Record-breaking Lionesses: England Go From Strength to Strength
Last week we saw history made in Brighton when the Lionesses netted 8 goals against 12th world ranked Norway, becoming the first team, male or female, to score 8 goals in a European Championship match.
It was a truly magnificent performance from England, a marked improvement from their opener against Austria and one of their best displays in their major tournament history. The data from the game puts into perspective how fantastic a performance it was and that Sarina Weigman’s side are not only true contenders to lift the trophy, but are peaking at the perfect time. England had their highest shot on target accuracy and their best passing accuracy of their last 15 matches in all competitions, since Weigman took charge, whilst also losing the ball less than in any of their previous 12 competitive matches.
England made a winning start against Austria but it wasn’t a storied performance during their opening game, and much of the talk pre-match was if England could hurt Norway enough to keep their strikeforce of Ada Hegerberg and Caroline Graham Hansen quiet throughout the game. England did that and then some. Three main areas England were able to exploit Norway and put them to the sword were with their pressing from the front, their chance creation and overloading the wide channels.
In the match against Austria we were England successfully pressing from the front and that only intensified against Norway. Last week throughout the match England’s average formation line, which is the average position from their own goal where a player had an involvement, was 49.7m from their goal, however against Norway they pushed much higher with their average formation line sitting at 57.3m up the pitch. Furthermore, Lucy Bronze’s average position was inside the opposition half, with her and Beth Mead taking up very aggressive positions on the right hand side. This in turn affected the opposition too and Norway were forced to take up an average back line position of 48.7m, compared to Austria’s 54.8m.
England's high press and intent to go forward immediately following ball recovery proved highly successful
England’s ability to press high and their intensity in doing so was a key part to their success against Norway. PPDA, or passes per defensive action, is a metric that shows pressing intensity by calculating how many passes the opposition are allowed to make before the team without possession make an action such as a tackle, interception or duel, inside the final 60% of the pitch. England allowed 6.7 PPDA on average against Norway, an improvement on the 8.9 average against Austria, and better than any of the games from February’s Arnold Clark Cup against similar standard opposition to Norway.
On Monday evening, England were able to create a large amount of chances, registering 25 shots, with 15 of those on target, a higher accuracy than any of their previous 15 games. Moreover, they were able to end 42% of their attacks with a shot, a big increase from the 25% against Austria. They also completed a lot more deep passes (15 to 6) and upped their percentage of possessions reaching both the opposition half (71% to 62%) and penalty area (28% to 20%). Interestingly, England’s number of progressive passes was down from the Austria game (83 to 105) however, they did improve on their accuracy in completing them (85% to 74%). The reason England had to progress the ball less to get into dangerous attacking zones can be attributed to the aforementioned high press and high formation set up which allowed them to recover the ball higher up the pitch, meaning they had less to travel to threaten the opposition.
Overloading the Channels
Norway very much struggled against England in the wide areas of the pitch. England completed far more deep crosses, i.e. crosses targeted to within 20m of the goal, against Norway (15) than they did Austria (6). Furthermore, Norway’s ability to stop the cross at source was suspect all night, failing to block a single one of England’s 22 attempted crosses. England’s ability in the wide channels was clear all night, highlighted by cross assists for both Beth Mead’s first goal and Alessio Russo’s second half effort, among several other chances. Their cross accuracy was up with 64% of deliveries finding their target compared to 48% in their opener. Against Austria, 71% of England’s xG was created on the left wing, whereas it was more even between the wings against Norway (19% left, 22% right). This shows England were able to create threat across the pitch and had success down both flanks with a combined xG of 2.64 coming from those areas.
Attacking Areas v Austria & Attacking Areas v Norway
Not only did England create xG directly from wide areas, they were also able to use interplay in the channels during build up to find space and feed the ball into more central zones, creating chances and xG through the middle of the pitch. Additionally, throughout the game we saw Georgia Stanway coming over to the right hand side to play in a triangle with Lucy Bronze and Beth Mead, which helped overload that flank and allowed England to capitalise on their superior movement, as shown in the clips below.
England were able to play to get in behind Norway's defence by overloading the channels
Putting together the pressure England were able to put on Norway when they had the ball, particularly the centre backs, enabled them to make 18% of their turnovers in the final third, double that from the Austria game. Once they gained possession, they were able to spread the ball wide and overload the channels, and combined with Norway's inability to get close and stop the cross, they were able to either play intricate football into the box from wide, or accurately deliver crosses. Their clinical finishing was what then ultimately led to the record breaking scoreline.
Looking forward to the quarter final, England face their sturnest test yet. Spain were pre tournament favourites, certainly before the loss of Alexia Putellas. Tonight England will have to adapt to Spain’s style of play, a style they are yet to face in this tournament. In the last meeting between these two sides in the Arnold Clark Cup in February, which ended 0-0, Spain enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, with 65% of the ball, and tonight may very well be similar. It remains to be seen if England will adopt the high pressing style we’ve seen so far, as the Spanish defenders are far more comfortable on the ball than those England have faced previously.
Also, Spain have scored 4 of their 5 goals so far at the Euro’s through headers, with the other being a penalty, so expect Spain to deliver crosses into the box to try and cause England, and particularly captain Leah Williamson, trouble in the air. In that Arnold Clark Cup fixture though, England dealt with crosses exceptionally, with Spain only completing 2 of their 18 attempted crosses, a completion rate of just 11%.
Germany showed in their 2-0 win over Spain that with only 30% of possession, it is possible to frustrate Spain when they have the ball and then break on them effectively when possession is turned over. Look for England to play into the channels once again and get at Spain’s full backs using their quality wide players.
England’s ruthlessness and clinical play has been some of the best across the tournament, with an exemplary 14 goals scored and none conceded so far. Their quality going forward, and the way they were able to nullify the Spanish in their previous meeting, set England up nicely to face this tough task. Although Spain are yet to play to the standard that they are capable of, they can never be underestimated and possess threats all over the park.
England stepped up to the plate and then some against their perceived toughest group opponent Norway, another big performance will be needed tonight to conquer the Spanish and progress to the semi finals.
If you'd like to learn more about attacking styles of play and how playing to an opponents weaknesses can give you and your teams an edge, please feel free to get in touch with Ciaran.Skinner@skylab.com.