England face a semi-final showdown with Denmark on Wednesday with the prize of reaching a first final since 1996 at stake. We evaluate the key questions facing Gareth Southgate ahead of kick-off…
What clicked Kane into gear?
Raheem Sterling has shone brightest for England at the tournament so far but Harry Kane broke his duck against Germany and scored twice against Ukraine – suggesting the Tottenham striker is now also firing on all cylinders.
After knocking out Germany, Kane had still only registered five attempts at goal and two shots on target during the four games, but matched and surpassed those tournament totals in one match against Ukraine, respectively.
Interestingly, the chart below reveals Kane did not receive more passes from team-mates during the quarter-final triumph. England’s win at Wembley, Kane’s first goal and a notable attacking freedom culminated in dominant success.
England were freed from the defensive shackles that had been required against other opponents. As a result, the opposition were occupied with an overpowering attacking force – which also helped Kane find more freedom.
Per 90 minutes, Kane combines passes most with Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham, Reece James, Jordan Henderson and Bukayo Saka – none of whom started on Saturday. So momentum, tactical nous and recent attacking impetus appears to be the driving force, not so much the personnel on the pitch.
England’s left-sided dilemma
The nation was cobbling England teams together from an abundance of right-back options a few months ago. Now, the top-heavy area is glaringly obvious: left-sided forwards.
In fact, every wide forward in the squad prefers to play down the left – with the exception of Jadon Sancho. That perhaps explains why England have primarily attacked down that channel in every game – bar Germany.
The graphic below reveals the left-sided concentration has also reaped greater rewards, with the majority of England’s chances coming from that channel – typically from passes in and around the edge of the opposition area towards the six-yard box.
Southgate has usually deployed Sterling, Grealish or Rashford down the left and used Phil Foden, Sancho or Saka down the right. However, the left-sided dominance has also been boosted by Luke Shaw’s attacking output.
Indeed, the touch maps below reveal Shaw has taken more touches than Sterling down the touchline during overlapping runs – which has resulted in England attempting far more crosses and dribbles down that flank.
Who starts then?
Harry Kane and Sterling are sure-starters in England’s attack, which, in a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 system, leaves only one place up for grabs. However, England overcame a resolute Czech Republic side by matching them in a 4-2-3-1 – a formation which creates a No 10 role.
In that game, Grealish occupied the roaming role and teed up Sterling for England’s winning goal and frequently interchanged with the City winger with devastating effect.
However, Mason Mount was unavailable in that game due to Covid protocols and would almost certainly be a sure-starter, which might suggest Foden, Sancho or Saka could get the nod down the right channel.
On paper, Grealish, Sterling and Mount have been England’s most creative forwards at the tournament so far. All three could remain fluid down the attacking thirds as a starting trio – but Southgate is likely to start with a more established right-sided forward.
In terms of minutes played so far, the top 10 players for game time are now almost considered sure-starters for England: Jordan Pickford, John Stones, Phillips, Kane, Sterling, Rice, Kyle Walker, Shaw, Maguire and Mount.
If Southgate sticks with those players and Sancho as his XI against Denmark, it would be the first time the England manager has kept an unchanged side since 2018 – when his side lost 2-1 to Croatia in the semi-final of the World Cup.
Are Rice and Phillips undroppable?
The burgeoning partnership of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips this summer has been another Southgate success story, with Rice typically sitting deeper than the Leeds midfielder, dubbed the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ – keeping Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and 18-year-old Jude Bellingham on the sidelines.
Rice averaged in line with left-sided centre-back Harry Maguire against Ukraine, a position he has consistently held throughout the tournament, apart from against Germany, when England started with three central defenders – a clear indication of the tactical details at play.
Which system will Southgate use?
The system Southgate deploys on Wednesday depends on whether he matches the Danes with five at the back, as he did against Germany, or takes an offensive stance, as he did against Ukraine – when seven outfield players averaged in the opposition half.
However, there were glimpses the latter approach could prove more effective against the Danes after Kasper Hjulmand’s side were left exposed on numerous occasions during their 2-1 win over the Czechs – areas ripe for England’s attacking force to exploit.
Euros podcast: England vs Denmark tactical analysis
In the latest Sky Sports Football Euros podcast, Peter Smith is joined by Ben Ransom, Nick Wright and Gerard Brand to preview England’s Euro 2020 semi-final with Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday.
Will Gareth Southgate go to a back three? What threats do Denmark pose on England’s watertight defence? What can England learn from October’s Nations League defeat against the Danes? And has Raheem Sterling been the overall player of the tournament so far?
Plus, we preview the other semi-final as Italy face Spain on Tuesday night at Wembley.