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England v Wales: Euro 2016 Tactics Preview

Ahead of today's must watch group game in Euro 2016, @WilliamOwain looks at where the match could be won and lost for both England and Wales.

Wales' win over Slovakia took all the pressure off them going into today's game in Lens. England were always going to be under pressure to beat their neighbours, but that has only intensified after their draw with Russia. Wales will take a point but that is not good enough for England.

With that in mind you would expect to see a game dominated in possession and territory by England. That though may suit Wales. Their best two results in qualifying came in games against Belgium when they had less than 40% of possession.

England will know that the impetus will be on them to break down Wales. To do so they will need to play at pace and use the full width of the pitch. In the last two years Wales have tended to line up defensively with five at the back, two holding midfielders, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey roaming with Hal Robson-Kanu leading the line.

If Wales can sit on the edge of the box then they can narrow the pitch, play compact and limit the opposition's space. It was noticeable how Slovakia were at their most dangerous on the counter attack when Wales could not do that, and the picture below illustrates why and where England may target Wales.

The five man Wales defence is nice and tight, but in this case cannot stand and hold their positions. The yellow lines shows the space between Joe Allen and David Edwards. It is their job to sit in front of the defence and close down attacks. If the game is fluid then they can have a lot of territory for just two men to cover.

Wales defence/midfield

This was shown in Slovakia's equaliser. The Wales defence is again in a good shape, but there is a big gap between it and the midfield. Allen and Edwards don't just have to sit in front of the centre backs - they also have to support the full backs.

When Róbert Mak got the better of Aaron Ramsey, Edwards tried to close him down. That took him away from the edge of the box and, with Allen still getting back, Ondrej Duda had acres of space to control and fire home.

Slovakia goal #1

Slovakia goal #2

The key for England is to get Wales into situations where they are stretched. Wales are far from the only team in this tournament who have struggled at times against the counter attack. Indeed, England themselves showed how difficult it can be to defend when running towards your own goal, when they conceded a late equaliser against Russia.

Slovakia like Wales are a team who are at their best playing a counter attacking game, so it was perhaps inevitable that Wales were forced to play a more end-to-end game. Against England they will probably be able and happy to sit deep. That will mean England have to use the width of the pitch to stretch Wales.

The system Wales normally play means their full backs are their only wide players. That gives the opposition a chance to double up on them and that can force Allen and Edwards, or Joe Ledley if he comes back in, to cover even more territory.

This is shown below when Allen is in close proximity to Chris Gunter meaning Ledley is the only player goal-side on the edge of the box.

Wales defence

England were particularly good against Russia in getting late runners into the box. In this chance below, they have three players arriving late and one of them, Wayne Rooney, nearly scored. If Wales are to play a similar system as they did against Slovakia, then they will have to make sure they have more than just one man dealing with the late runners from England.

England late runs

England will know that so they will want to move their opponents' defence and holding midfielders about the pitch. They did this well early on against Russia, when Rooney played a superb pass out wide to Kyle Walker.

Russia played four men in defence and midfield. Whilst a five man Wales defence would be able to cover more width of the pitch, the huge job of their holding midfielders is shown by them effectively trying to replicate the job of Russia's four man midfield. It's just not possible for them to both sit in front of the centre backs and cover the full backs.

England attack vs Russia

That England attack started with Russia defending in the middle of their half. The picture below shows how easier it is for teams when they can sit on the edge of their own box and the opposition try to play through the middle. Below, Belgium are in possession against Wales.

The Belgians are playing so narrow the whole Wales defence is barely the width of the six yard box. In such a scenario it doesn't matter that Joe Allen, the bottom player in lime green, is out wide, because one of the defenders can step forward to cover him.

Whenever Belgium did play the ball out wide they almost always tried to cut inside. England did the same a few times against Russia and situations like the one below will suit Wales just fine.

England attack

Unlike Russia, Wales will normally have an extra man in defence who can get closer to Rose. It will effectively be a one-on-one situation which still leaves them with three centre backs, a full back and two midfielders to defend the centre of the pitch.

With that in mind it would be a surprise if Roy Hodgson decides to play a diamond formation. If he plays the 4-3-3, as he did against Russia, then you would expect him to ask his two wide attackers to stay wider than they did in their opening game.

Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling's heatmap belows shows how rarely they stayed wide in the final third. Do that against a Wales side sitting deep, and it means full back against full back, with Wales' holding midfielders able to cover the edge of the box and space in front of their centre backs.

Sterling Lallana heatmap

England's passes against Russia again show how rarely they attacked that area. Most of their passing is sideways on the halfway line. Even their passes in the final third tend to be sideways centrally. It is not a coincidence that there are so few passes in the area between the yellow boxes. That is where Russia defended, and that is exactly where Wales will want to defend.

England passing

If England can get stretch Wales then they can force Allen and Edwards, or Ledley, into making up a lot of territory. If that happens then Aaron Ramsey will be forced to drop deep to defend. His 11 tackles against Slovakia show he will put a shift in, but he's not a natural defender and if he has to stay deep then he's less of a threat in attack.

That is why it would not surprise me if Chris Coleman springs a surprise in his team selection. Most debates on team selection are centered on the possible return of Wayne Hennessey for Danny Ward, Ledley for Edwards and Robson-Kanu for Jonny Williams.

I'm not sure the latter two are so certain. I expect Ledley to come back in but that does not mean that Edwards will drop to the bench. If Coleman does decide on a more defensive outlook than the Wolves man may keep his place at the expense of Williams which would give Wales another midfielder to protect the defence.

Such an approach may also allow Bale more freedom. The heatmap below shows how attacking England's full backs were against Russia (England attacking left to right) and that could leave space for Bale to attack.

Rose Walker heatmap

The only problem with such approach is that it may isolate Bale. There is also risk that Wales may sit too deep. A manager can have as much confidence as they like in their defence but they are still being brave actively seeking pressure for so long in a game.

That ultimately might be why Coleman reintroduces Robson-Kanu into the starting eleven. The former Reading forward made a big difference when he came on against Slovakia. His physique and pace gave Wales an outlet.

Having Robson-Kanu as the player furthest forward also allows Bale to drop deeper and see more of the ball. There is no doubt that Wales not only want Bale to have more possession but also do it facing the opposition's goal. A lone forward will often have to hold the ball facing his own goal.

The main impact of Robson-Kanu's introduction was that it allowed Bale and Ramsey to get on the ball in the opposition's final third. The top graphic, in which Wales are attacking left to right, shows Bale's and Ramsey's touches in the first 70 minutes. The one below is their touches after Robson-Kanu was brought on for Jonny Williams.

Bale Ramsey

Bale Ramsey

As you can see there is a big difference. It provides a nice problem for Coleman. In recent months Wales have looked a but blunt in attack. The positive displays by Jonny Williams and Robson-Kanu show Wales have options. The question is whether Coleman decides to play it safe at the start. It would be a big show of faith for Jonny Williams or Robson-Kanu if either were to start.

No one would blame Coleman if he decided to keep it cautious at the start. The onus is on England and it all makes out for an interesting tactical battle. Can England stretch Wales without giving away opportunities for Bale and co to counter attack?

All stats are taken from Squawka. Images taken from BBC Match of the Day and Squawka.