What do we know about England's opponents
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England face Andriy Shevchenko’s Ukraine in a Euro 2020 quarter-final in Rome on Saturday, viewed by many as a very presentable change to reach another tournament semi-final.
Ukraine have been one of the tournament’s more entertaining teams though with Gareth Southgate warning against complacency.
What do we know about England’s opponents? What are their strengths and what are the areas to exploit? Who are the players to watch out for?
Telegraph Sport spoke to Ukranian football expert Andrew Todos and former Norther Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, who masterminded a win over Ukraine at Euro 2016.
Apply pressure high up the field
Shevchenko has always wanted Ukraine to play on the ‘first number’ – on the front foot, in other words. He was keen to move away from a pragmatic counter-attacking approach which relied heavily on the wings.
Shevchenko’s side now aims to play progressive football, building up from the back, forcing the goalkeepers and defenders to be more clever and assertive on the ball than their predecessors.
This style of play has worked best against sides that have tended to sit back. This should not be the case with England, but Gareth Southgate should not expect Ukraine simply to be passive opponents.
Jordan Pickford has kept four clean sheets at the Euros but says England’s tight defence is a group effort that requires midfielders and forwards to help. “It starts with Harry Kane up top,” Pickford said.
Kane has an important role closing off angles for Ukraine’s centre-backs as they try to move the ball. Raheem Sterling must also anticipate the direction of play and look to press.
Southgate wanted his wing-backs to play high up the pitch against Germany to deny them space to work in and this tactic could work again. Should he revert to four at the back, it will be down to the central midfielders to be disciplined when the full-backs push forward and press.
Pressing the opposition was a feature on the opening win against Croatia and will expend energy – temperatures in Rome are likely to be around 27C, despite the late kick-off – making it important for England to retain possession and play patiently when they get the ball.
Ukraine Euros Stats 01
Ukraine’s attack is nicely in sync – they have played together for two to three years and their training camp also started a whole two weeks before anyone else’s in May.
In particular, Roman Yaremchuk and Andriy Yarmolenko have developed an almost telepathic partnership when it comes to laying one another off, assisting each other and anticipating where the pass is coming.
This will be a key feature of Ukraine’s attacking play, with striker Yaremchuk especially important. He has a habit of dropping into unexpected areas of the pitch – against Sweden, he popped up all over the pitch in search of the ball.
England found that man-marking one player has not been so effective. They paid close attention to Toni Kroos in the first half against Germany and it allowed Leon Goretzka to get on the ball and drive forward. In the second half they got to grips with them both.
Ukraine’s dangerous pair will be higher up the pitch and John Stones and Harry Maguire will pick them up. But it will be important for Declan Rice to be positioned for when Yaremchuk drops slightly deeper. Kyle Walker’s pace will also be important for cover when either of them get behind England’s two main centre-backs.
Both of England’s systems – 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 – have given the team enough protection and it will not need radical changes to deal with two unpredictable strikers, as long as the defensive unit sticks to the same principles as the first four games.
The Yaremchuk-Yarmalenko relationship
Exploit space on their left flank
Ukraine are struggling with who they should be playing at left wing. Oleksandr Zinchenko put in a match-winning performance against Sweden from left wing-back but he often lacked in support, especially when Sweden broke quickly.
Taras Stepanenko and Ruslan Malinovskyi, who played in front of him, are naturally central midfielders and as such often drifted inside, leaving an imbalance in attack and Ukraine vulnerable on the counter-attack.
Walker’s pace will be perfect to exploit this weakness in Ukraine’s team. Whether at right-back or wing-back, his ability to get up and down the right flank has been a feature of the three matches he has started.
Bukayo Saka has also been one of the finds of the tournament and his fearless running troubled the Germans, so should also be a problem for Ukraine. He excelled in the space between wing-back and centre-back and that space should be there again as Ukraine play with a similar system to Germany.
That right-forward role is an area Southgate has plenty of options. Jadon Sancho are warming-up partners on the touchline but have not impacted on the tournament yet, while Sterling can play on that side if needed.
The professional’s view: How we masterminded a tournament win over Ukraine
By Michael O’Neill, Northern Ireland manager when they beat Ukraine 2-0 at Euro 2016
Yarmolenko was one of their big players when we played them five years ago and still is now, but when we played them, we changed the system from a back three to a four, with Jonny Evans at left-back.
Jonny is predominantly right-footed but marked him almost as a centre-half would do against a striker, playing very tight against him, and making sure he couldn’t cut inside to use his strong left foot.
There’s always a little concern which position he takes up when your full-back goes forward, but I can’t see England making those allowances for Ukraine. I’d be surprised if they didn’t deploy a specialist left-back, though.
Match midfield physicality
Ukraine are physical in the middle of the pitch – workmanlike rather than creative. It won’t be like you’re having to deal with a Luka Modric type of midfielder – the threats are predominantly in the wide areas.
Taras Stepanenko and Serhiy Sydorchuk played against us and will probably be in the team this time, too. They are experienced international players but I don’t think England will be too concerned about them being really comfortable in possession.
Instead, England will have to match that physicality in the centre with the likes of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips – or possibly Jordan Henderson – because Ukraine’s game-plan will centre on stifling England’s creativity.
How Ukraine are combating fatigue ahead of England quarter-final
By James Ducker
England should, in theory, be less at risk of fatigue in Saturday’s Euro 2020 quarter-final than opponents Ukraine in Rome.
Gareth Southgate’s team had already secured their passage through to the last eight thanks to a 2-0 win over Germany by the time Ukraine kicked off against Sweden in Glasgow.
Ukraine needed extra-time to see off Sweden 2-1 thanks to Artem Dovbyk’s last gasp 121st minute goal at Hampden Park and, by the end, the statistics showed that Andriy Shevchenko’s players had run 37 kilometres more in total in their match than their England counterparts.
It is not an insignificant difference as Shevchenko prepares his side for what for many will be the biggest match of their professional lives.
Yet Shevchenko is hoping his players’ use of a special GPS performance vest during the Sweden game – which Dovbyk revealed when he ripped off his shirt after claiming that dramatic winner – will help him better plot England’s downfall as he bids to ensure his team are in peak condition come Saturday night.
Ukraine are not the only side at this tournament to make use of STATSports’ GPS technology. England, Belgium and Switzerland, all of whom have reached the quarter-finals, use it to varying degrees.
Yet Ukraine are the only country who have been using it in games and not simply for training sessions and, in Tuesday’s gruelling assignment against Sweden, it was a useful tool for Shevchenko and Ukraine’s head of fitness and performance, Andrea Azzalin, to determine the workloads and stress levels of the players.
Ukraine suffered injuries and tiredness in the last-16 win over Sweden
To what extent it influenced Shevchenko’s decision to make six substitutes – five of which came in extra-time – is unclear. But the Ukraine coach and his staff will have used the data to help inform decisions around the recovery process and training plans at the Giulio Onesti Olympic Centre in Rome this week and should have a very clear idea of what condition each and every one of the players will be in come the England match.
“What they have is real, objective, black and white information that they can make decisions off,” Sean O’Connor, co-founder of STATSports, explained. “It’s one thing saying, ‘They played extra time, it’s going to add an extra layer of stress.’ Of course it is.
“It’s another thing understanding to what extent, compared to playing just 90 minutes, and being able to understand what difference it made to each individual and how they then effect the recovery process and their preparation for the England game.
“I suspect they will take that information and use it to help educate the decisions they make throughout this week.”
Shevchenko favoured the use of GPS vests as a player and brought Azzalin, an Italian fitness expert, on board after being appointed Ukraine coach in 2016. Ukraine’s players were using the STATSports pro series vest against Sweden and the data coming through to Azzalin in the technical area was widespread.
It includes more simple metrics such as distance covered and maximum speeds achieved as well as metres per minute covered, which can provide a good indicator of players’ intensity levels.
The GPS vests worn by Ukraine's players
Credit: Getty Images
But the technology also reveals players’ dynamic stress loads, which are the toll placed on their bodies during a match or training session, and even details about their step balance and whether they are placing equal amount of weight on their left and right feet.
“In theory, it should be 50-50 and a nice balance efficiency but as you fatigue you may start to put more weight on one side and it can be a red flag or a good early indicator for the performance team to have,” O’Connor said.
“They’re wearing the vests in game for a reason, without question. The driving force behind it is Andrea, whom Shevchenko brought with him when he got the job, and he’s a big believer in what it can do.
“The data helps shape their understanding of both training and games and clearly it’s got the buy in from the manager. You can start to see when people go outside the levels you’d normally expect and that can influence decision-making.
“After the Sweden game, they will have an understanding of exactly what the players went through and then been able to map out the days ahead accordingly. They may say, ‘We need them to be able to do that again in four days time so how do we taper and have the right training session loads during the week so we don’t overdo it between now and then’.
“Understanding what happened in the Sweden game is crucial to that and then being able to ensure they peak at the right time for the next game and phasing the training appropriately.”
Ruslan Malinovskyi, the Atalanta and Ukraine midfielder, does not believe fatigue will be a factor against England. “For me, it would have been a problem if we had played two or three days later but we have four days and I think we have enough time to recover and be fit for this game,” he said.