England vs Panama post-match analysis

World Cup England vs Panama
Figure 1. England and Panama Starting 11’s (source: wyscout.com)

England played their second group stage match in the 2018 FIFA World Cup against Panama, who had lost their opening game 3-0 to Belgium. Panama were unchanged, despite their opening defeat, whereas England made one change with Ruben Loftus-Cheek replacing Dele Alli following his thigh injury (see Figure 1). This came as no surprise as images were leaked of England Assistant Manager, Steve Holland, holding a piece of paper revealing the exact starting 11 who eventually played, during a tactical training session earlier in the week. Panama had warned England in the build-up to the game that they would “play hard” and with Jesse Lingard taking a Gabriel Gomez elbow to the face inside the opening minutes, they certainly seemed true to their word. What was to follow took everyone by surprise…

England summary:

  1. Dominance
  2. Control
  3. Set-piece supremacy
  4. Individual performances
  5. Maintain momentum

A 5 star first-half performance

England were quite simply brilliant in the first half and blew away a dazed Panama with a 5 star display! It was so refreshing to see an England performance with such energy, attacking intent and ruthlessness, ultimately resulting in England’s biggest ever win in a major tournament (World Cup and European Championship). A remarkable first half saw John Stones score twice from set-pieces (8’ and 40’), Harry Kane fire in two penalties (22’ and 45+1’) and Jesse Lingard find the top corner with a wonderful curling strike (36’). This was only the fifth occasion that a side had scored five goals before half-time in a World Cup match, and the first since Germany did so against Brazil in their 2014 semi-final. Life as an England fan couldn’t have got any better as ‘football’s coming home’ rang out across the country and fans started dreaming of what may be possible. As England went into the break 5-0 up, it was a case of how many would it finish up and can England continue their dominance into the second half?

Second-half control

England’s intensity dropped somewhat after the break in the high temperatures within the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium. However, their work was long done so England could use considered build up play and maintain possession to take complete control of the second half. Harry Kane unwittingly completed his hat-trick, before being replaced by Jamie Vardy, as Gareth Southgate looked to protect his most prized possession and captain. Alongside a match ball, Harry Kane became the first player to have scored at least twice in both of his first two ever World Cup appearances since Poland’s Grzegorz Lato in 1974. Lato went on to win the Golden Boot at that tournament, so no pressure Harry!

Sublime set-pieces

Perhaps the best part of England’s performance had to be the dominance and the potency of their set-pieces. Whether it was a targeted ball into the box or a well-rehearsed and executed routine, the outcome was the same, England threatened to score with every one...or at least win a penalty, given Panama’s royal rumble tactics! Therefore, it is unsurprising to learn that England are the World Cup’s set-piece specialists, with six of their eight goals so far coming from dead ball situations, four goals from corners and free-kicks with two more from penalties, the second of which was awarded for a foul on Harry Kane at another corner. England have scored twice as many goals from set-pieces as any other side in Russia (six goals) with Portugal and Russia the only sides to have managed three goals. England could have easily had more too, as seven of their ten corners have led to a shot on goal. Encouragingly, after just two games England have had as many attempts from corners and free-kicks as in any of their previous five World Cup campaigns and have already scored twice as many goals!

There’s a lot to take from this though…

Firstly, despite the apparent relaxed, calm and open nature of the squad, there is clearly an unprecedented amount of hard work going on behind the scenes to ensure the outcomes are achieved. From a sports science perspective it’s pleasing to see that more than likely the work of a performance analyst and coaches has been followed so precisely and effectively by the players, with everyone doing their part by either occupying the Panama defenders or making the late runs, it ran like clockwork! Harry Kane after the Panama game said: “We’re working hard on set-pieces and it’s nice to see it coming together”. Credit must certainly go to Gareth Southgate, alongside his assistant Steve Holland and forwards coach Allan Russell, for their meticulous planning on the training ground to create brilliantly-worked routines. This was especially evident in England’s fourth goal against Panama, when Trippier passed a free-kick short to Jordan Henderson, who swung the ball towards the far post, where Harry Kane headed it back across goal to Raheem Sterling whose initial effort was saved, but John Stones was on hand to score the rebound. Pure perfection from England!

Secondly, the delivery from set plays is helped by the quality of Kieran Trippier, who was described by Mauricio Pochettino as “one of the best” for assists, passes and crosses”. Currently, only Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne has created more chances than the 27 year old (nine compared to seven). Trippier’s total of seven puts him level with Brazil’s Neymar and Philippe Coutinho and Germany’s Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Muller (not bad company for a player not expected to start for England a few months ago!). The delivery from corners is a far cry from Euro 2016, where Harry Kane was famously placed on corner duty as England crashed out the competition against Iceland.

Man of the match

Trying to select a man of the match after a 6-1 victory is an impossible job so we would like to discuss a few standouts. Firstly, captain fantastic, Harry Kane leads the goal scoring chart in Russia with five goals but incredibly Kane has only attempted six shots (see infographic on Sky Sports). His first shot at the tournament was blocked but since then, he has scored with every attempt on goal, giving him a shooting accuracy of 100% and conversion rate of 83%. Secondly, Jesse Lingard deserves ample praise even though he didn’t leave with the match ball like his captain. He was targeted for some rough treatment in the opening stages but he hit back by winning the first penalty and then summoned a sensational strike from the edge of the area.

Looking ahead

England have won both of their opening two group stage games at a World Cup tournament for the third time, also doing so in 1982 and 2006. Only in 1966 have England scored more goals in a single World Cup tournament (11) than they have in 2018 (eight the same as 1954 and 1990). England now face Belgium in Kaliningrad at 7pm on Thursday, with top spot within the group up for grabs. Confidence should be at an all-time high throughout the England camp as it is back home, with the nation being proud of a team that has shown immense hunger, ability and swagger within their first two games (long may it continue!). Questions have been raised about whether Gareth Southgate should rest players as England’s qualification from the group has already been confirmed. Our thoughts are that if the sports science variables are in line with normal readings then the team should stay as unchanged as possible to continue to build the momentum of winning games into the knockout stages. Trying to work out our potential opponents leaves us the risk of coming unstuck, if we want to win the World Cup then we are going to have to beat the best nations on the planet, bring on the challenge!



Read the blog on the Tunisia vs England game and watch a video of Elliot discussing his predictions and analysis of the World Cup.
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