Tactic Talk – England’s solid defensive performance nullifies sumptuous Spain

England’s surprise victory over Spain saw Fabio Capello’s side enjoy a relatively rare success, defeating the reigning World and European Champions at Wembley. While some purists have criticised the approach adopted by the home side, Capello’s gameplan would make his side the first team to keep a clean sheet against Spain since Portugal almost 12 months earlier.

Despite resting captain John Terry, favouring Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka in the centre of defence, flanked by Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson, the England back four limited the visitors to just two shots on target, the same number recorded by the hosts. Both of England’s efforts on target came courtesy of stand-in captain and eventual match-winner, Frank Lampard, heading home from close range after Darren Bent’s initial effort came back off the woodwork. While Lampard’s performance ultimately dominated headlines, it was the showing of his fellow central midfielder and former Chelsea team-mate that many believed was central to England’s success.

A man-of-the-match performance from Tottenham’s Scott Parker saw England resist the threat of a strong Spanish attack. Substituted five minutes from time, Parker’s typically combative performance was pivotal, breaking up play on several occasions to deny a frustrated visiting side, as he and his team-mates worked tirelessly to earn a famous win.

The award of the traditional post-match accolade to a defensive midfielder would perhaps suggest that a defensive performance was the most significant part of the team’s overall performance, leading to suggestions that Capello’s tactics were not fitting of a home side, particularly one of England’s stature. However, facing a Spanish team in which the likes of Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabgregas, Juan Mata and Pepe Reina were limited to substitute appearances, completing 90 minutes without conceding to a side undoubtedly in their peak will serve as a true highlight of Capello’s reign as Head Coach.

As the game wore on, the inevitable Spanish onslaught would ultimately ensue, with Barcelona midfielder Fabregas twice coming close against a tiring England backline. However, the Barca-like style of the Spanish side was restricted by a well-drilled England defence, sitting deep behind the ball; trademark Spanish moves between defensive lines and exploiting gaps in the opposition defence were limited, as Tottenham Hotspur’s Kyle Walker and Manchester City’s Gareth Barry were introduced to reinforce the hosts’ rearguard.

As England look to build on recent success, those involved with the England setup will be keen to continue the recent success defensively. While the public message has been one of cautious optimism, having secured qualification for the European Championships next summer, the strong performances of the likes of Scott Parker will be a source of great encouragement for Capello, as he looks to build for the finals in Poland and Ukraine.

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