DEFENSIVE DOMINANCE: Can England’s strong defense lead them to victory?

DEFENSIVE DOMINANCE: Can England’s strong defense lead them to victory?

This was not the way round it was supposed to be.

Gareth Southgate’s England squad was packed to bursting with attacking talent but had a makeshift defence ready to creak and crack.

How would a defensive line of Marc Guehi, John Stones and two right-backs keep England solid? That was England’s weak spot. And yet it’s been the attack that’s coughed and spluttered while England’s defence has been far and away the best at the tournament.

Sir Alex Ferguson always said that attack wins you games but defence wins you titles. England’s defence has got them through to the knockout stages but now they need to win games, too, if they are to get their hands on the trophy.

Can they? 

Gareth Southgate’s England squad was supposed to be built on a exciting attacking talent

Instead, it is their defence that has stood strong, conceding just one goal in three games so far

Instead, it is their defence that has stood strong, conceding just one goal in three games so far

 

Defensive solidarity

England have faced only eight shots from inside the box and conceded only one big chance, both the fewest of any team in the group stages.

That means England concede one xG every 247 minutes. The next best defence, Germany, conceded one every 157. mins.

England’s opponents have shot at goal at an average of 22.6 yards away — the furthest of any team in the tournament.

Only 31 per cent of the shots England have faced have come from inside the penalty area, by far the lowest percentage of any side in the group stage. Ukraine are next on 46 per cent of their shots faced. 

England had the best defensive record in the group stage, conceding just 1.2 expected goals

England had the best defensive record in the group stage, conceding just 1.2 expected goals

Opponents have shot at goal from an average of 22.6 yards away - the furthest of any team

Opponents have shot at goal from an average of 22.6 yards away – the furthest of any team

 

Where did the creative flair go?

It’s a good job, too. For all their creative talent, England have one of the poorest attacks in the competition. Only Scotland, Serbia, Slovenia and Georgia had fewer shots in the group stage.

It’s not for want of possession either. Only Germany and Portugal completed more passes in the groups yet only seven sides created fewer chances. Germany have created more than twice as many.

The most chances created by an England player is three by each of Kieran Trippier, Declan Rice, Harry Kane, Phil Foden and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

That’s fewer than 64 other players, while EVERY other team at Euro 2024 has had a player in the group stages who created more chances.

FIve players are joint as having the most chances created for England with just three

FIve players are joint as having the most chances created for England with just three

It has, perhaps surprisingly, been the left side of the pitch where England have created the most chances

It has, perhaps surprisingly, been the left side of the pitch where England have created the most chances

 

Are they really left in the cold?

Much of the talk in the fall-out to England’s laboured performances focused on a weaker and unbalanced left side. Trippier’s on the wrong flank, with Luke Shaw injured, and can’t cross on the overlap because he’s right-footed. Jude Bellingham is drifting over there and getting in the way of Phil Foden, who also hasn’t been at his best. What a mess… and so on.

Yet it’s been from that side of the pitch that England have created most of their chances so far. England need more, but from all over the park.

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