What an exhilarating game. England and Spain have been two of the best teams at this summer’s European Championships, and the quarter-final match-up between the two heavyweights proved to be one of the best in recent memory. Both teams left absolutely everything on the pitch, pushing and probing for the win the entire 120 minutes. In the end it was the Three Lionesses that pulled off the impressive result in extra time, with Georgia Stanway and Kiera Walsh leading the charge to victory. Here is our analysis of the fiery affair.
England set up in their usual 4-2-3-1 shape, with much of their expected starting lineup. My only immediate thought upon seeing the starting elevens was to question “where is Alex Greenwood?” It’s amazing how many different positions Rachel Daly can play, but Sarina Wiegman’s persistence with the Dynamo captain as a left-back is slowly starting to catch up to her, and she would ultimately pay the price for Greenwood’s omission from the start. But after substituting on the City centre-back, England immediately took their game to new heights, scoring an equalizer moments later.Embed from Getty Images
That, in part, was down to the brilliance of Georgia Stanway and Kiera Walsh in midfield. For the vast majority of the game, the Brits had trouble finding connectivity through the thirds, and a route into the vertical channels where White and Kirby roamed. Walsh’s progressive passes through the gaps between Mapi Leon and Olga never quite came off, and often found their way out of bounds rather than toward full fluidity in the final third. But as the match approached it’s dying stages, Walsh and Stanway completely took control of the game, playing under pressure with ease and finally finding that connectivity. They oozed class on the ball, and both contributed heavily to England’s two goals on the night. Stanway was exceptional on the first to deceive her opponent, drive forward and then release Lauren Hemp, who smartly cut it back onto her left foot before the cross. That’s when the substitutes combined, with Russo knocking it down to Ella Toone from a matter of yards away. Walsh too was magnificent on both occasions, even playing the pass that found Stanway for her thunderous, Youri Tielemans FA Cup Final-esque strike for the winner.Embed from Getty Images
But Spain deserve a massive amount of credit for the way they defended. England didn’t muster up a shot on target until the 67th minute, as Rachel Daly tried to make up for lost time with a boisterous strike from outside the box. Other than that, they needed to resort to set-pieces to develop their best chances of the match. They nearly could have found the opening goal from one of those set-pieces had Lucy Bronze just stayed onside, but it was nevertheless an impressive showing from Spain to keep England at bay.Embed from Getty Images
Their only route into Ellen White happened to be out from the back, where the likes of Williamson and Bright found moments to play high-balls into their towering target. The Lionesses built out in a relatively similar shape to their overarching formation, with Williamson and Bright circulating the ball between them. The two centre-halves then scanned for moments where they could carry forward, play in Keira Walsh for a bit of incisiveness, or pass the ball over the top toward White. None of these routes found full fluidity until the end of the encounter, when England took control of the match’s midfield battle.Embed from Getty Images
Out of possession, the Lionesses started with a narrow 4-1-4-1 shape, easily allowing Spain to switch play from side to side. Since Spain’s main priority in possession was to overload the wide areas and then change the point of attack, they accumulated several high quality moments against England’s narrow shape.
But more positively, with all four of the defenders so strong in the air, Spain never had a sight of goal from their crossing opportunities. Simultaneously, the narrow 4-1-4-1 also meant the Spaniards had little room to progress vertically up the pitch. If they won the ball back, they could then have Ellen White to play to as a target, who remained in close proximity to every low-block situation.
Higher up the pitch, Wiegman’s team pressed in a 4-2-3-1-esque shape, that adapted to the positioning of the opposition and therefore again floated into more of a 4-1-4-1.
Bringing the intensity right from kick-off, their press appeared more woman-oriented than ball-oriented at the start, with Stanway and Walsh stepping up to match their opposite number rather than cover zonally. Stanway again had the best performance from a defensive perspective, acting as one of the main leaders in pressing situations and always getting touch-tight whenever her opposite number received with their back to the goal.Embed from Getty Images
In the end, England’s fantastic substitutions of Alessia Russo, Ella Toone and Alex Greenwood made a massive impact on the match. Around that time, Walsh and Stanway only grew in confidence and control, helping lead the Lionesses toward an impressive 2-1 victory.
Spain set up their typical 4-3-3 formation, prioritizing possession-based football and wide isolations to exploit England’s narrow defense. Throughout the opening eighty minutes of the match, Jorge Vilda’s team passed the ball around for fun, maintained dominance and control, and always looked the likelier team to score. In fact, they had 17 shots to England’s 10, 58% of the possession, a higher xG, and even won a significantly higher percentage of their tackles (60% to 29%). But they kept on looking for a goal in the wrong places, with England’s aerial warriors completely stunting all crossing attempts into the box. Williamson, Daly and Bright each won 100% of their aerial duels on the day, always outmuscling Spain’s front-line in the final third.Embed from Getty Images
But nevertheless, Spain oozed class in possession. They passed the ball around smoothly from side to side, through quick elements of “overload and isolate”, and flashes of brilliance down the line in combining in close proximity. England made no collective attempts to relentlessly press the Spanish centre-halves, as they rarely took moments to venture forward and instead played short and quick on one and two touch passing sequences.
Their 4+2 esque build-up was met by clever movement and positional rotation ahead, followed by much in the way of positional play as they advanced into the attacking third. That came mostly down the left through Olga’s high and wide positioning, often as Mariona Caldenty drifted inside on the ball. However, their difference maker came on the other side of the attack, after Athenea del Castillo found herself introduced into the match in place of the lackluster Marta Cardona. Cardona had a few nice moments in those wide right overloads in the first half, but Athenea completely took the game to a new level for Spain, simply by going at Rachel Daly.Embed from Getty Images
The Dynamo captain possesses both the tenacity and aggression to fulfill the role, but there’s a different art to defending against a tricky 1v1 dribbler, and Athenea had a wonderful evening dancing around the 30-year-old. Her fanciful footwork created several chances between the 45th and 75th minute, including the opening goal that she created for Esther Gonzalez through her quick speed of play down the line. She even nutmegged Daly at one point, shortly before the Dynamo captain found herself the sacrificial lamb in Wiegman’s substitution scheme.Embed from Getty Images
From there on it was all England, even despite Spain continuing to push and probe for a late equalizer. The Spaniards just could not muster up anything of significance in extra time to trouble Mary Earps, and that was all she wrote for the quarter finals.
So there it is! An analysis of England’s 2-1 victory over Spain in the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 Championships. Be sure to check out more of our Women’s Football content, more Match Analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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