Scotland’s pressing scheme reignites the dark memories of England at international tournaments

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental disorder that is often developed after facing severe trauma, or in other words England at international tournaments.

The events at the Luzhniki Stadium in the semi-final of the World Cup sparked again in the minds of the English fans, when England were losing their spark as the minutes went by against Scotland.

An inability to make effective in-game changes from Gareth Southgate kept England on the back foot, lacking the necessary means to break down Steve Clark’s Scotland.

In Moscow, England could have gotten the better of Croatia before Zlatko Dalic’s side adjusted their approach. Yet despite both games lacking the effective tweaking from Southgate and his staff, against Scotland, England were already blacked out from the first whistle.

Scotland disrupted England’s build up, making their time in possession useless. Without the ball, Scotland’s shape was a 5–2–1–2. Callum McGregor, Billy Gilmour and John McGinn matched England’s midfield three as Che Adams and Lyndon Dykes passively pressed John Stone and Tyrone Mings. McGinn’s positioning denied England any direct passes into Declan Rice, forcing them to go wide to their full backs.

When that happened McGregor or Gilmour moved out to press the full back depending whether the ball was with Reece James or Luke Shaw. If the ball was on the left McGregor would move up to press James and in case Kalvin Phillips tried making one of those runs that destroyed Croatia, Kieran Tierney would pick him up. All the meanwhile, McGinn is in a position to press Rice if the ball was played into the English midfielder.

An example here shows McGregor completely focused on James, knowing that any run from Phillips will be covered by Tierney. The English right back’s pass found Phillips, but the Leeds player had to reset the attack because Tierney was glued to him.

The other option for England’s build up when they played the ball into their full backs was for Phillips and Mason Mount to drop and support. Scotland were ready for that though. On the left side, McGregor maintained his task of pressing James when the latter was on the ball. Leaving the task of marking Phillips to McGinn. In this example, McGinn’s pressure on Phillips earned him a foul and Scotland regained possession.

Meanwhile on the other side, Gilmour also kept his duties of moving out to face Shaw. Knowing that McGinn would drop and pick up Mount.

These clear roles for McGregor and Gilmour neutralized England’s threat of building up through their full backs. Not only because it allowed McGregor and Gilmour to completely focus on the full back once the ball was played wide, but also because the progressive passing options for James and Shaw were taken out. A run from midfield was covered by Scotland’s wide center back and a midfielder dropping to support was covered by McGinn. As it is the case here, James can’t play Phillips in because McGinn is tracking him and the pressure from McGregor wins the ball back for Scotland to start an offensive transition.

Scotland’s pressing scheme totally nullified England’s build up. First taking the option of Rice out of the equation, forcing England’s center backs to play the ball wide into their full backs….

……then shifting McGregor towards the full back as McGinn drops to mark Phillips. Putting England in a situation of an infinite loop of build ups that only go backwards.

A sequence in the 31st minute perfectly illustrates the effectiveness of Scotland’s pressing scheme. The 3 v 3 in midfield forces Stones to play the ball wide into James….

…..then McGregor and McGinn shift across to deny James progressing with the ball and to mark his nearest passing option that is Phillips.

James has to reset and go back to Rice, who because of McGinn’s pressure also has to reset and go back…

…..by now Scotland have forced England to the other side and the drill was known for the Scottish. Gilmour moved towards Shaw to press him, knowing that McGinn will drop to mark the English player trying to use the space Gilmour left.

McGinn dropped onto Kane and regained the ball back for Scotland.

In the second half Scotland lessened their pressing intensity and moved more to a 5–3–2 shape with McGinn deeper than he was in the first half. Impressive individual defensive performances from Tierney, Scott McTominay and Grant Hanley resulted in England only having two shots from inside the box in the second half. One went wide from Shaw, while the other barely touched Foden’s head before Tierney cleared the ball.

What was notable though, was how Scotland stopped England’s runs from midfield. In this example, there’s a gap between Tierney and Andy Robertson where Phillips is targeting his run. McGinn is alert and makes the same run to track Phillips….

…..which meant that Foden had to choose another passing option because this one was marked.

Again, another space in-between the Scottish defensive line, but McGinn keeps track of Jack Grealish’s run into space….

…..so that neither of James or Sterling can find Grealish’s run.

Adding to that, McGinn managed to intercept the ball from Sterling. Starting an offensive transition for Scotland.

Scotland were highly alert to these runs from midfield. In a situation where Raheem Sterling’s positioning might force Tierney out for Phillips to make a run in behind….

….Tierney holds and Philips runs into him. That however, creates another space between Hanley and Tierney….

….but Hanley is as alert and moves with Sterling while signaling for his teammates to pick up Marcus Rashford.

England’s xG of 1.6 doesn’t tell the whole story. Their three biggest chances were a set piece header from Stones, Mount’s chance after Sterling managed to steal the ball from McTominay, and a borderline line offside call. Only the last came from an England possession in open play.

This was a supreme display of defensive solidity from Scotland and it could have been more than one point if they took their chances. It’s still early though before they can boogie, a win against Croatia at Hampden Park is much needed.

As for England, the case needs a doctor when they wake up on the wrong side of the bed.

English Football. United