Tactical Analysis: How do Colombia play and what can England do about it?

With England's Round of 16 match looming large, Nathan Clark looks at how they should set up against Colombia.

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

There’s no ‘u’ in Colombia but there is a team. 

That team are a very talented one and they are becoming less and less quietly genuine competitors for the World Cup.

Colombia are most stacked for quality in attacking midfield and at centre-back. 

In defence, Davinson Sanchez has improved after an exceptionally rocky start to the tournament, being at fault for Carlos Sanchez’ third-minute red card. 

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

His partner Yerry Mina has stood out as an all-action defender this summer. But more defending is not necessarily better defending and his theatrics have the uneasy feeling of being about to fall apart at any moment.

Despite Davinson and Mina being members of ball-playing teams, Tottenham and Barcelona respectively, neither are individually outstanding in that department. 

Instead of possessing the ball from the back, we can expect Colombia to sit a little deeper and set up in more of a counter-attack style against England. 

The name’s James – James Rodriguez

The fast-break style has been on display already and it’s been getting the very best out of their varied attacking cast, especially 2014 World Cup star James Rodriguez.

Final-ball-specialist, Rodriguez has managed to put together 152 minutes so far while attempting to play through an injury that would probably rule him out of contention at club level. 

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Current reports suggest he will sit out at least the next round but we shouldn’t be surprised if he makes the bench or even risks a start if he’s given the opportunity to make the decision himself.

If he doesn’t Luis Muriel or Jose Izquierdo will come in and play a quicker, more touchline-hugging variation of the left-sided role.

The importance of pressing

The Senegal game demonstrated Colombia’s keenness to and organisation in pressing as well as their vulnerability to being pressed in return.

As we mentioned, the South Americans do like to play on the counter when they can. But this normally comes in the form of quick to-feet combinations that find the wingers rather than direct balls up top. 

Frontman Radamel Falcao doesn’t boast any height and no longer has the athleticism to compete like that and so Colombia can be made to suffer if forced to go long.

England, on the other hand, looked good in their own pressing, suffocating the game away from both Tunisia and Panama. 

However, it’s a hard thing to master in an international setting and this game will represent a new challenge given the fact the Belgium game should be discounted as a non-competition.

With the talent Colombia boast, England must strangle the game and dominate the ball without exposing themselves on the counter.

Finding width 

The biggest challenge will come out wide. Kieran Trippier may be the competition’s leading right-back so far but he will be at a considerable athletic disadvantage against Muriel or Izquierdo. 

Ashley Young, at 32, is no longer the speedster he once was and so his man, Juan Cuadrado, will prove quite the handful.

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

From an England perspective, one of the key elements of this game will be seen in how England’s wide centre-backs, Kyle Walker and most likely Harry Maguire, handle the twinned temptation and hesitation to cover the wide areas in behind their wing-back.

Kyle Walker, having spent most of his career in a full-back role, will be comfortable but maybe to keen to move out wide, leaving his fellow centre-back abandoned. 

Maguire, twinkle-toed but heavy, may be unwilling to head into the touchline’s unchartered territory allowing Cuadrado a run on him.

Like clockwork

If England can successfully press Colombia and control the game, they will then have to deal with the oppositions’ pressing in return, finding a way to build through a messy midfield.

The best tool may well be by utilising ‘automations’: pre-planned and training ground prepared passing moves that can be executed - both the pass and the run - without thought. 

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

There’s been a hint already this tournament with Jordan Henderson’s quick round-the-corner and over-the-top first time passes long into the right channel.

With, for example, a centre-back throwing up a hand as he plays the ball to Henderson this could trigger a signal for both the Liverpool midfielder to make the pass and one of England’s attacking players to make that run in behind the opposition full-back.

Without having to take the time to look-up, communicate or wait for the run this automated move, and a couple of others like it, could not only beat Colombia’s pressing but take advantage of it, leaving their attacking players high up the pitch and away from the action.

England favourites - but only just

England come into this one as favourites - but only just. Colombia have the quality and wherewithal to make this difficult for their opposition.

As a result, Gareth Southgate will need to use all the tools available to him to get his side through to the quarter-finals.

So far in the tournament, the England manager has risen to the challenge through careful planning and a well-thought-through gameplan.

But this is the Three Lions' first real test. 

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