England looks to buck possession trend in Colombia clash

The top three teams which had the most possession at this World Cup are not in the tournament anymore. England, with its style of play, should make sure it doesn't become the fourth.

The Three Lions have players who are comfortable on the ball and can hurt teams even with its patient build-up play.   -  Getty

Call it a mere coincidence or just an inability on the part of a few teams to make better use of ball possession, but the three teams which have had the most possession at this World Cup are out of the tournament.

Spain averaged nearly 70 per cent possession — it had close to 75 per cent possession in its round of 16 clash against Russia alone — and was knocked out by a team that was set up to stifle. Germany averaged 67 per cent possession in its three Group F fixtures and lost to South Korea in a must-win match having seen 74 per cent of the ball. Argentina had 64 per cent possession (despite facing high-quality opposition) and was beaten in the round of 16 by a team (France) which predominantly played on the counter-attack.

The simple inference is being ball-shy may, after all, not be a bad attribute when you consider what Sweden has achieved with an average possession of 41 per cent.

Coming to England and its round of 16 clash against Colombia, the Three Lions thrive on a possession-based style. It has players who are comfortable on the ball and it can hurt teams even with its patient build-up play.

Colombia is the kind of team which will be happy to be ball-deprived and can pose problems with its quick transitions. We don’t yet know if James Rodriguez will be fit to play, but Juan Quintero is a good replacement for the Bayern Munich loanee. Jose Pekerman may well pick Juan Cuadrado and Jose Izquierdo as the two wingers flanking the playmaker. With Radamel Falcao expected to lead the line, his hold-up play will come in handy.

England will be particularly wary of the Colombia wingers who will relish the spaces that the England wingbacks, Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier, leave behind as they are expected to when their team is in possession.

Another way Colombia could hurt England is with crosses into the box and from set-pieces despite England’s average height (182.1 centimetres) being superior to Colombia’s (180.2). Two of Colombia’s five goals have come from crosses into the box. Yerry Mina has proved his aerial prowess, scoring against Poland (from open play) and Senegal (from a corner).

From England’s viewpoint, dominating possession will not necessarily be a hindrance to its chances of progressing. But against a team which can be menacing on the counter-attack, it will do well not to dwell on the ball for long and focus on keeping possession for the sake of it.

Having Harry Kane back will be a significant boost. Gareth Southgate will also expect more from the likes of Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard, who as ball-carriers, can be dangerous in and around the area.