England is heavily favored to get past the Ukraine this weekend and what will be the last quarter-final clash of this round at Euro 2020.
After finishing at the top of Group D by virtue of two 1-0 wins over Croatia and the Czech Republic and a 0-0 draw with Scotland, Gareth Southgate’s side defeated Germany 2-0 at Wembley in what was a momentous occasion in the round of 16.
Ukraine’s route to the quarterfinals was a bit different, having qualified for the knockout stages as one of the four best third-placed sides, but they pulled off a shock upset in Glasgow, beating Sweden 2-1 with a last-gasp, extra time goal from Artem Dovbyk.
Andriy Shevchenko’s side was largely aided in goal difference by Spain’s 5-0 thrashing of Slovakia on the final matchday for the group stages as well as Finland’s -2 goal difference in Group B. Despite getting slightly fortunate with results elsewhere across the groups, the Ukraine impressed in the 3-2 thriller against the Netherlands as well as their narrow 1-0 defeat to Austria, in-between of which was the 2-1 win over North Macedonia. The attacking line led by Andriy Yarmolenko, Ruslan Malinovskiy, and Roman Yaremchuk has proven to be a menace for opposition defenses on the counter attacks, which is something they will certainly have to utilize against England.
While England is the heavy, odds-on favorite for the clash in Rome, Germany provided a bit of a blueprint for what the Ukraine can use to their advantage to try and get the best of the Three Lions, and they’ll also be bolstered by the fact that English fans cannot travel to Rome and be allowed entry into the Stadio Olimpico due to coronavirus quarantine protocols. Spectactors aside, Shevchenko can take notes on what worked and what didn’t work for Joachim Low’s Germany at Wembley and take it in stride into Saturday.
One word that could define Southgate’s tactics and team selections thus far in the tournament would be pragmatic. While he has made several changes to his starting lineups between their four matches, the game plans have been sensible. In their three group stage matches, the onus was on England to attack and create, and Southgate fielded more attacking-orientated lineups between the likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Bukayo Saka, and Jack Grealish.
Against Germany, knowing that Joachim Low predominantly kept the same lineup, Southgate switched to three center-backs and two wing-backs comprised of Harry Maguire, John Stones, Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, and Luke Shaw. From a tactical standpoint for Germany, perhaps it would’ve been a better decision to field one less attacker against England or give specific instructions to wingbacks Robin Gosens and Joshua Kimmich to measure their treks forward as to not leave too much space in behind.
For this specific matchup, Schevchenko can expect Southgate to potentially switch to a back four, knowing that the Ukraine will likely setup in deeper blocks to try to negate England’s attacking prowess. Looking back, while Germany did have a few credible chances, Croatia, the Czechs, and Scotland created far more against what was a back four from England. With a back four, the chances will be there for the Ukraine.
Finish the chances!
For the opening 15 minutes or so, Germany was playing quite well against England. They looked confident, poised, controlled, and unafraid. Low had admitted after the match that he knew his side would not get many chances and that they would have to make the most of the ones they did get. Unfortunately, Die Mannschaft was not able to do so.
Timo Werner had a chance in the first half when he was played in by Kai Havertz, but Jordan Pickford made himself large and got down well to save it. It was Pickford again in the second half who pulled off a brilliant save to tip over an arrowed volley from Havertz just outside of the 18-yard box. Sterling had nearly gone from hero to zero shortly after breaking the deadlock when he conceded possession cheaply and sent Germany on the counter attack, at the end of which Thomas Muller missed a gaping 1v1 chance, pulling his effort beyond the left post of Pickford’s goal.
While chances, on the main, were few and far between for Germany, making something of any of the chances they did have could’ve completely changed the complexion of the match and caused England to force the issue, leaving them more exposed. Ultimately, they were made to rue their missed chances and crash out of the Euros at the hands of and England side that still wasn’t anywhere near their best on the evening.
Balancing building from the back and playing direct
For large portions of the match, Germany plenty of time on the ball in the back, whether it was Mats Hummels, Antonio Rudiger, or Matthias Ginter in possession. With their three center-back and two wing-back system, England fluctuated when they would get aggressive on the high press deep inside Germany’s territory.
For large periods, especially in the first half, Germany had plenty of freedom to build from the back without too much pressure, and in particular, Toni Kroos and Leon Goretzka often tried to get in between those lines in the half spaces, causing Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice to shift with them. There would also be times where one of England’s three center-backs would have to step forward and close down the check runs, leaving space in behind for the runners; Muller, Havertz, and Werner. This helped generate a lot of progressive passing lanes in the center of the pitch for Germany, but they could’ve done far better to capitalize on the space that was being allowed to them.
Schevchenko can certainly utilize those space if he plays his cards right. Without discrediting Ukraine in any way, they don’t necessarily pose the same attacking threats as England, so Southgate might very well revert back to a back four system, since he was very set on pragmatically setting up to negate Germany’s pacey attackers. Still, Yarmolenko, Yarmechuk, and Malinovskiy can expose those spaces in between the lines and cause loads of problems, especially with their interchangeability.
The beauty of this for Schevchenko is that if England go back to a back-four system, they’ll be one more attacking or midfield player on the pitch with the idea that England will dominate possession and have to work to break down a deep Ukrainian block. They will have to commit numbers forward to help create, which leaves plenty of vulnerable spaces in behind for a pacey Malinovskiy to run into and create problems for England. Schevchenko has the luxury of being able to play both direct, or build from the back through the middle depending on what England’s press looks like.