Luke Shaw was simply sensational for England in Rome

Credit: PA

England made light work of Ukraine in a dominant second-half performance in Rome, striding to a Euro 2020 semi-final tie with Denmark at Wembley next Wednesday.

Jason Burt looks at where England got it so right in a superb display.

1. Targeting the wide areas

England looked at the formidable yellow wall of Ukraine’s back-five and clearly decided to attack down the flanks and get in behind them with their pace. On the right Jadon Sancho was selected and was often pushed inside with Kyle Walker higher and wider than him – although this also led to the full-back often being exposed.

But on the left it was Raheem Sterling who was the game-breaker. The forward created Harry Kane’s early goal with a purposeful run and a clever reverse pass and gave right wing-back Vyachelsav Karavaev a torrid time throughout. At this rate Sterling is on course to be the player of the tournament.

Sterling’s brilliant pass for Kane’s first goal

Such was his impact and importance that Gareth Southgate switched Sancho and Sterling late in the first-half as Ukraine were causing England a lot of problems down their left especially through Roman Yaremchuk. Sterling stemmed that. Ukraine were better when they were forced to abandon their back-five, through injury to Sergei Kryvstov, as they did not have another centre-back on the bench. Their 4-3-3 was more effective.

But England still carried the greater threat as they committed players forward and moved it quickly from one side of the pitch to the other. Their rotations helped.

2. Mason Mount set the press

Having missed the last two games, after his isolation from being a Covid close contact, Mount was brought back. It was easy to see why. The shift in formation to a 4-2-3-1 suited him perfectly and Mount was the trigger for England to press effectively. In fact often ran beyond Harry Kane to close down the Ukraine defence and hunt the ball. It meant England pressed as a front four – Mount, Kane, Sterling and Sancho – and pushed much higher up the pitch as a result.

They had identified the fact that Ukraine started their attacks from deeper areas of the pitch than any other team at the tournament and were far more dependent on that counter-attack to threaten the opposition. Ukraine were never going to dominate in England’s half so Mount’s energy and mobility was key to stopping them and winning the ball back quickly. 

It was no surprise that Mount won more tackles than any other England player in the first-half. The 22-year-old also put in the hard yards in working back and there was a crucial intervention to close down and dispossess dangerman Andriy Yarmolenko as he shaped to shoot inside the England area.

3.Hit early in each half

It has been a definite tactic in every game that England have played so far to try to hit the opposition early in each half. They attempted it in every one of their group games only for Phil Foden to strike the post against Croatia (six minutes), as did John Stones against Scotland (11 minutes) and Raheem Sterling against the Czech Republic (two minutes). 

If those chances had gone in the accusation that England were a bit pragmatic and laboured would not even have been raised. But it worked to perfection against Ukraine. Harry Kane after four minutes, Harry Maguire after 46 minutes and then Kane again after 50 minutes was ruthlessly efficient.

England v Ukraine – Sterling’s sensational 45 minutes

England have attempted to start each of their games quickly and maybe also that explains their more chaotic and nervy opening against Germany who managed to impose themselves first. England looked hurried in that match whereas in their other ties their best periods have often been at the start or just after half-time followed by long spells of control. That says much for how Gareth Southgate has organised his side and the tactical approach taken in tandem with assistant Steve Holland.

  • England vs Ukraine player ratings: Shaw magnificent, Sterling superb plus Kane of old

4. Luke Shaw the provider

The left-back was simply sensational and is going from strength to strength in what has been one of the great comeback stories of English football. Going into the Euros it was not certain he would get the nod ahead of Ben Chilwell but he has emphatically claimed the spot as his own and has also now achieved three assists, the second most in the tournament. Little wonder Gareth Southgate took him off after just over an hour. 

Shaw has created eight chances but it has been his contributions in England’s two knock-out games so far that have been crucial. He was involved in both goals against Germany, including his assist for Raheem Sterling, and there were two more assists against Ukraine. His relationship with Sterling is superb and he even delivered the free-kick from which England finally scored from a set-piece.

Shaw set up his Man Utd team-mate Harry Maguire for England's second goal with a delicious free-kick delivery

Credit: AFP

5. An ultra-professional approach

If Gareth Southgate could have scripted how this quarter-final unfolded then this would have been it. He was able to make a raft of changes early on with the game over after 50 minutes, including taking off both his central midfielders who were on yellow cards, and made all five substitutions by the 73rd minute which is almost unheard of for such an occasion. In the heat of Rome it was ideal as he could also rest players for the semi-final. There was not even any added time.

Furthermore there was a determination, despite those changes, to preserve the clean sheet. It meant after five ties England are yet to concede in this tournament (seven games in all including their two warm-up games) and it is the first time a nation has kept five consecutive clean sheets at the Euros which is simply extraordinary on this stage. Psychologically that is a huge boost for England with a far more taxing game (and hopefully games) to come. No suspensions, players rested, Harry Kane in the goals, even Jordan Henderson scored. A special night.