England – Euro 2020 – Tactical Analysis

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Having progressed to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, many picked England as favourites to steal the crown at this summer’s Euros. Now heading into the Quarter Finals of the tournament, Gareth Southgate’s team remain unbeaten, without having conceded a single goal. Here is our tactical analysis of England at the Euros so far, and their chances of winning it all.

system of play: 4-3-3

In three of their four matches so far, England have deployed a 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 hybrid-system. The system seamlessly transitions between both due to a number ten (Mount or Grealish) often acting as a third midfielder in build-up phases, but operating higher when the ball moves into the opposition’s half. Against Germany in the Round of 16, England also seamlessly transitioned to a 3-4-3 without causing any disruptions to their way of life. In place of a number ten in the team, Kieran Trippier came in as the right-wing-back, with Walker moving inside as part of the back-three.

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Jordan Pickford has started in goal for all four matches, after his main two competitors Dean Henderson and Nick Pope were ruled out of the tournament due to injury. Kyle Walker has also nailed down the starting birth at right-back ahead of Trippier and Reece James, after an injury to Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold. Harry Maguire has been a mainstay since returning from his ankle injury picked up prior to the tournament, while John Stones has been one of the tournament’s top defensive performers. Tyrone Mings also performed admirably in Maguire’s stead in the first few matches, and will provide a useful option should he be required again in the next few rounds. Since oddly missing out on the game against Croatia, Luke Shaw has also been a regular in the team regardless of formation. So too have defensive midfielders Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice, who have started every game together. Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka have battled for a place on the right (making everyone ask where is Jadon Sancho and why isn’t he the first name on the team sheet?), while Jack Grealish has played a more prominent role since Mason Mount‘s awkward encounter with COVID-ridden Billy Gilmour from Scotland. Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane have also started every game so far, as Gareth Southgate’s faith in the Tottenham man was finally been rewarded this week. Sterling has been one of England’s standouts at the tournament so far, scoring 3 goals in 4 matches. So those are the players, now let’s dissect more of the tactics behind Gareth Southgate’s team.


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England build out from the back in a slow, meticulous manner. They are patient in progressing the ball forwards, opting to keep the ball rather than take risks and lose it. They do however engage in a few interesting positional rotations, which allow for at least some intrigue amidst the snail-like pace.

One of those rotations is in the wide central midfielder dropping deep and the fullbacks advancing high in response. In different moments, the wingers may drop deep instead, as the outside central midfielders progress forward in between the lines. This variety makes England’s players difficult to track, and difficult to stop. They look to use these wide positional rotations to progress the ball down the left in particular, through the natural triangle shapes created. Prior to the tournament, Harry Kane was expected to also drop deep and create further chaos in midfield areas. However, he hasn’t done that much at all, and instead played a fairly minimal role for the Three Lions until the game against Germany.

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In addition to these slight positional rotations, Southgate’s men will often take up varying heights within their build-up structure. Declan Rice is always the lowest of the midfield three, Mason Mount is typically the highest, and Kalvin Phillips generally lies somewhere in between. Tyrone Mings constantly created a diagonal backwards option for Stones and Rice when he was in the team, rather than creating an angle in the same line. Providing these varying angles essentially gives England more natural ease to play out from the back, especially against a higher press. But again, England have frustrated their fans at this tournament to an extent, due to a slow build-up. When they do make vertical passes into their central midfielders for example, they typically go backwards right away. When centre-backs receive the ball from fullbacks, they often go backwards to goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. At least in those cases the ball ends up going long, into the path of a speedy England attacker. Kalvin Phillips also likes to go long on occasion, and can pick out interesting passes from deep when the ball is played to his path. But still, it’s not as progressive as many would like. It is however a safe approach, that has helped to contribute to their stunning defensive record. A maverick in the team like Jack Grealish can also change the speed of play by the drop of a hat, and would be a useful option in the Quarter Finals to speed up England’s build-up due to his inclination to dribble forward at pace.

defensive principles

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While England’s attack has been far from stellar at the tournament so far, their defense has been the best in the business. No other team is yet to concede a goal at the tournament. The Three Lions don’t rank particularly high for any defensive category, other than having a very low amount of shots allowed per game (1.8). This is simply through having steady possession, sound ball winners, a compact side to side shuffling shape, and doing well to force their opposition out of bounds. The solid organization of their back-line and the presence of those sound ball winners means their opposition often feel the need to take shots from distance. Denmark are the only other team at the tournament yet to concede a shot from six yards out or closer, but even they have conceded four goals to England’s zero. This is a stat that cannot be overlooked. If England can continue to force their opposition into bad shooting opportunities and stop their opposition from getting into dangerous positions, they will continue to be painfully hard to break down.

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Another key aspect of England’s defensive solidity has been a solid aerial presence. Only Belgium and France have won a higher proportion of their aerial duels than England’s 57%, and the Three Lions are more likely to win those duels in their own defensive end. Maguire, Stones, Walker and Shaw are all more than capable in the air, and frequently cut out crosses before they become dangerous. Maguire and Stones have both won 3 aerial duels per game, with Maguire yet to lose a single battle in the air.

In regards to their shape, England’s defense will often look something similar to a 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1, as Mount usually pushes higher alongside Kane. Since the Three Lions press slightly more vigorously than most, they could theoretically be susceptible to line-splitting passes or balls over the top as Germany attempted to hit them with throughout their Round of 16 match. But the positive for England is that they have two incredibly quick fullbacks who always seem to have the recovery pace to bail Maguire and Stones out. Walker in particular is a speed demon, and had he not rushed back so vigorously to stop Thomas Muller from leveling the score at 1-1 on Tuesday, the story of England’s Round of 16 tie could have been very different.

attacking principles

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In attack, England have a slight preference for the left side with the likes of Sterling, Mount, Grealish and Shaw. This has meant someone like Phil Foden hasn’t been able to establish themselves enough on the right, and that Sterling has become a real focal point for their attacks.

Once in the final third, England look to shift the ball quickly through one touch combinations in and around the box. They look for any opportunity to play through balls in behind for Sterling to run onto, and rather than delivering a high volume of crosses, only put balls into the box at the most opportune moments. Both of their goals against Germany were scored through these kinds of combinations in and around the eighteen yard box, with the play moving wide left and then being driven across the six yard box for a tap in.

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England’s aerial presence has also allowed them to be a threat from set-pieces. With the quality of players like Mount, Shaw and Trippier to deliver, the job for the likes of Stones and Maguire to rise above the rest is made all the easier. They are yet to score from a set-piece at the tournament, but this could be a mechanism by which they break down their next opposition in the Quarter Finals.

This sounds positive, but with Harry Kane clearly not at his best and Gareth Southgate not fully trusting the likes of Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish, England have only scored 4 goals at the tournament so far, and taken just 6.8 shots per game. Only Hungary and Finland have managed fewer shots per game so far at the tournament, highlighting England’s overall patience and lack of ability to adequately progress through the thirds. But with four goals from that low amount of shots, their conversion rate and ability to work the right moments to shoot also comes off as relatively impressive. That is, again, despite a woeful tally of 5.5 chances created per game. This time, only Hungary fare worse when it comes to key passes. Further, highlighting that sometimes they wait too long to shoot, no team at the tournament has accumulated a higher percentage of their shots from inside the six yard box (15%) than England. They simply work the ball around until it is the best moment to make their way into the penalty area. This works sometimes in creating great chances to score, but other times they lose the ball before they can begin to fully attack.


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While England haven’t been the most brilliant team at Euro 2020 so far, they have been very positive. Gareth Southgate’s side are the only team yet to concede a goal, and boast the most impressive defensive record at the tournament. Their build-up and progression into their attack may be slower than desired, but they have proven to be more than capable of converting the few chances they create for themselves, and making magic happen when it matters most. Whether or not they can go all the way remains to be seen, but Gareth Southgate has achieved success with this team once again and should be praised for his efforts, even if the Three Lions fall short for another year.

So there it is! A tactical analysis of Gareth Southgate’s England at Euro 2020 so far! Be sure to check out more of our tactical analyses, articles on the Euros, and our podcast Futbol Masterminds where we’ve been breaking down everything going on at the tournament on a bi-weekly basis. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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