Possibly the most fitting phrase to describe England’s thunderous ride to the quarter final. The Lionesses remain unbeaten as they move into the knockout stages and are yet to concede a goal in the competition.
Growing in confidence throughout the group stage, the Lionesses first took on Austria before facing Norway and Northern Ireland. In what is now described as an emphatic win, the Lionesses’ most surprising victory came against Norway, in which they beat the Scandinavian side 8-0.
In the game that was largely expected to be the “toughest” of the three, England were able to unravel an attackingly stacked Norway side through wide overloads, fluidity in transition, smooth passing routes, a high press and clinical finishing. The Lionesses displayed united excellence from back to front. Certainly, it was a game of beauty for any England fan.
It was Austria, who, in the first match of the tournament, proved the most problematic for England to navigate. The Austrian side were well organised and composed, and left little wiggle room to break through for large phases of the game. Fullback Laura Wienroither was particularly effective in cutting off the avenues of Lauren Hemp, and Barbara Dunst and Katharina Naschenweng tested England’s defensive chops more than once. Reflecting upon group performances, it is unsurprising that Austria became the second team to progress to the next stage.
The Lionesses will now face Spain in their quarter final, and although they will rightly approach the game with confidence, it is imperative that they remain grounded as the Spanish side will present an altogether different challenge.
England are yet to face a side that is dominant in possession and that is exactly how Spain like to play; in fact they have not held less than 70% of possession in the competition so far. The ball kept moving to limit the rhythms and fracture the shape of the opposition, but also builds intricate passing play that is difficult to disrupt.
It is therefore important that England remain defensively disciplined and concentrate on defending across the whole of the pitch. Fullbacks Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly must choose their moments to provide overloads and ensure that they support the centre backs by not leaving too much ground to cover out of possession.
Spain play using a high line to pin teams into their own half, however, this could prove to be a logical zone for England to target. Centre back Mapi León is often used to feed balls forward and frequently pushes up to the half way line. Here, the Lionesses can use the qualities of their deep passers, Keira Walsh, Leah Williamson and Millie Bright, to spray balls in behind for the forwards to latch on to.
England’s pace will be key during these transitions and the likes of Lauren Hemp, Beth Mead and Chloe Kelly should work to exploit the space beyond Spain’s high defenders. A quick and imposing central player may also be beneficial to create immediate 2v1 situations, and so, this could well be a game for Alessia Russo to start.
Overall, it is quite possible we will see England sitting back slightly and playing more on the counter than they usually would. With that being said, there is, however no reason we should not also see the layered creativity and slick movement of their recent endeavours. Predict a tasty match up. Game on.