England vs. Scotland: full-backs & headers
As two members of the United Kingdom locked horns in a home nations' derby, many feared that Southgate's average looking England team would succumb to the pressure of such a high-profile game. Friday's game against Scotland and Tuesday's upcoming friendly against Spain will go a long way in showing how far this England team have progressed on from the Roy Hodgson era.
With the interim manager's destiny on the line, the 46-year-old opted to line up in an assured and cautious 4-2-3-1. Two holding midfielders and two attacking midfielders signified a clear game plan to dominate the centre of the pitch in order to control possession. While Scotland lined up in a surprisingly attacking 4-3-3 that looked to expose England down the wings.
England started off jittery, perhaps with the thought of their manager's future at the back of their minds. The players didn't look settled, Scotland pressed them high up the pitch forcing England to retreat further and further towards their own goal. Both centre-backs looked uncomfortable with the pressure. John Stones, who is notorious for hanging onto the ball for that extra unneeded second was an easy target for the Scottish front three. Cahill was also closed down very quickly and reacted to the pressure like a rabbit in the headlights.
Due to Rose & Walker positioning themselves high up the pitch, the two CBs were only left with the choices of passing to Dier or Joe Hart. That's because of Henderson failing to position himself deep enough to be an option to receive the ball. For the first 30 minutes, England struggled to progress up the pitch without a long, direct ball. Sturridge was left isolated and whenever Sterling came a bit deeper to receive the ball, he was crowded out by Scotland's midfielders.
To make a breakthrough, England would have to divert Scotland's press and expose the spaces left behind by the men applying pressure. As noted before, Rose & Walker were very attack-minded as England looked to overload the wide areas; by stretching the compact Scottish defence. Scotland's press would eventually be their undoing. Not because of their intensity, but because of their organisation. When a wide forward attacks, a midfielder behind him is meant to cover. But Scotland didn't do this, their press was too gung-ho. Due to that, England's full-backs were able to dominate the channels and allow wingers Sterling & Lallana to drift inwards and commit more defenders.
Both of England's first two goals came from full-back assists. They overloaded Scotland quickly whilst their wingers were unable to track back due to irregular pressing patterns. A Cahill header from a corner kick would then put to bed any Scottish dreams and unintentionally heap more pressure on Gordon Strachan. After this, England would circulate the ball round with ease as the Scottish players lost the will & energy to press as they were before. Henderson began to find acres of space for him to operate in, thus allowing him to spread play much quicker. Even Rooney started to roll back the years with a few driving runs.
This may not have been the flashy performance most England fans were seeking, but in the end, the result was more than convincing. Three unanswered goals with various players rested speaks well for Southgate and his coaching staff. Of course, until the Three Lions perform in a major competition all these qualifying games will be rendered as worthless, but at the moment, Southgate looks to be on the right track regardless.