REPINO • When Gareth Southgate's England World Cup squad was announced, many observers wondered how the team would be able to compensate for the absence of a genuine creative midfielder.
Who would create the chances, in particular for striker Harry Kane? The answer in Russia has proven to be, for some, an unlikely one: right-back Kieran Trippier.
Not only has the Tottenham Hotspur wide man provided a much-needed solution for England, he has also been one of the tournament's top performers. According to statistics by Opta, the top three creators of chances in this tournament are Brazil's Neymar, Belgium's Kevin de Bruyne and Trippier. There is another table in the Opta stat-pack that suggests no one can match his 11 corners which have found a team-mate in Russia.
"Not bad for a Bury lad!" Trippier said laughing as he referenced his hometown, near Manchester.
"The (England) formation is perfect for me. I can get forward as much as I can and try to get the crosses in and help my team as much as I can. If I manage to help them, I am delighted."
The 12 chances he has generated for the collective have had people comparing that waspish delivery with his right foot, whether on the charge or from set pieces, to David Beckham in his prime.
Chances created by England right-back Kieran Trippier in Russia. Only Brazil forward Neymar (16) and Belgium midfielder Kevin de Bruyne (13) have produced more going into the quarter-finals.
Only four months ago, the 27-year-old was considered by most as a mere back-up. A player who has not always been a regular at Spurs, even after Kyle Walker left for Manchester City last summer, was pencilled in for understudy status at best. Today, the quarter-final against Sweden throws up a tactical battle in which Trippier will play a key role in breaking down a Swedish side playing a classic, and very English, 4-4-2 system.
England, playing three at the back, allow wing-backs Trippier and Ashley Young to support the attack, with Jordan Henderson playing a defensive midfield role. Trippier has been a creative force, combining well with his forwards and midfield to create overlaps and fire in crosses for captain Kane.
The Swedish set-up, however, is designed to keep the centre closed off completely and plenty of bodies in the box. They have no problem allowing sides to attack them down the flanks, betting on themselves to deal with any crosses or low balls.
Sweden scout Tom Prahl has noted a sluggishness in the way England move the ball, "not like teams from southern Europe", and questioned how Southgate's side will react to being pressed higher up the pitch and more aggressively.
"But our aim is to move the ball quickly and manage the game well, trying to find those little pockets of space for Raheem (Sterling) or whoever is playing, by making the pitch as wide as possible," Trippier added. "That's how we'll hurt teams. We've got the players here to do that."
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN