After a job well done against the Germans, England look to move one step closer towards a first final in 55 years when they travel to Rome to take on Ukraine, who have surprised many by reaching the quarter finals (8pm Saturday; TV: Live on BBC1).
Can the Three Lions do the business again? Or will Andriy Shevchenko’s men spoil the party? Read on for our England vs Ukraine preview, analysis and betting tips.
Shifting through the gears
There wasn’t too much to like about England’s performances during the group stages. For all they kept things reasonably tight, they looked laboured, created few chances, and gave the impression that a team with something to offer in the final third would have a relatively easy time of beating them.
However, they took things up a notch last time out. Against their old footballing foes, the Three Lions rose to the occasion. Not only did they exert an element of control, much as they had done during the groups, but they played with a cutting edge and finally offered a real threat in the final third, especially on the break. Now that they’ve shifted through the gears, and with many of the big nations already eliminated, the sky really could be the limit for Gareth Southgate’s men.
A friendly draw?
Without disrespecting Ukraine, who have shown that there’s no shortage of talent in their ranks and who, in spells, have played some eye-catching football at this tournament, from those who made it out of the groups, they probably would’ve been England’s preferred quarter-final opponents.
Czech Republic are the lowest ranked side remaining, but that match-up was never possible due to them sharing a group with England. Ukraine are officially the second-lowest ranked side left in the competition. They currently stand at 24th in the FIFA World Ranking, while England sit in a cool fourth place, and are now officially the second-best side left in the tournament and the bookies favourites to win Euro 2020.
What do Ukraine offer?
While England, without impressing for most of the tournament, have been consistently solid, Ukraine have been quite up and down. In every game, they have shown real moments of quality. Yarmolenko’s fine strike against the Dutch springs to mind, as does the ball he provided for Manchester City’s Zinchenko to fire home against Sweden in the last-16. They have looked easy to get at and they were underwhelming offensively when losing 1-0 to Austria in their final group game.
A somewhat dodgy backline suggests that Ukraine could struggle to contain even a pragmatic England, especially if the Three Lions operate cleverly as they did against Germany. Shevchenko’s men could certainly have a say going forward, they have the players to do so, but they have been quite unpredictable in that sense.
What do the numbers say?
Let’s start with the divisive expected goals. Now, xG isn’t for everybody, nor is it everything, but it is a great indicator of how a team has performed in terms of scoring opportunities created and conceded.
England haven’t exactly excelled in terms of xG at EURO 2020, at least not offensively. In four matches, they have averaged just 0.9 expected goals for, meaning that based on the quality shots that they’ve taken, they really ought to have scored just under a goal per game, which is about right, given that they’ve netted four in four. This isn’t great, but it’s not terrible either.
At the other end, things have been quite pleasing, though the fact that they’ve conceded zero goals is perhaps a tad misleading. In terms of expected goals, England have surrendered an average of 0.72, which is good, but if they’d conceded a couple of goals in four matches, it wouldn’t have been unfair.
In terms of xG for, Ukraine have outperformed England at this tournament, producing a healthy average of 1.5, so it’s no surprise that they’ve notched six goals. However, with extra offensive output seemingly comes extra defensive weakness. The Ukrainians have surrendered an average of 1.37 expected goals at EURO 2020, which again is reflected reasonably accurately in the fact that they have conceded five goals.
When it comes to shots for and shots on target for, it is the Ukrainians who have impressed more too. They average 10.75 shots per 90 minutes, and 4.5 shots on target per 90. England average only seven shots for per 90 minutes, and 2.5 shots on target per 90.
At the other end, it is the English who’ve performed better, conceding an average of 8.75 shots per 90 and an average of just 1.25 shots on target per 90, which really is impressive. The latter numbers shows that Gareth Southgate’s men have prevented teams from getting seriously active in the final third. Ukraine have surrendered a reasonably worrying average of 14.5 shots per game in this competition, as well as 4.5 shots on target per match. Their inability to keeps things tight could be their undoing on Saturday.
Is there a bet?
As touched on in this preview above, this is a pleasing draw for England, whose defensive nous and ability to control the game should lend itself to doing well against a Ukrainian side that has been somewhat hectic. The Ukrainians have played some pleasing attacking football at times, but they are unlikely to see much of the ball against an England side that has dominated possession and is becomingly increasingly confident of sucking the life out of their opponents. Against Austria, we saw that Ukraine don’t fare well against such a style, so things are looking good for England, despite their lack of attacking potency.
Does this equal a betting opportunity, though? That’s the question. Backing England in Rome, despite their defensive superiority and extra all-round quality making them likely winners, represents no value at the current odds of 2/5. There will be a few brave punters chancing Ukraine at a juicy price on the basis that they’ve shown more offensively, but their defensive frailties make it easy to question whether 8/1 offers value for money or not.
One small play of interest is Jack Grealish to score at any time at 11/4. He hasn’t started every game and he has yet to show his shooting capabilities, but the impact of Jack Grealish was instant when he entered the field last time out and his quality in the final third is undeniable. With his clever movement and tendency to get in and around the box, against a dodgy Ukraine backline, the man who has provided two assists at this tournament is backed to turn goalscorer in a game that really shouldn’t be devoid of opportunities for the English.
So this is the betting tip suggestion for this England vs Ukraine preview:
Bradley Gibbs is an experienced football writer. He is an expert analyst on Premier League, and all global football leagues & tournaments, for Just Bookies. Bradley has been published by many respected outlets, including USA Betting and the Racing & Football Outlook. He has also written betting strategy guides.