In a game when Hodgson would be free to experiment, England’s ‘safest’ team started the game. The youngest in the XI was Welbeck (23) who already had 21 caps to his name prior to kick-off. The expected 4-2-3-1 was used, with Gerrard dropping the deepest to build up from the back, but despite easily keeping possession, penetration was very limited.
Using one inverted winger was expected, but frequently England played both wide players inside, relying on both full-backs to provide width, resulting in a central midfield five, with the most advanced three rotating frequently; although without the ball, Lallana and Welbeck would occupy either flank with Rooney staying central.
The amount of players in central areas allows easy possession but penetration was very limited within the first half, and frequently England looked for long diagonals and balls in behind, none of which were successful, and ended up as a poor attempt to break down a very low block. The rotation often meant nobody would drop in to receive the ball from Gerrard or Henderson and also resulted to the long passes.
Space is created through switching play to wide areas but very rarely does a quick vertical pass behind the defensive line occur, and slow build up play continues. Below, Johnson receives the ball wide and there is no penetrating run behind.
Peru, without the ball, played in a 5-4-1 shape, and could be exploited if the wide midfielders don’t track the advancing Johnson and Baines.
Here the ball is switched to Johnson who is pressed by the full-back, as the three centre-backs again fail to cover across there is space to exploit with a first time pass, unfortunately again no forward movement is made into this space as the switch occurs and Johnson again plays backwards. Using overloads on the left and switching to the right for Johnson to exploit space was a tactic used against Denmark, a game in which England had similar issues.
Even when Peru are in an organised deep block, using Johnson is again an option. Rooney moves back into midfield here and is marked tight, allowing space for the run in behind which wasn’t made.
The use of Henderson in a deep role with Gerrard to accommodate attacking full-backs meant there was no chance of him getting into advanced positions, which he frequently does at Liverpool. Lallana did provide the best chance of penetration, through his ability in attacking players 1v1 and also through making frequent runs in behind. Similar happens in England’s best chance before the goal, as a 2v1 occurs on the right and Lallana is able to attack the space, leading to Sturridge firing wide. His movement in behind also plays a part in the Sturridge goal in an attempt to create further space for the shot.
Peru failed to create too much of a threat, and when they did it was because there was too much space between the lines or on transition exploiting the constant space left by either full-back. Johnson in particular received plenty of post-match criticism, and despite conceding possession in a dangerous area on one occasion, it is the responsibility of the double pivot to support the space left by both full-backs when they advance, hence the reason Henderson and Gerrard were restricted to how far they could advance in possession. Asking Johnson and Baines to cover the space they’ve left straight away is unrealistic, and Gerrard and Henderson need to accommodate this. Here Gerrard fails to cover the space or cut off the passing lane and an easy ball is played in behind.
Soon after England over-commit to this, with one centre-back and the double pivot all covering the right side. Rooney and Lallana who are at the top of the picture below fail to recover, leaving 1v1 in the centre of the pitch, this leads to a long range attempt on goal.
Following two goals scored from corners, there was no chance of England throwing away the lead. Keeping possession was as easy as ever and if they were able to reorganise back into a clear 4-2-3-1 shape when losing the ball, Peru rarely looked like breaking them down. Penetration was still limited as Peru were almost reluctant to press too high.
The Mexican waves and throwing of paper airplanes hardly suggests an exciting display. ‘It wasn’t a good performance but they managed to do enough’ was a statement frequently used after the game; true against a poor Peru side but is anything short of a good performance likely to be enough to lead to a win against Italy and Uruguay? Probably not…. The inability to break down a low blow is very surprising, the individual qualities of England’s players in attacking areas should have been enough to do this, but there were few clear chances. Whether England are able to thrive against teams who look to attack more and are able to exploit the space left on quick transitions needs to wait until the World Cup itself, although the pace England have suggest this may benefit them more.