Sterling's goal set England on their way to a quarter-final spot

Credit: AP

England are through to the Euro 2020 quarter-finals after a famous knockout win over Germany.

Here, Mike McGrath analyses where England found the edge over their opponents.

Dynamic Sterling rewarded for picking pockets of space

Raheem Sterling was the stand-out player in England’s historic win, and his goal was a deserved reward for the clever running which stretched the Germany back line all evening.

Antonio Rudiger and Matthias Ginter could not stray too far away from Mats Hummels and leave him isolated as the Borussia Dortmund centre-half would be beaten for pace in a one-on-one with any of England’s players.

With Germany’s wing-backs pushed forward, Sterling attacked the space behind them and had clear runs at their three-man defence – as you can see below.

England v Germany – Dynamic Sterling picks pockets of space

He ran at awkward angles for them to anticipate, which led to him being England’s most effective player in the attacking third. He had a shot in the first half that needed saving from Neuer, then went through just before half-time which almost led to Kane scoring.

His goal saw him between defenders again, pushed more central by Jack Grealish coming on and occupying the left more.

Sterling’s runs were very different to how he is used at Manchester City, where his goals often come at the far post as he finishes off sweeping moves. For England he has been more of an attacking playmaker, picking up the ball in different areas and mixing his runs. After a difficult season at City, he says he is enjoying his football with England and it is easy to see why with his three goals so far.

By the time he tucked away his winner, Germany defenders did not know who should be picking him up, and the finish was that of a predatory striker.

He showed a lapse in concentration to almost allow Germany to equalise just after he broke the deadlock – his relief was obvious and the rollockling he received from Jordan Pickford well deserved – but actually his defensive work was another stand-out feature of his performance, even if it should not really be part of the equation. He was regularly seen tracking back to help out down the left.

England v Germany – How Sterling's movement gave England the initiative

Sterling is rewarded with a third goal in Euro 2020

Credit: Getty Images

There may have been uncertainty before the tournament over whether he should start but both systems Gareth Southgate has used suit Sterling’s game and he will strike fear into England’s next opponents. He has been one of the stand-out players across the competition. 

Southgate must hope that opponents do not focus on nullifying that threat with a system that squeezes Sterling’s space – although he has proven himself to be an all-round forward who can cope with subtle changes of system.

Snuffing out Goretzka secured control

England got to grips with Leon Goretzka after the Bayern Munich midfielder threatened to be the game’s dominant force in the first half.

The hosts’ focus was on preventing Toni Kroos from dictating play and while he was closed down before half-time, Goretzka was given more room to operate in his first start of the Euros after recovering from injury.

He was highlighted for his goal threat after sending Joachim Low’s team through to the knockout stages with an equaliser against Hungary but his starting position is in front of the back four, providing a springboard for Germany to launch attacks.

The 26-year-old quickly moves forward by either carrying the ball or by sending runners ahead of him clear with an impressive range of passing. His influence was most keenly felt in the first half when he forged forward and picked a delicious pass which set Timo Werner clear, Jordan Pickford making a key save.

But in the second half England gave him no time or room at all and he eventually drifted into wider areas to get the ball and had less of an impact with his passing. A major threat had been nullified and England were able to exert more control.

England v Germany – How England closed down Goretzka

The wing-backs delivered

Gareth Southgate reverted to his 3-4-3 formation for the first time this year but his change of system gave England better defensive and attacking options.

When Germany had the ball, wing-backs Kieran Trippier and Luke Shaw would drop deep and make it a flat-back five, which Joachim Low’s team found impossible to get through unless they were counter-attacking with pace. It was striking how limited Joshua Kimmich and Robin Gosens – such threats for Germany in the group stage – were as attacking forces, with most of Germany’s best moments coming through the middle of the pitch.

England v Germany – Wing-backs forced Germans back

Trippier and Shaw also gave England attacking width with their runs forward, which required tireless running. When the opportunity for Shaw to burst forward to support Jack Grealish came, he was found with the right ball and delivered an assist for Raheem Sterling.

The system meant there was more room in the middle of the pitch for Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips to press Germany’s playmakers and stop them running the game. It made England’s wing-backs an important source for forward runs and both delivered.

Set-pieces improved

England’s poor attacking set-plays have been an issue at the tournament after scoring from nine at the World Cup three years ago.

At least in this tie they looked more of a threat from dead-ball situations and threatened Manuel Neuer’s goal by getting the ball into dangerous areas.

It was one of the reasons why Kieran Trippier was recalled and he took inswingers from the left-hand side, attacking the space between Neuer and his three centre-backs. Harry Maguire was getting his head on corners and went close with a chance that went over the bar.

Luke Shaw was also accurate with his delivery from the other flank and it needed Mats Hummels to get his positioning right to clear the danger for Germany,

Southgate’s players seemed to have benefited from working on dead balls all week, which bodes well as the competition reaches its sharp end.