Editorial (July 9, 2018) — Championship runs always contain their unsung heroes. They are those players whose contributions don’t gain the most praise from fans but are indispensable nonetheless.
Kieran Trippier embodies this for England. The right wing back certainly isn’t in the territory of his Tottenham teammate Harry Kane when it comes to notoriety. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering the captain of the Three Lions currently leads the World Cup golden boot race with his six goals so far.
But make no mistake about it. What Trippier has brought to the pitch is a major reason Gareth Southgate’s squad is just a win over Croatia away from booking its first ticket to the World Cup Final in 52 years. And he’ll need to continue bringing it when the two sides meet in Moscow on Wednesday.
Kieran Trippier Playing an Indispensable Role in England’s World Cup Success
A Key Piece on England’s Tactical Chessboard
Southgate has been fairly consistent with his tactics at this tournament. In all five games, England has lined up in a 3-1-4-2 formation with Trippier and Ashley Young deployed out wide in that line of four. The interchangeability of this shape is evident when looking at the movement of both those players. It morphs into essentially a 3-3-2-2 or even a 5-1-2-2 when the opposition has the ball in England’s half.
There’s no doubting the attack-mindedness of this formation. Both Trippier and Young have free rein to bomb forward and contribute to the Three Lions’ link-up play in the final third. When it’s firing on all cylinders, it results in an aesthetically pleasing brand of football that’s immensely successful. Look no further than where England currently finds itself for confirmation of that notion.
Trippier is a big reason why. Of the players on this year’s quartet of semifinalists who’ve made at least four appearances, only Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne (4) boasts more chances created per 90 than Trippier’s 3.2. The 27-year-old has certainly contributed to a tournament dominated by set-piece goals. After all, his lone assist came via a pinpoint cross from the corner flag that found the head of John Stones to open the scoring in a 6-1 demolition of Panama.
John Stones BURIES a free header in the box to put England up 1-0 early against Panama! pic.twitter.com/t0KJKt6DYa
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 24, 2018
The renewed prevalence of three-man back lines at both international and club level puts an added premium on players with Trippier’s skill set. The term fullback or even wingback might not accurately embody his role. Given the advanced nature of his and Young’s positioning and movement in this formation, they essentially operate as wing-halves more than anything. Trippier’s exploits in that capacity are a big reason England are still alive.
Corner Taker Extraordinaire
As mentioned when describing Trippier’s assist against Panama, goals off set pieces have defined this year’s World Cup. Overall, 40 goals have come via that situation in the tournament to this point. That equates to slightly over a quarter of the entire goal total. When adding penalties to the set piece total, that number jumps to a World Cup record 39.4 percent.
Kane is obviously the go-to guy at the penalty spot. But when it comes to corner kicks, the Three Lions turn to Trippier. His ability to provide quality service from there manifested itself with his helper on Stones’ header. And overall, he’s among the tournament leaders from the standpoint of whipping in corners that find their target. A cursory perusal of the graphic below lends credence to that fact.
In addition to Trippier, two other important players figure prominently here. There’s Belgium’s dynamic playmaker De Bruyne who’s already faced England and could do so again if they both win in the semifinals. And of course, Croatia’s Luka Modric, who’s in the running for the Golden Ball given to the tournament’s top player, will be standing in England’s way on Wednesday.
England’s five set-piece goals currently lead all teams at the World Cup. They’re one of seven to have fewer tallies from open play than from free kick situations. It’s a major reason they’ve advanced this far and could determine whether or not the Three Lions ultimately lay waste to the pessimistic narrative that’s hovered over them for decades. Aiding in that quest will undoubtedly be Trippier remaining dangerous from the corner flag.
Putting in Work on the Defensive End
Football in its modern form requires a lot out of your outside backs. The level of fitness necessary to cover the entirety of their flanks in both attacking and defensive game states is enormous indeed. It also requires high football I.Q. in terms of not letting the opposition’s wide players get in behind and create 1v1 opportunities in and around your own 18-yard box.
For Trippier, this aspect of his skill set completes him as a footballer. His defensive work rate has been on full display on a game-by-game basis at this World Cup. It shows in the fact that his 12 tackles and six interceptions both lead the team. His tackle numbers are tied with France’s N’Golo Kante, an impressive feat considering his reputation as an industrious ball-winner.
Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic has mixed things up tactically during this tournament. It’s included deploying Mario Mandzukic out wide in a 4-3-3 and at the point in a single-striker setup. If the former happens against England, Trippier will have his hands full keeping the Juventus attacker at bay. Add in Modric and Ivan Rakitic’s precision passing connecting with overlapping players such as Ivan Perisic and Ivan Strinic and it’s fairly certain that Trippier is in line for his biggest challenge this tournament.
The Three Lions currently find themselves in territory they haven’t traversed in 28 years. Given the fact they’re facing a team that’s endured 240 minutes and two mentally draining penalty shootouts in the knockout round already, an opportunity to progress even further seems there for the taking. Trippier, rated by advanced stats site Whoscored.com as the sixth best player at this tournament, just a spot behind his captain Kane, can help make “It’s Coming Home” a reality if he continues to impress.