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Gareth Southgate praises Allan Russell
Gareth Southgate and his England players have united in praise of the impact made by the national setup’s attacking coach, Allan Russell, who is credited with the team’s startling improvement from set pieces at the tournament in Russia.
England arrived at the World Cup having failed to register from a corner at a major finals since 2010, encompassing 72 attempts stretching back to Matthew Upson scoring from Steven Gerrard’s delivery to give England hope in the 4-1 defeat by Germany in Bloemfontein. Yet Southgate’s team have scored from three in their first two Group G games, as well as winning a penalty, with seven of their 10 corners having resulted in an effort on goal, whether directly or via a flick on, or a
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Their fourth goal in the 6-1 rout of Panama was also cleverly constructed from a free-kick routine involving Kieran Trippier, Jordan Henderson, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, leading to John Stones scoring his second goal of the game. The assistant manager, Steve Holland, worked within a Chelsea coaching setup that consistently ranked in the top five teams for set-piece goals in the Premier League. “But, if anything, Allan is spending more time on the set
pieces,” said Southgate. “We’d identified them as key in tournaments, and an element we felt we could improve upon.
“It helps if you have outstanding delivery and people who want to go and head the thing, of course, and we’ve got that. We’re giving it the right attention in training, and it was clear Panama were wary of it from the start. No matter how much you control the play at both ends, set
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plays are really important.”
Russell, a 37-year-old former journeyman striker at lower-league clubs in Scotland and England, is a Uefa A licence coach, and has been on Southgate’s staff for around a year. During spells at US clubs such as Carolina RailHawks and Orange County Blues, the Scot has witnessed at first-hand the positional specialist coaching afforded to players in that country. “We’d been spending a lot of time on set pieces,” said Ruben Loftus-Cheek. “Right down to the details, all the runs and the blocks. To see it coming
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out on the pitch is great.”
“Allan does finishing sessions with us, tells us about opposition defenders, goalkeepers, and tells us maybe where we can exploit a weakness,” said Kane, who might have earned two further penalties after being impeded at corners either side of half-time against Tunisia. “We are all top players, so he is not running
through technique or telling us how to strike a ball. It’s just little stuff to maybe give us an edge. He does our attacking set plays, which are going pretty well so far, and we do a lot of work on it in training. Every little helps – particularly the little details at this level in a World Cup.”
Southgate had identified that 11% of goals at the 2014 finals stemmed from corners, a slightly higher proportion than normal, but has also studied American sports to assess whether techniques used in NFL and NBA could be adapted for football.
He has visited the Seattle Seahawks, attended the past two Super Bowls and spoken to set-play NFL analysts and NBA coaches to ascertain how players create space in tight areas, whether through the timing of their runs or by subtle and legal
screening of opponents. Ashley Young’s block of Michael Murillo, who had been assigned to mark Stones, at England’s eighth-minute corner in Nizhny Novgorod arguably illustrated the technique.
As a result, with Russell drilling the routines from St George’s Park to Zelenogorsk, England look thoroughly well prepared, with their first two opponents in Russia rendered vulnerable. It helps to have delivery of the calibre offered by Young and, in particular, Trippier, with the latter having learned from his club-mate at Spurs, Christian Eriksen. “It’s a crucial part of the game, and one we’ve targeted,” said the right wing-back. “We work on them, defensively and offensively, and we’re being rewarded.”
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