Ukraine England 0-4 EURO 2020 tactics

Ukraine – England: Low-Effort Win For England (0-4)

Raheem Sterling set up Harry Kane to earn England an early goal, which allowed England to play a cautious possession game against a passive Ukraine side. A system change from the opponents threatened later in the first half, but England’s goals early in the second half saw them advance with relative ease.

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley

Ukraine arrived into this game on the back of a hard-fought match against Sweden which they eventually won late in extra-time. For this match, they lined up in a 3-5-2 shape with Illya Zabarnyi, Serhiy Kryvtsov and Mykola Matviyenko as the back three, while Oleksandr Karavayev and Vitaliy Mykolenko were the wing-backs. Serhiy Sydorchuk played behind Mykola Shaparenko and Oleksandr Zinchenko in central midfield, while Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk played up front. 

England switched to a back three to counter Germany’s setup in the last round, but returned to a 4-2-3-1 system this time around. Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw were the back four, with a midfield double pivot Two central midfielders next to each other. of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips. Recent Manchester United signing Jadon Sancho made his first start of the tournament, joining Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane in the forward line. 

Early lead for England

England were able to take the lead within a few minutes of the game beginning when a good piece of individual play from Sterling set Kane through on goal. This early lead allowed England to play the next thirty minutes or so at their own pace, satisfied with slow and stable possession phases due to the game state. 

England’s 4-2-3-1 shape often shifted into a temporary back three when they had the ball, sometimes through Rice dropping to the right of Stones to become a third center-back. The arrangement that became more prevalent through the half though saw Walker staying as the third center-back, while Sancho held the width on the right and Phillips was released to play higher up the pitch.

The possession from England was unadventurous, with lots of u-shaped When a team has possession on the sides of the pitch and with their own central defenders, this is called a ‘U-shape’, because it resembles the letter U. . football going on. They were mostly reliant on individual bursts from Sancho and Sterling to create anything going forward, since the rotations and combination play in attacking areas were quite sterile.

England whad easy possession against Ukraine’s 5-3-2 defensive scheme.

This was also facilitated by Ukraine’s 5-3-2 possession shape, which, as seen also from Germany’s similar defensive shape against England makes it difficult to generate good pressure on England’s buildup since the two strikers are always overloaded, When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. and the wide areas are hard to pressure when defending with a line of five with three in front. This then made it easy for England to play under minimal pressure along their backline, especially in the wide areas and halfspaces. If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace.

Forced substitute benefits Ukraine

Ten minutes before half-time, Ukraine had to make a change as center-back Kryvtsov went off through injury, being replaced by Viktor Tsygankov. This substitution saw a switch to a 4-3-3 shape for Ukraine with Tsygankov playing as a left winger. 

This switch to a 4-3-3 was quite beneficial for Ukraine in the ten minutes leading up to half-time. It allowed them firstly to get more pressure on England’s buildup earlier in the possession phase, thanks to the presence of the wingers.

With the ball, they were then able to force England back further with their presence in wide areas, and showed some decent rotations in the fullback, central midfielder and winger triangles. England were never under huge pressure, but there was a definite improvement from Ukraine later in the half thanks to this switch. 

England in full control 

Ukraine looked like they may finally be gaining some momentum towards the end of the first half, but that momentum was halted by the half-time whistle, and destroyed early on in the second half when Maguire and Kane scored headers in quick succession to put England 3-0 up. Within the space of a few minutes, the game had effectively been finished.

One interesting aspect early on in the second half was a change in defensive shape from England. In the first half, they had defended in a compact zonal 4-4-2 medium block, which then could jump into a more man-oriented 4-2-3-1 shape when they pressed in higher areas, with the wingers moving forward one Ukraine’s center-backs.

In Ukraine’s possession phases at the start of the second half however, England defended in an asymmetric 4-3-3 shape. Mount was now playing in a left central midfield position, rather than alongside Kane in the 4-4-2 shape they used in the first half. He was often a bit higher still than Phillips, because of Shaparenko’s deeper positioning in the halfspace.

England’s adjusted defensive shape in the second half against Ukraine’s 4-3-3.

The asymmetry came partly from that, but also from Sterling’s positioning, as he often gambled higher up, rather than dropping back into a left midfield position against Ukraine’s advancing right back. This was likely to try and exploit space on the counterattack, with England confident enough to defend with one less player on that side. 

England’s first substitute was Jordan Henderson, who replaced Rice just before the hour mark, seeing Phillips move deeper in midfield. Henderson scored England’s fourth goal shortly after coming on, which ended the game as a competition with England now 4-0 up. 

All that was left in the final half an hour of the game was for England to try and conserve as much energy as possible for the semi-final while also maintaining their clean sheet. Southgate made his remaining four changes within the space of ten minutes after the goal, keen to give rest to key players.

Shaw, Sterling and Phillips all came off in a triple substitution, with Kieran Trippier, Marcus Rashford and Jude Bellingham their respective replacements. With under twenty minutes to go, Dominic Calvert-Lewin then replaced Kane. England played out the rest of the match with minimal fuss, going through with a 4-0 win. 


England’s early goal facilitated long spells of u-shaped possession against Ukraine, and their ability to create against a tough set defense was not really tested here. Their goals were very timely from a psychological point of view with goals early in each half allowing a game which suited their playing style, and ultimately required relatively little effort to bring home the win. 

Ukraine’s 5-3-2 early on was quite passive and made them easy to force back into a defensive stance. This may have been a viable strategy with the scores level, but the early goal from England rather ruined this game plan. They looked better in the switch to a 4-3-3, but were prevented from building momentum. From a fatigue point of view, they were probably also not helped by the high level of exertion required only a few days ago against Sweden.

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Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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