The stage is set for a historic tussle at Wembley on Sunday evening, England have reached their 3rd Women's European Championship final.
England's first since 2009 where they were defeated by Sunday's opponents, Germany. While this is England’s opportunity to win their first major tournament, Germany is the tournament's most successful team. Since 1989, Germany has won a record 8 championships, including 6 in a row between 1995 and 2013. History lies hugely in Germany’s favour. However, from breaking the tournament record for biggest win to overcoming favourites Spain, Sarina Weigman and this England side are out to make history.
We expect a high-quality, high-intensity affair, and you only have to look as far as both semi-final performances to see why. England subdued highly ranked Sweden with Germany fighting hard to take out one of the most impressive teams in the tournament in France. Analysing the matches that brought both sides to the final, there are key areas where Skylab: EPA believe the Women’s EURO 2022 final can be won.
Crossing in wide areas
In England’s knockout matches the opposition has looked to attack their fullbacks. In the quarter-final, Spain created 54% of their xG threat down England's left-hand side, and in the semi-final, Sweden tried to attack the same side, with 46% of their attacks coming down that flank. However, England did a better job nullifying the threat out wide against Sweden, as 83% of the Swedish xG funnelled to central attacks.
A problem England have encountered during the tournament is preventing opponents from getting deep down the wings to deliver crosses into the box. In the quarter-final, Spain only attempted 5 of their 28 crosses (18%) from further out than 18 yards from the goal-line, with their goal coming from a cutback almost in line with the 6-yard box. Then in the semi-final, Sweden attempted 21 crosses and only 3 of those came from in front of the box.
Popp’s fantastic quality in the air and the German ability to get into dangerous wide positions is a threat England will need to be aware of.
So far, Germany have been imperious in the air and clinical when getting the ball into the box from wide. They have scored 13 goals on their route to the final, and 10 have come from an aerial threat; 7 directly from crosses, 2 directly from headers at corners and 1 from a flicked on header at a free kick. Against France, Germany attempted all 8 of their crosses from within 18 yards of the goalline, including the two leading to both goals. Alexandra Popp’s fantastic quality in the air and the German ability to get into dangerous wide positions is a threat England will need to be aware of.
The story is similar for England. They have been dazzling in wide areas, with Beth Mead and Lauren Hemp shining once again in the semi-final. Spain was very effective in shutting down both wide players with their shape and Germany could look to emulate that to keep two of England's key players quiet. Against Spain, England attempted 20 crosses with only 20% 'accurate', more on 'accuracy' below. Of those 20, 8 were blocked, showing Spain’s ability to get close to the wide players and stop the threat at the source. Furthermore, only 2 of England’s crosses were low cutbacks or low-driven balls. Against Sweden however, England was able to cross the ball with higher accuracy, completing 6 of 15 attempts (40%), and only having 1 cross blocked, portraying the time and space the wide players had on the ball in the final third. Moreover, they changed their approach and attempted more low crosses (8) than aerial crosses (6), getting success with Beth Mead’s opener and Lauren Hemp’s big chance in the second half.
Context is particularly important when looking at ‘accuracy’ and although 40% success rate still isn’t huge, the level of threat those unsuccessful crosses had was high. Of the 9 unsuccessful crosses, 5 were in behind the defence into very dangerous areas and if a teammate were able to get on the end of them the xG would be very high, including the opportunity for Ellen White immediately before the opening goal. Also, 3 of them were onto the edge of the 6-yard box, putting doubt in the keeper’s mind about whether to come and claim.
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In Germany’s victory over France, they masterfully isolated the French wingers, Diani and Cascarino, when they were able to get on the ball, they found themselves in the middle third, with a long way to travel with the ball to create danger. This often meant they were crowded out and Germany recovered possession. Both French wingers were only able to complete two dribbles each, with Cascarino failing to register a shot on target or any xA. Furthermore, Diani completed less than half of her attempted actions (43%, 30/70), showing she felt the need to try and create something herself.
Wide channels will certainly be a focal point as both teams excel in creating chances from crosses. Germany can cut off opposition wingers successfully, and they have the blueprint from Spain on how to frustrate England, but will they be able to keep up with Sarina Weigman’s tactical nous, the squad depth & options she has, and England’s ability to adapt as we saw against Sweden?
The general reaction to England’s semi-final win has been how good they were and the scoreline would back that up. However, the scoreline did somewhat flatter England and they needed that first goal from Beth Mead to calm the game down and put them in control. During the first 25-30 minutes, Sweden had joy in transition and England had Mary Earps to thank for keeping the game scoreless. The xG from the match reads England 2.39-2.05 Sweden, with Sweden producing more xG than England in the first half (0.61-0.90). Sweden was able to press and shut down Walsh and Stanway in the middle of the pitch while picking up loose balls and playing forward quickly in transition causing England problems early on. If England does start slowly again, Germany has the quality to punish and England does not want to be chasing the game from early on.
Breaking Lines: Playing Through, Round & Over
Sweden pressed high-up to pressure England's defence as they struggled to unlock Sweden early on. Sweden’s average formation line was 61.7m from their goal line, much higher up than England’s 43.4m, intending to play the game in England’s half. Sweden allowed 8.3 PPDA, which is the most intense press England has faced since they last played Germany in the Arnold Clark Cup in February (7.97 PPDA). Against France, Germany allowed just 6.49 PPDA, and their group stage match against Spain (13.57 PPDA) was the only time they allowed more PPDA than any side England faced in the tournament. England will know that Germany is going to bring the intensity and press hard and high from the outset. Much like England with Ellen White, Germany use Alexandra Popp to press from the front, something we saw Spain do with great success against England in the quarter-final with Esther Gonzalez. However, England learned from the Spanish press, to play through the middle against Sweden.
In the semi-final, Leah Williamson was fantastic on the ball, and her ability to break lines with her passing was crucial to getting England going forward. We expect Williamson to be a key figure in breaking Germany's press.
Against Spain, outside of her centre-back partner Millie Bright (15) and left-back Rachel Daly (8), she connected with Kiera Walsh the most, completing 8 passes into her. During the quarter-final, she only completed 2 passes into Fran Kirby, however in the semi-final, England adapted to the early Swedish pressure and tried to mark Walsh out of the game similarly to Spain. Leah Williamson made the most passes to Rachel Daly (18), but her second most frequent passing target was Fran Kirby (11) in between the Swedish lines, allowing England to bypass the press and Kirby to turn and drive into space, often giving the ball to Lauren Hemp who is particularly dangerous driving at full-backs.
If England is to be successful against a German team expected to play with lots of intensity and press high up the pitch, they will have to be adaptable, like they were against Sweden. They must recognise when they can play through the middle of the pitch with rotation and movement from Kirby and Stanway, and when they can play around the press with their high full backs and flood the channels, which they were exceptional at in the group stages.
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