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LEE CARLSLEY'S U21 ENGLAND 4-2-3-1 135 goals

I tried to emulate England U21 Lee Carlsley's possession based tactic, the tactic that made England win UEFA EUROCUP 2023. Tested with Leeds and got promoted

By on Mar 15, 2024   7118 views   2 comments
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Downloads: 1705 / Added: 2024-03-15



England's senior team's performance at the 2022 World Cup, though falling short in the quarter-finals, showcased a burgeoning generation brimming with talent. Young stars like Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, and Jude Bellingham spearhead this group, promising a strong national team for years to come. This bodes well for the U21 squad, as this year's European Championship serves as a springboard to further develop this exceptional pool of young players.
England's U21 team boasts a meager record in the European Championship, with only two titles (consecutively in 1982 and 1984) in the last 39 years. Rivals like Spain and Germany have consistently dominated the competition, leaving England's best showing as semi-final appearances.

However, a potential shift in fortunes might be brewing. The Premier League's recent rise has bolstered the infrastructure and development of young English talents. This improved environment could translate into success for the U21 team.

Following a disappointing performance at the previous Euro U21 tournament, Lee Carsley assumed the helm. The team, which included some returning players like Oliver Skipp, Curtis Jones, and Max Aarons, finished last in their group. Nevertheless, the past two years have witnessed a significant change.

This tactical analysis delves into the strategies employed by Lee Carsley's U21 England squad. We'll dissect the intricacies of Carsley's approach and provide a detailed breakdown of their tactical system, offering a glimpse into their potential for the upcoming competition.

England U21 boasts a deep and talented squad, with manager Lee Carsley favoring a 4-2-3-1 formation. While the system might adapt based on possession, this framework helps predict a probable starting lineup.

Goalkeeper: The competition lies between James Trafford and Josh Griffiths, with Trafford having a slight edge.

Defense: Left-back seems settled with Luke Thomas. Right-back presents a choice between Djed Spence and Max Aarons, with Aarons' experience likely securing the starting spot. Both Aarons and Spence offer flexibility, capable of playing on either side if needed. Youngster Rico Lewis might also see playing time.

Center-backs: Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Levi Colwill are the most probable pairing, performing well at their clubs. Depth exists with Ben Johnson, Nathan Wood, Charlie Cresswell, and Luke Mbete.

Midfield: While Conor Gallagher is unlikely due to senior team involvement, Oliver Skipp and Angel Gomes are expected to anchor the midfield behind Morgan Gibbs-White. Jacob Ramsey presents another strong option. Depth includes Tommy Doyle, Tyler Morton, James McAtee, and James Garner.

Attack: Cameron Archer is the likely starting striker, but options are limited in this position. The remaining attacking options showcase versatility. Liverpool's Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones are expected to flank Archer, with Emile Smith Rowe, Noni Madueke, and Cole Palmer also in contention. Anthony Gordon's inclusion remains uncertain.

Overall, Carsley's squad possesses exceptional quality, depth, and adaptability. This, combined with a strategic age balance of young stars, experienced players, and a core group around 22 years old, positions England U21 as a strong contender.

England U21 exhibits a consistent style under Carsley, allowing for seamless player rotation. Statistics reveal a possession-based approach, with high numbers for possession (98th percentile), passes per match (90th percentile), and accurate passes (92nd percentile). However, it's crucial to consider the context - these numbers might decrease against stronger opponents.

Despite this, the team's attacking prowess is evident. They rank highly in goals per match (86th percentile) and passes in the final third (88th percentile), demonstrating their ability to create chances. Even shots per match and expected goals (xG) remain above average.

Carsley utilizes possession as a tool for his Positional Play strategy. The team retains the ball in deeper areas, using it to organize and stretch the pitch before progressing the attack. Their strong backline and double-pivot midfield facilitate this possession-based approach.

Their structure adheres to textbook Positional Play principles. Players maintain specific spatial relationships throughout the pitch, as shown in the 4-2-3-1 formation.

Initially, fullbacks provide width in deeper positions, while the midfield duo occupies central areas. As the fullbacks push forward, the wingers move into the half-spaces. This rotation ensures only one player occupies the wide area at any given time.

This strategy is effectively executed regardless of the specific players involved. Fullbacks like Rico Lewis can invert and move centrally, with wingers remaining wide. This flexibility and understanding of positional roles are key aspects of their attacking approach.

Beyond formations, England U21's attacking structure revolves around respecting spatial relationships within Positional Play. Players constantly assess and adapt their positioning to exploit gaps in the opponent's defense.

This approach involves fluid movement and rotations. A central midfielder might drop deep, triggering a chain reaction where the winger fills the vacated space. This continuous movement aims to find solutions while adhering to the core spatial principles.

These principles aim to stretch the opposition, opening passing lanes and creating advantageous situations. Triangles form in wide areas, and diagonal passes flow in and out of half-spaces, disrupting the opponent's defensive organization.

An example showcases this concept: Left-back Aarons positions himself slightly deeper with the ball. Winger Smith Rowe occupies the wide channel, while midfielder Gomes supports from the half-space. Further forward, Elliott provides a vertical option.

Harvey Elliott's initial right-wing position transforms as he moves to the left, creating balance with Gibbs-White shifting to the right. This fluidity and awareness of spatial roles is a hallmark of their approach.

While verticality is an option when space allows, the team also utilizes patient possession circulation to find openings. Naturally, the level of pressure and available space dictates their approach. Against weaker teams, longer possession spells occur, while stronger opponents demand swift adjustments.

This adaptability extends to the final third. Their structure helps stretch defenses, and they actively seek to manipulate opponents numerically, tactically, and even psychologically.

As an example, Doyle attacks the right side with options on either flank. He feeds the ball to the midfielder and makes a decoy run, aiming to drag the Croatian fullback and create space for Palmer out wide.

These tactics consistently generate scoring opportunities. Carsley's team effectively utilizes Positional Play, progressing the ball through the thirds with methodical movement and a clear understanding of their roles.

England U21 prioritizes dominating possession and utilizes an aggressive pressing strategy. This is evident in their low PPDA (measure of pressing intensity) and exceptional pressing efficiency ranking (98th percentile). Their success in recovering the ball in the final third (81st percentile) further emphasizes this approach.

Defensively, they employ a 4-2-3-1 formation as a base. However, this structure transforms into an asymmetrical pressing shape. One winger joins the striker in pressing the opponent's central defenders, creating an aggressive high block.

Depending on the opposition's setup, adjustments are made. The fullback or a central midfielder might cover the space vacated by the pressing winger. Centrally, the attacking midfielder marks the deepest midfielder, while one of the central midfielders marks the other.

The remaining winger tucks inside to maintain compactness but can shift wide when necessary. Against stronger opponents, a more compact mid-block is used. The line of engagement shifts to the opponent's midfield, with the attacking midfielder and striker marking the deepest midfielder and central midfielder respectively. Wingers tuck in alongside these four players to limit space.

While a zonal approach is evident, man-to-man marking also plays a role. In a low block, the formation transitions to a 4-4-1-1. The wingers drop alongside the central midfielders, forming a four-man midfield. They aim for a numerical advantage in the backline and man-mark opponents in the midfield.


England's approach to transitions aligns with Carsley's overall philosophy. Defensively, they aim for immediate recovery through counter-pressing. This tactic leverages their strong rest defense, built on the principles of Positional Play, allowing them to regain possession swiftly and maintain dominance.

Here's an example: Against Croatia, upon losing the ball, the first line of the rest defense charges towards the opponent, limiting passing options. Other nearby players apply immediate pressure, aiming to overwhelm and reclaim the ball quickly.

Offensively, their approach is twofold:

Counter-attacks: When space allows and the opposition is vulnerable, England utilizes individual talent and coordinated movements to launch dangerous counter-attacks.
Regaining Control: If space is limited, they prioritize possession recovery. They rebuild their structure using Positional Play principles before initiating attacks.
Squad Breakdown:

Defenders: England boasts exceptional options at the back. Experienced players like Max Aarons, Djed Spence, and Luke Thomas offer versatility and quality. Youngster Rico Lewis adds depth and potential.

Midfielders: The midfield is packed with experienced and talented players like Oliver Skipp, Angel Gomes, and Morgan Gibbs-White. Others like Jacob Ramsey and James Garner bring valuable experience from top leagues. Rising stars like Tyler Morton and Tommy Doyle showcase England's depth in midfield talent.

Attackers: While the attack possesses versatility, the true number nine position remains a question mark. Cameron Archer is likely the starter, but players like Curtis Jones and Cole Palmer can operate fluidly within the structure. Wingers offer a dynamic threat, capable of playing wide or drifting into central channels.

Key Player:

Identifying a single standout player is challenging. However, Harvey Elliott deserves recognition for his consistent performances with Liverpool and his ability to impact the game decisively. Still, teammates like Curtis Jones also possess the potential to shine.


Football Manager 2024 Tactic - England U21 Inspired 4-2-3-1
Mentality: Positive
Team Instructions (In Possession):
Attacking Width: Fairly Wide
Passing: Shorter
Tempo: Slightly Lower
Play Out of Defense: Yes
Overlap: Right & Left (both wing-backs like to overlap)
Crosses: Low
Work Ball Into Box: (possession-based approach)
Dribble Less: (prioritize possession)
Transition Instructions:
Counter-Press: More Often (aggressive pressing to regain possession)
Counter: once England U21 gained the ball back, they launch fast counter-attacks
Goalkeeper Instructions:
Take short kicks
Distribute to center backs (help to build from the back)
Defensive Phase (Out of Possession):
Pressing Line: High Pressing Line (aggressive pressing)
Defensive Line: Higher
Trigger Press: More Often (maintain pressure on the opponent)
Prevent Short GK Distribution: Yes
Step up more: apply offside trap
Player Roles & Instructions:
Goalkeeper: Sweeper Keeper (Support Duty) - Actively participates in build-up play. (James Trafford)
Wing-backs: Wing-backs (Support Duty) - Push forward to support attacks: instructions: stay wider (provide width), close down more, tackle harder, mark tighter (Max Aarons and Luke Thomas)
Central Defenders: Ball Playing Defenders (Defend Duty) - Initiate attacks from the back. Instructions: Close down more, tackle harder, mark tighter. (Harwood-Bellis and Colwill).
Central Midfielders (Left ): Deep-Lying Playmaker (Support Duty) - Protects the backline and distributes the ball. Instructions: stay wider (to cover when the inside forward moves inside and the left wing-back pushes forward), close down more, mark tighter, tackle harder, (Angel Gomes)
Central Midfielders (2): Box-to-Box Midfielder (Support Duty) - Provides both defensive and offensive contributions.Instructions: pass it shorter, get further forward, mark tighter, tackle harder, move into channels. (Oliver Skipp)
Right Winger: Inside Forward (Attack Duty) - Cuts inside to create chances and link up with attackers. Instructions: Sit narrower, tackle harder, mark tighter. (Harvey Elliott).
Left Winger: Inside Forward (Support Duty) - Similar role to right winger. Instructions: Sit narrower, tackle harder, mark tighter. (Curtis Jones).
Attacking Midfielder: Attacking Midfielder (Attack Duty) - Supports the striker and creates play in the final third. Instructions: Move into channels, mark tighter, tackle harder. (Gibbs-White).
Striker: Advanced Forward (Attack Duty) - Leads the line and looks to score goals. Instructions: mark tighter, tackle harder. (Cameron Archer).
This tactic emphasizes possession-based play with a high pressing approach to win the ball back quickly.
Wing-backs are instructed to attack and overlap, providing width in the attacking phase.
Central midfielders offer a balance between defense and attack.
Inside forwards provide creativity and link up play in the final third.
The attacking midfielder supports the striker and creates scoring opportunities.
The advanced forward spearheads the attack and looks to finish chances.
The two inside forwards, the attacking midfielder and the advanced forward are instructed to mark tighter and tackle harder to apply pressing to the opponent center backs.

That's all for this tactic
I hope it works for you too.

For tactic analysis, in game creation, stats and highlights, please see this video in my channel

Youtube video here

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Downloads: 1705 / Added: 2024-03-15
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