by Sylvain Jamet in Moncton, Canada
England were defeated by the smallest margin in a tight encounter that was probably not the the most entertaining game but certainly interesting in term of tactical analysis.
Mark Sampson said in his post match conference that he set England up to defend against France’s main threats and therefore played a defender in the left midfield position. Alex Scott was the sole Arsenal player used in the game with Siobhan Chamberlain, Casey Stoney, Jordan Nobbs and Lianne Sanderson all unused substitutes.
France played with their expected starting 11: Bouhaddi, Houara, d’Hommeaux, George,s Renard, Boulleau, Thomis, Henry, Abily, Necib, Thiney, Le Sommer in their usual 4-4-2 set up.
England lined up with a very defensive 4-5-1 system with a specific aim of defending against Thomis’ pace by adding the quick defender Bronze on the left side playing in front of left back Rafferty. The starting 11 was Bardsley, A Scott, Houghton, Bassett, Rafferty, White, Chapman, Williams, J Scott, Bronze, Aluko.
England set to frustrate the French players and actually succeeded in doing so, as the statistics show only four shots on target for France out of a total of 16 efforts. Ball possession was 58% France to 42% England. France had five shots blocked against none for England.
England did a good job on their left side doubling up against Thomis as the French winger was substituted and did not contribute as much as she usually does as Rafferty and Bronze denied her the space she needs to make runs.
The downside of the game plan was poor Aluko who was very often left on her own and England were unable to muster many attacks until late in the game.
The only goal in the game came in transition when Bassett sent a ball towards Chapman but it was a bit of a heavy pass. Thiney managed to intercept it, and pass to Le Sommer who was 30 yards from goal. She took a few steps and sent a missile towards the top corner.
Once France went ahead, they had the job done as they said in the press conference and mixed zone and they went into a secure mode especially in the second half, trying to score a second goal while making sure that they did not concede one.
Mark Sampson then put Toni Duggan and Fran Kirby on and moved into a 4-3-3 system that created half chances late in the game.
That attacking system was in place for 22 minutes and France responded by withdrawing a forward and putting an extra midfield player to protect their lead.
Was it to little too late?
Probably, but at the same time switching from a defensive mindset containing the opposition’s main threat to going into an attacking mode is not the easiest thing to do. Could England have gone on the attack from the off?
Mark Sampson and his staff did not think so and were probably right. Taking on France early would have left England open at the back and helped them create many more chances. So the English players executed the game plan quite well. It was not pretty to watch, but there is no points won for stylish football as France found out in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
The coach has indicated that we will see an England side with attacking intent in the next game and hinted at a few possible changes with hungry players that were sitting on the bench today.
We will see what changes he will implement on Saturday against Mexico.