Rafa Benitez: Gerrard can recall how we blocked out Ibrahimovic


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The Independent Online

England have a very clear obstacle tonight in Kiev. Everyone will be talking about Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the impact he has already had in these championships for Sweden but I think that there is a way of dealing with him.

It's seven years since Liverpool faced Ibrahimovic in the quarter-final of the Champions League, on our way to the Istanbul final of 2005. He was the big threat in Fabio Capello's Juventus side but our three-man defence in the Stadio delle Alpi shut him out for the goalless draw that sent us through.

Yes, Ibrahimovic is very dangerous in the air and he has a very fine touch, but he doesn't like physical contact too much. He's not the quickest player but when he receives the ball to his feet, he likes to keep it, controlling with his chest, perhaps, and bringing other players in. He likes to turn, pass, maybe win some fouls. You might say he's a little like Peter Crouch in some of these positive respects – a player who makes up in other ways what he might lack in pace.

The key is to create a screen in front of Ibrahimovic, to prevent him receiving the ball in those areas. Like so much else, that is a job for Steven Gerrard, pictured above, or Scott Parker in the Olympic Stadium at Kiev. They will frustrate him.

In Turin with Liverpool that night in April 2005, we had six men in midfield, with Xabi Alonso holding, so Juventus could not find Ibrahimovic with the ball. It was a 3-5-1-1 system we used and after they had failed to locate him with precise passes, they had to try to find him in the air. Sami Hyypia was better than Ibrahimovic in the air, however. There was one cross from Fabio Cannavaro that reached him but he put it over the bar. We were organised for Ibrahimovic, as England will need to be.

Of course, England will not want a 0-0 draw in Kiev because that will bring a lot more pressure on an already tired team. The important thing will be not to have their two banks of four defending so deep.

They didn't take advantage of the high line of the French in Donetsk. When you are so deep, you find that when regain the ball you have the other team on top of you. So, without doing too much, the opposition can stop the counter-attacks. This means that you have to be very, very precise with the first two passes when you regain the ball, if you are to create the space which enables you to start working with the striker.

England were defending 4-4-2 and attacking 4-2-3-1, and to me that was right. But they couldn't create too much in counter-attack because they were too far back. John Terry would regain the ball but Karim Benzema or Samir Nasri would be on him, so it would not be easy for him to play a simple pass. A lot depends on the energy of the wingers or the attacking players to break out fast from those deep positions. If you don't have the energy, it will be hard.

Everyone had been talking about France before the game. But their system was flawed because they didn't run behind the defenders and get strikers into the box. In the end, all they could do was shoot from distance. How could it all work differently against Sweden?

Well, Sweden have conceded quite a lot of goals from headers – seven in 11 games – and that could tell us there is an opportunity here. A side who concede a lot of headed goals might be defending too deep – allowing cross after cross, and therefore more goals.

If England have possession, control the game and attack Sweden, they will be closer to the box, and it will then be important to have someone who can head the ball. With Andy Carroll, you will have a chance with the first ball in, or the second ball. He could be a good option – provided Ibrahimovic is safely screened.