England are through, by the skin of their teeth but nevertheless, they are in the knockout stages. So what did we learn from the first three games of the tournament? And what needs to be done to stand any chance of progressing through a tough draw? Here’s three points of emphasis for their upcoming games.
Domination needs to turn into penetration
While that might sound like an innuendo, England have struggled to turn their possession advantage into significant chances at goal.
So far in the tournament, the Three Lions have averaged more shots per game than any team with 21.3. However, only five have been on target per game and 53% of their strikes have been from outside the 18-yard box.
It’s clear from those stats alone, without adding that they have scored only three goals with one from a free-kick, that they need to work the ball into the box more often. They are settling for pot shots at goal and aren’t carving out opportunities that are testing the opposition goalkeeper.
And when they do get into the right areas, they need to be more accurate with their shots. Too many half chances in the box have gone wide or straight at the goalkeeper and against the better sides, they will need to start scoring.
Change the pace of passing to break teams down
A regular problem for England has been breaking teams down that are sitting deep and denying them space in the box.
In the three group games, 86% of England’s passes were short while only 5% (27 in total) of them were crosses into the box. It’s good that the team is keeping possesion well and not simply lumping the ball forward but more of a mixture will dirsupt teams.
It’s also consistently too slow, playing along the lines and not creating penatrating balls that worry defences. A quick succession of play can pull a defence out of shape if it rushes to meet the challenge but England never seemed to try and use one-touch passing to speed up their play.
If they can have moments in the game where they change up their tempo to create gaps in the defence, they’ll create more moves into dangerous areas. An opposition is at its weakest when you are in behind them and Roy Hodgson’s side simply aren’t getting into those kinds of areas consistently enough.
Do not fear dribbling past a player in the final third
In what seems to be an epidemic in the entire championship, Hodgson’s men seem to fear taking on players one-on-one in the final third.
It might be a strange thing to say, given that England average 19.7 successful dribbles a game, but when eight have come from both the right backs, it’s simply not good enough. Too often, players look for a pass first while out wide instead of taking on the full-back, which also shows why there have been so few crosses as well.
Especially towards the end of the Slovakia game, when they would have been tiring from holding on for so long, the wide players needed to exploit the full-backs. Late on, players should look to at least take someone on if they are in a one-on-one to simply force another player out of position to deal with the situation.
Combining that idea with the one above creates a much more fluent and dangerous attacking style. Both force defences to move out of their shape when successful as players start to find room and when they do shift, they can take advantage of the holes created.
Even after all that, there are positives to take. England are playing better football than in the previous few tournaments and with plenty of young talent, they have a chance to evolve together over the next few years. If they can just add the above to their repertoire to get more goals when in the ascendancy, they will be a team no one would like to face in the knockout stages of the European Championships.