England 1-1 Ghana – Match report

England and Ghana play out entertaining draw at Wembley

Starting formations. Solid lines represent attacking movement, dotted lines represent defensive movement.

England Lineup:

  1. Joe Hart
  2. Glen Johnson
  3. Leighton Baines
  4. Phil Jagielka
  5. Gary Cahill
  6. Gareth Barry
  7. James Milner
  8. Jack Wilshere
  9. Ashley Young
  10. Stewart Downing
  11. Andy Carroll

Ghana lineup:

  1. Richard Kingson
  2. John Painstil
  3. Lee Addy
  4. Isaac Vorsah
  5. John Mensah
  6. Anthony Annan
  7. Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu
  8. Sulley Muntari
  9. Dominic Adiyiah
  10. Kwadwo Asamoah
  11. Asamoah Gyan

England lined up more or less as expected, with the injured Parker replaced by James Milner. As a result, Ashley Young came into the side and played on the left wing, with Stewart Downing on the other as England (slightly bizarrely, considering Andy Carroll was upfront) started with inverted wingers.

Ghana’s lineup wasn’t predicted with quite as much success by me. They played their alternate shape, with Udinese playmaker Kwadwo Asamoah playing just off Asamoah Gyan in a 4-4-1-1 formation. Their formation ended up looking very skewed, however, because of the holding midfielder Sulley Muntari being deployed in a position on the left that he is familiar, though not entirely comfortable, in. On the right, conversely, the young A.C Milan striker Dominic Adiyiah was asked to play on the right of a four man midfield, and as such took on a far more expansive and attacking role.

As the game started, this tilted formation became apparent. Muntari tucked in on the left, whilst Adiyiah was given a freer role on the right, allowed to support Asamoah and Gyan. When he did so, often the three behind him shuffled across, meaning Ghana often formed an impromptu 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree-type formation at times. With Ghana’s midfield pretty functional, the burden was on Asamoah to create, aided slightly by the runs of Adiyiah.

England threatened almost immediately though, with the England fullbacks overlapping well past the inverted wingers. Carroll looked mobile and strong, holding up the ball well for the oncoming runners. England looked positive, but Ghana tackled aggressively, with Wilshere an unsurprising early target. This didn’t stop England’s movement though, with the front half of the team looking exceptionally fluid and mobile. Within the first five minutes the two wingers had already switched flanks twice, and the central midfielders looked to pivot and interchange. Soon they settled into a distinct pattern, with Wilshere most definitely the creator, pinging balls to the wingers and fullbacks.

Ghana almost hit immediately on the counter however, through Adiyiah. A neat couple of interchanges cut through the England defence, and Hart did very well to save a one on one. A warning sign for England, and one that was exacerbated by Ashley Young’s impetuous desire to come into the middle of the pitch, vacating his flank and leaving it free for Adiyiah and Paintsil. On the other flank came England’s best chances: Stewart Downing’s greater discipline and nous allowed him to stretch the play, finding space outside the tucked-in Muntari. Three times within the first 15 minutes Downing got in behind the defence, supplied by good Wilshere balls. Whilst Young was looking shaky defensively, however, his extremely free role resulted in some very slick exchanges between him, Barry and Baines, often releasing Baines free on the left. In fact, the whole game was end-to-end, with England on top but their defence looking inconsistent.

Baines continued making good runs to open up space for Young, aided by Downing’s intelligence on the right. Young was constantly finding himself in space afforded by Adiyiah’s defensive slackness, allowing him to test the keeper from range, drawing one good save out of Kingson on 15 minutes. England’s defence continued to look dodgy, as Asamoah Gyan’s workrate harried the England defenders, assisted by Asamoah who moved level with him when pressing.

Ghana were mostly hemmed into their own half, but England’s final delivery was poor. Milner drifted right to supply Young with a golden opportunity that he Heskeyed onto the post. At the other end, Ghana threatened at set-pieces, with Adiyiah again only denied by the lightning reflexes of Joe Hart. As the Black Stars grew into the game, Gyan became the focal point of their attacks, combining pace on the counter with good hold up play and energy. As Ghana began to knock the ball around with ease in England’s half, and the difference in quality between England’s opponents at the weekend and their current ones was marked.

When England won the ball back and counterattacked, Gareth Barry began to drop back between his centre backs. A relatively recent tactical ploy, the holding player dropping back between the centre backs allows the fullbacks forward whilst also lessening the danger of a counterattack (discussed later). As England regained control of the match towards the end of the half, Young chipped the ball over the top of the shaky Ghanaian defence for Downing to lay off for Andy Carroll to power into the net. Great movement from Downing, who had come into the centre, and a pinpoint pass from Young were enough to open up a defence that had looked disorganised all half. England went in 1-0 , and were probably lucky considering how even it had been.

As the second half started, both sides made changes. Jonathan Mensah came on for Isaac Vorsah with Derek Boateng and Daniel Opare coming on for Anthony Annan and Lee Addy respectively, all more or less straight swaps. For England, Glen Johnson was taken off for Joleon Lescott, moving Phil Jagielka to right back. England made a strong start, with Wilshere driving through the centre before squaring for Young to curl over. Shortly afterwards, Agyemang-Badu drove through the centre of the pitch, denied only by a good Gary Cahill tackle, though Lescott’s clumsy tackle on Gyan led to an extended scrappy period of play after a freekick, ending with Paintsil’s deflected shot forcing a corner which also went close via the head of Jonathan Mensah.

As Muntari went off, the dangerous Andre Ayew came on in another straight swap positionally, likewise Defoe came on for Carroll. However, the presence of two pacey and direct wingers for Ghana gave them an extra dimension in attack, and the pace of Defoe also stretched the game for England. Defoe was less involved in buildup play than Carroll, but rather looked to sit on the shoulder of the defender. As the game heated up and the tackles flew in, end to end action began to develop. No sooner did Milner pick himself up from a foot to the face from Boateng, run through the middle and have a long range drive saved well by Kingson than Ayew was threatening at the other end with a good run at Cahill.

The match began to get more scrappy, though no less entertaining. The tiring Wilshere was replaced by Matt Jarvis as England moved to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Young playing behind the striker. Ghana made another straight swap, with Prince Tagoe coming on for the impressive though profligate Dominic Adiyiah. As Jarvis switched to the right and Downing to the left, their natural positions, Danny Welbeck came on for Young and floated around from flank to flank. Ghana also switched, with Kwadwo Asamoah coming off for fullback/winger Samuel Inkoom, who played as a right winger. Ghana switched to a 4-4-2, with Prince Tagoe playing around Asamoah Gyan. However, neither side threatened as much as earlier on in the match and the match looked to be moving to a predictable conclusion. However, right on the stroke of 90 minutes Gyan, so dangerous for so long, finally got the half chance he needed and danced around Lescott on the edge of the box before curling beyond Joe Hart’s outstretched hand. It was a deserved goal for Gyan and Ghana in general, and the match finished 1-1.

Analysis: England’s wingers

England started off with two inverted wingers, with Villa pair Stewart Downing and Ashley Young on the right and left respectively. As such, both came into the centre regularly. However, the methods in which they did it differed drastically. Young played a far more permanent position as an ‘inside forward’, hovering between an attacking midfield role and a left winger. This allowed Leighton Baines to get forward with regularity, though it also meant that it afforded opposing winger Dominic Adiyiah space. This was demonstrated after Adiyiah burst through after a throughball from Gyan, and brought a good stop out of Joe Hart.

On the other flank, Stewart Downing faced a different challenge. Sulley Muntari, nominally a driving central midfielder, was deployed in a tucked in position on the left. As a result, he would be able to track Downing’s movement inside as well as try and gain a midfield superiority in terms of numbers. Downing, however, was intelligent enough to recognise this ploy, and unlike Young on the other wing stayed wide whilst out of position. This stretched the play wider, pulling Muntari out to the wing and giving England a numerical equality. On one or two occasions Muntari ignored Downing and let him go free, with the result that Johnson – more conservative than Baines – was able to play quick counterattacking balls through to a completely unmarked Downing. He consistently had the beating of Lee Addy, becoming only the fourth player since October 2008 to create more than five chances in a game for England.

The England and Villa wingers coming into the centre worked to good effect for most of the game however, supplying extra runners for Andy Carroll to hold up the ball for. With the energetic pair of Milner and Wilshere running from deep and the wingers coming inside, Carroll had plenty of runners to work with, with the trio of Ashley Young, James Milner and Leighton Baines combining particularly well with him. Carroll’s goal was created by England’s wingers coming inside and combining.

Analysis: Ghana’s lopsided formation

Ghana used a different formation from the expected one, using their alternate 4-4-1-1 shape. As mentioned above though, Muntari was tucked in on the left playing a reserved role. On the other flank, Dominic Adiyiah’s attacking tendencies meant he played much higher up the field than Muntari on the other flank. In fact, sometimes when attacking the central trequartista, Kwadwo Asamoah, moved left to find space, with Adiyiah slotting in behind Gyan to the right. In order to prevent a gap being left on the right flank, Ghana’s midfield shuffled across to form a 4-3-2-1.

With Asamoah and Adiyiah playing as second strikers just off Gyan, and a particular emphasis on playing through the middle, England were troubled. Gyan’s movement dragged defenders around for the runs of Adiyiah and Asamoah, and the interchange between the three of them gave Phil Jagielka in particular a hard time. Gary Cahill was impressive however, and on more than one occasion broke up an attack with a well-timed tackle.

Analysis: England’s temporary three at the back

Arguably the most interesting aspect of England’s tactics was Gareth Barry’s deployment as a “centre-half” in the modern sense. The Spain and Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets is probably the best known example of this. To paraphrase, a defensive midfielder drops back behind the centre backs, who in turn spread wider and allow the fullbacks to charge upfield without leaving the defence too compromised.The much maligned Barry had a great game, completing 43 of 44 attempted passes in the first half alone. His tactical discipline allowed Johnson and in particular Baines to get forward on the overlap extremely well, something which was critical to England’s formation in general. All in all, a good game for the temporary England captain, who looked far more at home in a midfield three than he ever did for England in a two.

Article written 29/03/2011

One thought on “England 1-1 Ghana – Match report

  1. Pingback: Who can be England’s destroyer? « Dots&Crosses

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