and taken some of the pressure off today’s game. That, however was not the case and now England must win against a Uruguay team who are looking to bounce back from an unlikely loss in their opening matchup against Costa Rica.


After looking at the upcoming Uruguay game there are some sweeping changes that England need to make from the Italy game, in spite of how encouraging their play was in that game.

Against Italy, England went with a 4-2-3-1 formation. The forward line in this formation was packed with pace and instructed to run at the Italy defense. Over the years, in spite of the wonderful abilities of Italian defenders, pace was something they were not known for. The difference between the two teams in terms of the pace of the English attackers vs. the Italian defenders was telling all night long. Sterling in particular had the heels of every defender, and even Welbeck and Sturridge managed to get in behind their man a few times.

Uruguay, however, are not Italy. Pace is something that isn’t lacking in any area of their team. England will not terrify Uruguay with pace and need a different approach to the game.

Football, like any sport, is about taking your opponents advantage from them and forcing them to alter their normal style of play. Uruguay love to attack with pace down the wings. In fact, it’s very common to see one of their main strikers in Luis Suarez or Edinson Cavani spin out to a wide position during attacks while the remaining striker moves to a central position to attack when the ball comes in.


This is the most important factor of the game for England to counter. They need to take the wing play away from Uruguay. Force them to play through the center of the pitch where there will be more traffic and fewer spaces to exploit.

How do they do this? Altering their formation and personnel is essential. The 4-2-3-1 used against Italy left the England full backs extremely exposed to wide play. Luckily for England this isn’t a huge part of Italy’s game as they look more often to come inside and build their attack through Pirlo’s distribution.

England need a formation that will still allow them to attack, but that will provide cover for the full backs. With essentially four men committed to attacking in the formation we’ve already seen there no room for wide cover defensively and there’s a lack of bodies in the middle even if they could force play inside. England would be overrun in both areas by Uruguay.

This is why there have been 23 of the best players from the country selected to play in this tournament. There are games in which formations need to be changed, and this is one of those games.

The best formation for me is to play a 4-4-2 with a narrow diamond. This essentially fields 4 central midfield players, 2 of whom will be a little wider than normal to cover defensive duties on the flanks, but not wide enough to be wingers or traditional wide midfielders. The other two midfielders would comprise of a deep lying midfielder protecting the defenders and an attacking midfielder to link play behind the attacking duo.

For this formation to work the two midfielders who are deployed in the widest aspects of the diamond need to be comfortable central midfielders with the ability to take the ball out wide and beat a man.

A change in formation like this will require a change in several starters from the last game simply because there will be better suited players for the different positions. This doesn’t mean the other players’ world cups are over; it doesn’t mean they are being punished for anything. It simply means that a change of formation, tactics and lineup was essential for this specific matchup.

We’ve seen just yesterday with Spain what loyalty can bring. Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque stayed rigid and inflexible with his lineup. Showed incredible loyalty to a number of players who either form or ability to handle the opposition should have led to being dropped. The result was the holders already out of the tournament before the final group game has even been played. England need to avoid that kind of behaviour and be adaptable. Shape and alter their team to meet the unique challenge brought by the next opponents.


I’ve already said I feel a diamond shaped 4-4-2 is required, but who should play? Here’s what I feel would be the best lineup for England to face Uruguay with.

GK – Hart

RB – P. Jones

CB’s – G. Cahill, P. Jagielka

LB – L. Baines

DM – S. Gerrard

RCM – J. Wilshere

LCM – R. Barkley

AM – A.    Lallana

FW – W. Rooney

ST – R. Lambert

As you can see there are several changes to the Italy lineup, all are required to give England the best chance for success, not only in this game but also in the Costa Rica game that could prove to be just as important as today’s Uruguay game.

First of all in defense. Given that Uruguay love to attack down the wings it is important to have defensive cover there. The first line of defense has to be the full back, and Glen Johnson does not fill that defensive need. Against Italy I counted 4 occasions in which Johnson was the England player farthest up the field. This will leave too much ground to make up against a team like Uruguay, so a defender who doesn’t foray up the field with as much reckless abandon is needed.

As Hodgson decided against a second right back to Brazil given the versatility of Jones and Smalling this is the perfect game to use the defensive abilities of one or the other to provide a little more stability defensively at the full back spot. I chose Jones over Smalling as I feel he is the stronger of the two defensively, and the better with his positional sense.

Through midfield there have been several changes. With a narrow diamond you need players who can perform both centrally and out wide. Barkley has played central roles and wide roles for Everton and throughout his loan spells at other clubs. When he came on against Italy he was deployed down the left and showed some nice skills on the flank. He challenged down the line a couple of times and he also came inside to link up well. Those are essential abilities for a player in a wider role with the diamond. Barkley is also tall, strong and able to provide defensive cover for Baines, while at the same time blocking the line effectively to force Uruguay inside.

On the other side of the diamond I went with Wilshere. I considered simply dropping Sterling back to a more midfield than attacking role, which there’s no doubt he would perform well. The problem there, however, is the yellow card Sterling picked up against Italy. While Sterling will never shy away from a tackle, he’s a little ragged in his tackling ability and if you add the extra defensive duties to his role in a deeper position he will pick up a second yellow and I feel he’s needed more for Costa Rica than for Uruguay.

Wilshere can play anywhere. He’s shown with Arsenal that he has the ability to attack and beat a man, so he can venture down the wing. He’s naturally a more central midfielder, so he will likely drift inside a lot to get play linking up. This is fine because Lallana will be in the more advanced role midfield role and he can drift out when Wilshere comes in to keep cover out wide.

On to Lallana. He was unlucky to lose out to Welbeck in the starting lineup for the Italy game, and he did well when he came on. Lallana can play out wide, but is better in the middle as his incisive passing and drive will open up space for Lallana and those around him.

Up front the best option is a deep forward and an advanced striker. This is where the furor can begin. I have selected Wayne Rooney for deep and Lambert to spearhead the lineup – no Sturridge!


Sturridge is a great player and dropping him is not a negative approach to this game. Sturridge, like many of the younger England forwards, brings speed and athleticism to the team. Against Italy that was perfect. Their defenders, while wonderfully adept defensively, are not very quick and Sturridge, Sterling and Welbeck brought pace to trouble them. Uruguay are not Italy and they have more pace throughout their squad. As a result they won’t be troubled to the same degree by Sturridge’s pace.

Instead, a two man strike force containing a physically strong player with great ball control for hold-up play is the perfect compliment to Rooney. It’s no coincidence that some of Rooney’s best football came when he was partnered with Emile Heskey. Heskey was the bull whose movement, holdup play and unselfish link-up play provided Rooney with the space to exploit. Lambert can do the same.

Many won’t agree with the changes I suggest, and Hodgson may simply decide to keep trying to overwhelm with speed and attack. I feel it would be better served to adapt to the opposition and alter style, shape and personnel. What do you think?

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