England vs Spain

England Head Coach Terry Venables had some tough decisions to make ahead of this game, primarily who would replace the suspended Paul Ince in midfield, but how that switch would then impact the rest of the team. Venables would eventually settle on David Platt, who’s position varied throughout the game within a highly fluid 4-4-2 set up.

England’s strategy in the match was to overload Spain on one side of the field, leaving space on the opposite flank in which to switch play and attack 1v1. The overload would predominantly take place 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.

Pearce was given license to attack the wide left flank, getting onto the switch pass before crossing for Shearer and Sheringham in the box.

Shearer’s movement saw him pull into wide channels in an attempt to pull apart Spain’s back three, with Sheringham being more conservative with his runs instead favoring dropping to receive into feet.

England Starting X1

Spain would switch to a back 3 in this match, moving away from the 4-4-2 that we had saw them regularly using in group stage play.

This formation gave license to Sergi and Belsue to attack the flanks, doing so like true wingers instead of wing backs.

Nadal dropping back into the back 3 gave him more time and space to pick passes into midfield or use Abelardo and Alkorta to break England’s press.

Amor and Manjarin were very attacking in their movements, with Hierro sitting deep before coming onto the play and shooting 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.

Spain Attacking Structure


Value of Chances

xG Timeline:

After a fairly uneventful first half the game would kick into life around the 50 minute mark, where England would start to assert their command of the overall attack play. With that said Spain arguably had the biggest chances in the match, with at least two very contentious off side decisions going against them.

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 missing the target all together, something that would continue to blight them throughout this match.

Spain suffered a similar plight to England 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.

About the Author

Picture of Alistair Bain

Alistair Bain

Alistair is a native of Hamilton, Scotland, and an A License qualified coach with vast experience in the football industry. Currently residing in Charlotte, North Carolina, Alistair's resume includes a variety of roles within football clubs in Scotland, England, and the United States.

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