England vs Spain – Data Analysis

1996 European Championships

Quarter Final 1

England 0 – 0 Spain (England win 4-2 on Penalties)

Wembley Stadium, London

Saturday 22nd June 1996

By Alistair Bain (@allybain)

To give us some context on the data here is a quick overview of each team:

England Attacking Structure

  • England’s line up could be regarded as a 4321, but it was very fluid and gave players the license to move where & when required to do so. Their attacking strategy was to overload Spain on one side of the field and then quickly cross/switch the ball to the opposite side of the field and attack from there, which they did so quite frequently.
  • England’s build up play was more focused on the right hand side, with McManaman and Anderton attacking in synergy within the outside/inside channels.
  • Platt offered England a deeper option to build, but also to protect the spaces vacated by McManaman and Gascoigne, both of whom want to run beyond the opposition midfield and attack.
  • Neville and Pearce were given license to attack the wide areas and provide support for the central midfielders.
  • Sheringham would drift between central and wide areas, trying to create overloads where possible, where as Shearer pulled wide to receive longer balls forward, attempting to pin his opponent 1v1 versus standing centrally and getting out numbered by Spain’s back three.

Spain Attacking Structure

  • Spain would switch to a back 3 in this match, giving license to Sergi and Belsue to attack the flanks after switching play to them.
  • Nadal dropping back into the back 3 gave him more time and space to pick passes into midfield or use Abelardo or Alkorta to break England’s press for him.
  • Amor and Manjarin were more offensive with their movement than Hierro, who would sit deep and come onto the play and shoot from distance when the opportunity presented itself.
  • Kiko and Salinas worked as a twin strike pair, neither of whom serving as a traditional target, but both working as a foil for each other to link when the ball was played forward to the top of the box.


Value of Chances

xG Timeline:

There was a real ebb and flow to this match, with both teams taking spells in the game to duke it out. After a fairly uneventful first half the game would kick into life around the 50 minute mark, where England would come out on top and look the brighter headed into extra time. The Spanish would continue to work away during the closing stages of the 90, and it was they who would utilize extra more effectively.

Chance Quality:

England would create the games only big chance (Opta def: A situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one on one scenario or from very close range when the ball has a clear path to goal) however they were unable to convert this effort, and would actually miss the target all together, something that would continue to blight them throughout this match.

Spain suffered a similar plight to England in this match, in that they got themselves in some terrific positions and carried a constant threat throughout the game, however it would be their attacks on target that would best illustrate their lack of ability to get a game winning goal.

Type of Chances Created

Due to the numerical battle that each team faced in the central areas, it required them to structure their attack play through more patience, but also through more combination play in an effort to pull their opponent out of their defensive shape. This is evidenced through 21 of the 35 attacks coming from build up play, however the difference between each team would lie in how they then delivered the ball prior to striking. Of Spain’s Key Pass count they would register 7 short passes (set back/cut back) and 3 switches of play, whereas England would cross 4 times and use a short pass 4 times. Given that both teams didn’t field any “wingers” as such, its also interesting to look at the Key Pass map and see how many opportunities are fashioned from balls served into an attacking area. With Shearer & Kiko either side had a perfect target player to link up attacks, allied to that each side had players who could time runs into the box perfectly (Gascoigne, Amor and Sheringham to name but a few).

Overall we saw 25 of the 35 attacks come from a key pass, a % which illustrates to us that both sides were happy to sit off their opponent and attempt to break forward and create an attack versus working off the press or a second ball.

Where Chances are Created

The shot map was an interesting read, as you’d envision a match that had 35 attacks to be a little more fruitful, however the stark truth is that only 4 shots on total would test the goalkeepers (3 for England and 1 for Spain).

We saw further evidence from Spain that shooting from distance is just part of who and what they are as a team, finishing the tournament with 48 attacks in total from outside the 18, 13 more than their closes rival at this stage in the tournament (Holland with 35). Of these 48 only 8 would hit the target, 17% success rate, and in this match they’d drop even lower with only 1% of their attacks testing David Seaman. If we breakdown where they are creating the chances 2 of them are inside the golden zone, although 2 others are marginally close to being so, however of these two we found one was from a corner kick. Simply put Spain were able to create chances in the final third, however it was their inability to get behind England’s back line consistently and create chances that werent directly facing their opponent that has affected their chances of progressing in this tournament. With two strikers and the quality of runners into the box, perhaps a change in system/style would have brought about a different result in what was, on a surface level anyway, a very close game.

England’s attacking stats don’t really make for better reading, as only 0.33 of their 1.47xG would actually test the keeper, this equates to 22% of their chance creation coming from a shot on target, which is their lowest of the tournament thus far by almost 30%. Englad can at least be happy that such a high % of their xG came from open play, as this at least shows their strategy going forward is penetrating the opponents defence and they are getting into positions. With 8 attacks inside the box from 15 attacks, one of which being the games only big chance, from Alan Shearer, there is a crumb of comfort that suggests that they have something to build on going into the semi final.

Who Created Chances

A tip of the hat goes to Paul Gascoigne who created a solid amount of attacks in this game, however England’s best statistical attacker was Alan Shearer. With an xG of 0.74 from 3 attacks of his own, one of which landing on target, and creating a further 2 for his teammates, one of which would result in a shot on target, Shearer is now firmly central to everything England are in this tournament from an attacking perspective.

Im going to buck the trend for Spain’s pick, as the player with the best stats had actually little impact on the match. Hierro topped the table with 6 attacks and an xG of 0.35, however none of these attacks hit the target, so I will go for Kiko instead who would return 1 on target from 4 attacks of his own, and he’d go on to create one other for his teammate.

Match Predictor

Using our very own Retro Football Analysis Match Simulator, we use the probability rating of each attack to calculate the odds of the matches outcome. Here are the results we got back.

Our verdict:

Even when considering the “on another day” argument, there really isn’t any other conclusion that I would come to than an England win. Ultimately Shearer should have scored in the second half to put England in front, but with that said what weighs the game toward Spain was their chances that failed to land on the data sheet and thus cannot be considered. There were multiple offside decisions that went against Spain, however from those attacks that were deemed legal I think an England victory in regulation time would be a fair assessment to make and our predictor duly delivers.

Why not check out the Full Match Report from this match? CLICK HERE to do so.

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