Statistics don't always tell the full story but they can sometimes help give some idea of the way a team plays and what to expect from them.
The Euro 2020 semi-finals are upon us at last. The tournament has so far been a fun watch for fans, with plenty of twists, turns and excellent football on display. However, we are now at the business end of the tournament. Knockouts are often something of a lottery. The best of teams can have an off day or be simply outplayed tactically by a smaller opponent. The form book can often go out of the window and new heroes are made. For the four teams remaining in the tournament, this is a chance to write themselves into the history books.
And while statistics don’t always tell the full story, they can sometimes help give some idea of the way a team plays and what to expect from them.
Looking at some of the key statistics from the tournament, a few trends begin to emerge.
Seems a bit like stating the obvious, since you don’t really need statistics to figure this one out. However, a look at the numbers shows Spain and Italy being right ahead in certain key areas.
For one, both teams look to dominate possession – although it’s more of a conscious choice with Spain. This is evident if you look at their passing and possession statistics.
Spain have kept 67% possession of the ball so far in their matches, with Italy a distant second with 56% average possession. Spain have also attempted the most passes – 4307. Italy are once again second, but with 3028 passes.
Both teams work very hard too, evidenced by the amount of distance they cover. Again, it is Spain who come out on top – their players have covered approximately 623 km so far in the tournament.
Italy, traditionally renowned for being a hard-working side who prioritise a good defence, are again second – covering 587 km.
Where Italy do lead Spain is the number of attempts on goal. Italy play at a faster tempo, which explains why they don’t try as many passes and keep the ball less than Spain.
But their method of play produces better results in front of goal. Italy have 101 attempts on goal, with Spain second with 95 attempts.
What about England and Denmark? Well, England have attempted the third most passes (2630) and covered the least ground (524 km). They have also had the least shots on goal – 37, well behind Denmark at third with 90.
Where England come out on top, however, is defence. They have yet to concede a goal so far, becoming the only team in Euro history to get through their first five straight matches with no goals conceded.
Of course, football matches are not decided on facts alone. External factors play a part in determining the success of failure of teams.
It’s worth remembering that Portugal, the 2016 champions, were hardly the most free-flowing or attractive sides. But they got the job done. That’s where England and Denmark come into the equation.
Denmark are a side driven by what happened to talisman Christian Eriksen. Not having him for the rest of the tournament was seen as an issue.
However, they have come together and played through their skins, often above and beyond their actual capabilities as a side.
Similarly, England are driven to climb the heights of international glory having been perennial underachievers. They’ve won one World Cup in 1966 and no European Championships.
Under Gareth Southgate, they made the semis of the 2018 World Cup and are in the final four of Euro 2020. But the itch to go all the way is what is driving them.
Similarly, Italy are coming off a disastrous spell that saw them miss the 2018 World Cup altogether. Their recent resurgence under Roberto Mancini has been fun to watch in that regard.
But they will be desperate to claim a first European Championship title in 1968.
Spain too have been in freefall since the glory days of 2010 and 2012. Coming into this tournament with a lot of young players and some notable veterans missing, little was excpected from them.
They too, have reached the semis. Now it is down to who wants it more on the given day.