World Cup 2018 Tactical Preview: Trippier can make the difference for England

England manager Gareth Southgate
Southgate will be quietly confident of progressing to the semi-finals
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Alex Keble returns to look at the key battles ahead of the quarter-finals, including why Russia might defeat Croatia and how England can outwit Sweden...

"Sweden's powerful, no-nonsense 4-4-2 has proved very difficult to break down so far this World Cup. However, Germany's second half performance in the group stages provides England with a template to follow. Joachim Low's side, in a 4-3-3, drew the play to one flank before quickly switching to the other via a long diagonal pass."

Bentancur to dominate centre-right as Laxalt halts Mbappe

Uruguay v France
Friday, 15:00,
Live on ITV

Uruguay's diamond midfield should ensure that Kylian Mbappe doesn't find the same space in central areas as he did against Argentina. Oscar Tabarez will be wary of the counter-attacking threat and play more conservatively, which could help one of their brightest young prospects - Rodrigo Bentancur - finally make a noteworthy contribution this summer.

At the tip of the diamond, Bentancur's ability to feed Luis Suarez will be crucial, and he should be afforded the space to do so thanks to Blaise Matuidi's suspension; the Juventus midfielder had been tucking in from the left wing to create a three-man midfield, occupying the spaces vacated by the ambling Paul Pogba. With Thomas Lemar or Ousmane Dembele likely to step in, Bentancur should be capable of finding space in a wobbly France midfield invited to attack Uruguay.

At the other end, Uruguay left-back Diego Laxalt should win his individual battle with Mbappe. Forced wide right by the narrowness of the Uruguay shape, Mbappe's one-on-one with Laxalt probably won't go in France's favour; the Genoa defender has made more tackles (2.7 per match) than any other Uruguayan player.

Brazil to pick off Belgium's two-man midfield & attack the flanks

Brazil v Belgium
Friday, 19:00,
Live on BBC One

The outcome of this match rests on Roberto Martinez's ability to spot the flaws in his 3-4-2-1 formation. He should start Marouane Fellaini to create a three-man midfield in a 4-3-2-1 shape, as he did for the second half of the Japan game, but more likely the Spaniard - who has been linked with the job in his home country this week - will continue with his tried-and-tested formula.

This means Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho will probably dominate in the middle. Alex Witsel, a very overrated player, often defends the centre alone as Kevin de Bruyne goes in search of a pass, which will leave Belgium overrun. It is easy to envisage the Brazilian's nicking the ball (particularly if Roberto Firmino starts) and charging into the gaps around Witsel, with Coutinho arriving late in the number ten space, unmarked.

Brazil also have a clear advantage down the flanks. Thomas Meunier doesn't get enough help on the right to cope with Neymar, while Yannick Carrasco is so poor defensively that Belgium essentially play without a left wing-back. Willian, so hard-working and full of energy, will get to the byline time and time again.

Quick diagonals important for Trippier to put England through

Sweden v England
Saturday, 15:00
Live on BBC One

Sweden's powerful, no-nonsense 4-4-2 has proved very difficult to break down so far this World Cup. However, Germany's second half performance in the group stages provides England with a template to follow. Joachim Low's side, in a 4-3-3, drew the play to one flank before quickly switching to the other via a long diagonal pass, isolating the full-back against a winger that would charge straight for the byline.

England have the personnel to do something similar, particularly down the right. Only Mesut Ozil and Kevin de Bruyne have created more chances per match than Kieran Trippier in Russia, and the Tottenham Hotspur right-back's crossing should make the difference on Saturday. If England can bring Trippier into the game then he will either create opportunities from open play or win set-pieces - England's specialty so far this summer.

Andreas Granqvist will make things very tough for Harry Kane, which means Raheem Sterling is going to need to step up his offensive play. Trippier's low crosses will wreak havoc, meaning the Manchester City player needs to ghost into unseen pockets of space and score the tap-ins that were a prominent feature of his game in the 2017/18 Premier League season.

Russia's 5-4-1 to suffocate Modric-reliant Croatia

Russia v Croatia
Saturday, 19:00
Live on ITV

There is no reason why Russia cannot repeat the ultra-defensive heroics of their penalty shootout win over Spain. Croatia will be handed the vast majority of possession and, faced with a narrow brick-wall 5-4-1, must find a way to break through the hosts. It won't be easy - especially given how creatively jaded Zlatko Dalic's team looked across 120 minutes against Denmark.

Croatia's reliance on Luka Modric makes nullification relatively straightforward for Russia. The Real Madrid midfielder is arguably the only player capable of picking a lock; he made five key passes against the Danes, 40% of the team's total outlay. Roman Zobnin will sit on top of Modric, potentially stopping him from threading any passes into the box.

Entering the tournament Croatia were renowned for leaning too heavily on Ivan Perisic's crossing from the left. This feature will return on Saturday, primarily because the flanks will be left open by the compact Russian formation. Perisic's crosses for Mario Mandzukic probably won't come off, however, because Russia's powerful centre-backs have proved dominant so far.

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