Costa Rica v England: Jonathan Wilson's Tactical Preview


TEAM NEWS

In terms of injuries, England's only absentee is still Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but Roy Hodgson has made clear that, with England out of the tournament, he intends to give as many players as possible a game against Costa Rica. He has taken the unusual step of naming his team a day early: Ben Foster; Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw; James Milner, Frank Lampard, Jack Wilshere; Ross Barkley, Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana. Costa Rica have no injury problems.

 

COSTA RICAN MOTIVATION

Although they're already through, Costa Rica will top the group with a draw, which would secure a game against one of Japan, Ivory Coast and Greece in the last 16, rather than having to face Colombia. And if an easier passage to the second round isn't motivation enough, there is always the fact of playing England and what that still means. "The players want to impress the world by getting three points against a team like England,’ said Paulo Wanchope, the Costa Rica assistant manager who played for Derby County, West Ham and Manchester City. "We know that we can go far at this World Cup. We have just beaten another world champion and we need to enjoy that and then, against England, we will definitely play to win because of all that it would mean."

 

THE BACK OF MIDFIELD

The big weakness for England in this tournament has been at the back of midfield. Roy Hodgson, perhaps seeking to fight back against his reputation as a conservative coach, has opted to use the Liverpool pairing of Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson in front of the defence, neither of them natural holding players. Just as a lack of protection of the back four placed pressure on Liverpool's centre-backs last season, so England found themselves with a soft centre, the Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez revealing he deliberately targeted what he saw as England's weak spot, by deploying Nicolas Lodeiro at the front of the midfield and dropping Edinson Cavani deep to operate in Gerrard's zone. Although Wilshere could be the central of three creators in a 4-2-3-1, Hodgson's selection looks like the more cautious 4-3-3 he probably should have used throughout. Costa Rica, anyway with their 5-4-1 formation, are unlikely to target that area.

 

TICO-TACTICS

There's nothing especially complicated about how Costa Rica play. They pack men behind the ball, using Celso Borges as a deep-lying playmaker in midfield, looking to spray long passes forwards to Bryan Ruiz, an elegant if mercurial presence on the right, or to utilize the pace, energy and movement of Joel Campbell, who is ideally suited to his role as a lone centre-forward. On the left, Christian Bolanos is essentially a shuttling figure. That should relieve some of the pressure on the back of England's midfield, but they must be careful not to overcommit, while if Wayne Rooney comes on and plays behind a central striker, he will have responsibility for closing down Borges.

 

ENGLAND'S FORWARD LINE

If it is a 4-3-3, it is not a symmetrical one, with Ross Barkley probably drifting in from the flank. He impressed in that role against Uruguay, his arrival distracting Egidio Arevalo Rios sufficiently to create space for Rooney for the first time in the game. This is probably a key game for the Everton man: a good performance could cement his place in the side for the Euro qualifiers, although that is not the most natural front three. It could be that both Lallana and Barkley play a little deeper and narrower in a 4-3-2-1.

 

VERDICT

Given how unfamiliar England's starting line-up is, and given how much depends on their mood - will they be carefree, released from pressure, or will they be glum, desperate to get home - trying to trace how the game may go is extremely difficult. There may be value, though, in backing Rickie Lambert to score any time at 2.95 or last at 6.50. His goals record for England is good, he will probably be given at least half an hour and there's little reason for England to be cagey.

 

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