Sweden might be the second best nation in the world on FIFA World Rankings, but on the pitch, they were easily second best in Tuesday night’s semi-final. England on the other hand performed admirably and with a clinical verve, even if some unwanted discrepancies crept into their performance. In the end, Sarina Wiegman’s team produced the goods when required, and now move onto the final with the chance to lift the country’s first ever senior European Championships title, at their home ground, Wembley. Unfortunately for the Swedes, their worst showing of the tournament sends them home without a prayer; however, their attention can now be aimed towards a place at the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The Lionesses stuck to their tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 shape, with the same starting eleven as the previous fixture against Spain. At times in possession, it looked more like a 4-3-3, with Keira Walsh as the ‘number 6’, or a 3-2-1-4, where Barcelona’s Lucy Bronze and the two wingers would join Ellen White in the front line. Whatever it was, it worked. England made it through, and that can be pinned down to their invariably quick counter-attacks that were just too much for the Swedes to maintain. Using the pace and precision of Lauren Hemp to break in behind Sweden’s right side turned out to be pivotal for the Lionesses, and Beth Mead was clinical down the other flank. Amanda Ilestedt, Sweden’s right-back, had a nightmare of a time trying to maintain Hemp, and this was noticed early by the England defence, provoking more and more long-balls into the left-hand channel as the game went on.
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England’s intent at the back was to build the play slowly and pass their way up the pitch but this consistently failed. As a result, they were forced into playing long for the majority of the game. Typically, Leah Williamson would receive the ball in their 2+3 buildup and play the ball short immediately. But after a bit of slow passing, it would be launched forward for Hemp to run onto, or into Ellen White’s feet to hold up the play. White has experienced a somewhat average tournament for her standards, and was replaced by Alessia Russo, unsurprisingly, twelve minutes after half time. As we’ll discuss later, this proved a godsend for Sarina Wiegman’s side.Embed from Getty Images
Other than the occasional cheap giveaway of possession, the Lionesses were quite careful on the ball and controlled the game without misplacing too many passes. They held 58% of possession on 80% pass completion, but they also hit 53% of their long balls, which was pivotal to the danger they caused on the counter. It may not have been their sole focus to go long, but with Georgia Stanway and Fran Kirby often opting to play closer to the forward line throughout the 90 minutes, the England back line had no choice but to go direct.
Despite the attacking nature of their midfield, the tournament has highlighted the evident balance of England’s central trio. Keira Walsh, yet again, played as the ‘deep-lying’ number 6. Her role was to screen the back-line and play long passes over the top for the likes of Hemp, Kirby and White. Exuding class on the turn, the City defensive-midfielder completed all six of her long pass attempts. She remained a threat from range in large part down to the sound movement of her midfield compatriots to drag away Angeldal and Björn, affording her more time and space to delicately pick out the forwards (like her exceptional pass into the penalty area for Kirby preceding England’s third goal).Embed from Getty Images
Stanway, again, was brilliant. Mostly sticking to the right half-space, she intelligently waited for the ball to fall loose in the opposition half and then run onto it at pace. As she got further forward in possession, she found herself playing little one-twos to enter the box, and that would involve Kirby who could find the pockets, to act as a pivot further forward.Embed from Getty Images
In terms of movement and passing in the final third, England’s strengths came to light. While one of their goals was via a set piece, the other three were a combination of individual brilliance and intelligent pass and move combos around Sweden’s 18-yard box. England’s most attacking players were not only the front-three in Hemp, White, and Mead, but also high-flying full-back Lucy Bronze. Bronze superbly selected moments to venture forward, even assisting the first goal of the game with a perfect first-time cross.
Beth Mead meanwhile was clinical with her finishing, tucking inside and deeper to allow Bronze to gallop on the overlap. Lauren Hemp’s main job on the other flank was to maintain width down the left channel, chase long balls, and then advance into the penalty area to get on the end of back-post crosses. Ellen White was used as a target forward as per usual, with Leah Williamson and Millie Bright happy pinging balls into her for the first 57 minutes, before she was replaced by Alessia Russo.
The 23-year-old played an insurmountable role when she came on to aid England’s efforts, scoring an audacious heel flick through 39 year-old Hedvig Lindahl’s legs.
It’s the second week in a row in which Russo has become an impact sub, staking her claim for the second time for a starting birth in the final.
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Out of possession, England weren’t as convincing as the clean sheet suggests. Fifteen seconds in, Lucy Bronze’s high positioning had already been exploited. This was a major hint for what Wiegman’s back line had in store for the rest of the evening. Fortunately for them, it went unpunished. But Sweden had several chances in behind Bronze’s right-side, and could have completely changed the match around had they scored early.
Understandably, she wanted to readily prepare herself for an attack, and it paid off in helping her team create chances in the final third. But ultimately, moving too high up the pitch also had the inverse effect, and required Mille Bright to separate from her teammates in response, opening potential pockets in the back-line. Man United’s Mary Earps came to the rescue in this scenario and others throughout the game, making 3 saves and 2 high claims to survive the scares of Sweden’s chilling counter attacks. If they want to make it past Germany, Wiegman’s squad and Bronze herself may need to be more disciplined.
Defensively, England’s mindset was to hold their 4-1-4-1 shape and reduce the space for Sweden to drive through the centre. Ellen White tracked back to put pressure on advancing ball carriers, while Lucy Bronze narrowed herself in accordance with her opposition winger, potentially leaving avenues of space for Sweden to exploit down the left. While the Lionesses defended fairly well when given time to set up shop, they were lucky to keep a clean sheet, as pockets of space continuously opened in transition. Their fluid movement offensively never fully rubbed off on the defensive end, and Bronze’s urge to burst forward on the overlap inherited trouble when the Lionesses lost the ball.
Sweden set up in their typical 4-2-3-1 shape, utilizing the pace and power of Sofia Jakobsson and Fridolina Rolfö on the break. The main tactical tweak came at right-back, where Hanna Glas swapped over to the other side, and PSG’s Amanda Ilestedt played down the right instead of a role in central defense. Ilestedt had a troubling time with Hemp, and Gerhardsson may be regretting his decision. In fact, while Peter Gerhardsson’s team showed glimpses and moments of promise, it was a night to forget, with the Swedes walking away with a historic 4-0 loss.
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Despite the occasional counter-attack that scared the fans of Bramall Lane, the Swedes never found full fluidity in the final third, with only Kosovare Asllani and Stina Blackstenius maintaining a consistent threat level. Asllani’s intelligent movement ensured it wasn’t feasible for any English player to mark her, while Blackstenius dominated her duels in the air (3/4), and gave England 4 shots to contend with. It’s true that both Rolfö and Jakobsson offered some level of threat and danger when running in behind, but Sweden could not find a way to adequately progress the ball to the wide areas in possession to take full advantage of their pace and power down the wings. With England only strong in their 4-1-4-1 defensive block, Sweden failed to register a shot between the 18th and 56th minute. During that time, England scored two goals, and dominated the lion’s share of the ball. So by the time Johanna Kaneryd came on to try and change Sweden’s fortunes around, the game was all but over.
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Sweden adapted their 4-2-3-1 to become a 4-4-1-1 out of possession, which again remained flexible due to Asllani’s free role. Sweden showed how dangerous they could be in this shape when pressing early on, when they created a chance for Fridolina Rolfö on the counter that again highlighted the risky positioning of Daly and Bronze for England. Asllani was again key to this process, acting as a free-roaming hound up top to combine with Blackstenius in a 4-4-2, and force England to go long. Her work rate was phenomenal on the evening, even when Sweden went 4-0 down.Embed from Getty Images
As their frustration grew, they fell more and more out of the game. The brave high lines and neat passing structures we saw earlier in the tournament disappeared, and their only opportunities were winning it back in the midfield and playing Rolfö, Blackstenius or Asllani through on goal with a penetrative pass. England deserved the victory, but there’s no doubt they got let off by a poor Sweden side who couldn’t capitalise on the risks taken by the Lionesses. Sarina Wiegman’s team now have a chance to win their first European Championships, in front of the home crowd at Wembley Stadium.
So there it is! An analysis of England’s 4-0 victory over Sweden 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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