Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
England’s 2018 World Cup Last 16 date with Colombia is looming large with both camps finalising their preparations and drawing up their tactical blueprints ahead of Tuesday’s game. A Quarter Final fixture on July 7th against either Sweden or Switzerland awaits the victor from the highly anticipated clash in Moscow.
Neither will admit it freely, but both Gareth Southgate and José Pékerman will like the look of their side of the knock-out draw, where the route to the final looks easier compared to the other. However, Russia has proved a fertile breeding ground for the unexpected so far with favourites routinely coming undone against the unfancied. Nothing can be taken for granted at this World Cup.
The outcome of Tuesday’s showdown at the Otkritie Arena will largely be decided by the winners of the intriguing looking individual tussles on the pitch, of which there are plenty. Let’s take a more detailed look at some of those key battles.
Harry Kane vs Davinson Sánchez
Harry Kane and Davinson Sánchez will have to cast aside the friendship they have forged at club level at Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday, as the centre forward and centre back are likely to be placed in direct opposition to each other in Moscow.
Fusing highly tuned physical attributes with a keen positional sense, Sánchez is a centre half that has just about the ideal skill-set to nullify a striker in Kane’s mould. Sánchez will know every facet of Kane’s game inside out and upside down – though that doesn’t mean he can stop the England’s talismanic number nine.
With 5 goals in 2 World Cup appearance so far, Kane is the competition’s leading goalscorer, though breaching the Colombian defences should prove infinitely more difficult than exploiting the gaps in the Tunisian and Panamanian backlines. Nevertheless, Kane is a man in red-hot form. Amazingly, the 24-year old has registered just 6 shots on goal in total at the World Cup, scoring 5 of them. If Sánchez allows Kane a glimpse of goal on Tuesday, there is every chance the net will ripple again.
Kieran Tripper vs James Rodriguez
England’s preferred 3-5-2 formation will be tested against Colombia’s 4-2-3-1 set-up on Tuesday and the positional differences between each tactical plan should provide some intriguing sub-plots to game. One area that looks particularly interesting is England’s right-hand side and Colombia’s left, where wing back Kieran Trippier fills roughly the same patch of grass as James Rodriguez.
Tripper provides all the width from the right in an attacking sense for England, though it will be fascinating to see how he copes defensively with the movements of the imaginative James Rodriguez. Rodriguez, who is expected to return from injury in time for Tuesday’s match, likes to manoeuvre centrally from his left-hand berth and there should be plenty of gaps for him to investigate between Tripper and the furthest right of the three English central defenders, Kyle Walker.
Rodriguez’ explosive shooting from distance and eye for a killer ball makes him a massive threat and Tripper will have to pay close attention to one of Colombia’s most dangerous match winners when England are out of possession. On the flip side, Trippier could find himself relatively free from obstruction down most of the Colombian left when England have the ball. Rodriguez won’t be overly keen to match Trippier’s numerous forward busts and the Spurs fullback should find routinely find himself in plenty of space. With an average of 4.5 crosses per game, Tripper has provided more ammunition from out wide than any other player at the World Cup so far.
Jordan Henderson vs Juan Quintero
Sitting at the base of Gareth Southgate’s central midfield trident, Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson will be tasked with patrolling the spaces in front of England’s back three without the ball. In possession, Henderson is the conduit that England’s moves from deep tend to flow through. The accuracy of his passing can sometimes be erratic, but Henderson is still capable of fizzing the ball to his team mates through the lines.
Henderson is likely to occupy the same area of the pitch as Colombia’s player of the tournament so far, Juan Quintero. The River Plate schemer has been Los Cafeteros main creative outlet so far, scoring once and laying on two more goals from his teammates from his central attacking midfield position.
Quintero tends to drift relatively deep to collect the ball and it will be interesting to see if Henderson tracks his movements closely or if he instead holds his position in an attempt to close off Quintero’s possible passing lanes instead. Quintero is adept at cutting passes through massed ranks of defenders with his magical left foot, so denying him space and time to assess his options is imperative.
John Stones vs Radamel Falcao
Manchester City’s John Stones has been handed the responsibility of being the central member of Gareth Southgate’s English back three and though the 24-year old has proven himself a reliable choice, Tuesday’s match against Colombia represents his first real test of the competition.
José Pékerman likes to employ the veteran Radamel Falcao as a lone striker with a trio of supporting attacking midfielders rotating in the space behind the Monaco man. With Kyler Walker and Harry Maguire drawn to threats right and left, it could well transpire that John Stones is often left to defend centrally against Falcao alone.
Falcao’s hold up play and overall contribution to the build up has been roundly criticised in Russia, but the former Manchester United and Chelsea forward is still an expert finisher. His underwhelming time in the Premier League is likely to buoy the confidence of Stones, who witnessed first hand the Colombian frontman’s struggles in coping with the division’s physicality. Conversely, Falcao might feel he has something to prove to English football fans after his unsuccessful spell in the Premiership, and that could add an extra spring to step of the 32-year old.
Ashley Young vs Juan Cuadrado
Ashely Young comes up against another Colombian player with a point to prove in former Chelsea winger Juan Cuadrado. Cuadrado had lit up Serie A with Fiorentina before Chelsea took a punt on him in January 2015.
After a miserable few months in London and just 14 appearances in Chelsea blue, Cuadrado took his skills back to Italy with Juventus, re-establishing his reputation as we well rounded wide attacker. Cuadrado has started all three of Colombia’s World Cup matches so far, using his pace to great affect down the Los Cafeteros right. The 30-year old will have to shake off the attentions of Ashley Young if he is to make on impact on Tuesday.
It’s ironic that converted winger Young’s defending is now better than his attacking play, but the Manchester United stalwart has made the transition from utility bit-part player to first choice in his position for both club and country this year. Young has the pace to nullify Cuadrado’s, though coping with the Colombian’s movement will be trickier.
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