Women’s Euro 2022 Final: How England successfully brought football home against Germany – tactical analysis
English football fans are undoubtedly one of the world’s most patient groups of people, with them having to endure 56 years of waiting for a major trophy and seeing each attempt to end that drought fail to come off. On Sunday evening, that patience was at last rewarded, with a title finally secured and on home soil too. However, it was not the men’s team who won it and was instead their female counterparts who succeeded in bringing football home, with a stunning victory over Germany in the Euro 2022 final sealed in extra time under the Wembley arch.
As this tactical analysis will show, England’s win was built on several important traits, including hard work, good preparation and strong teamwork. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for them, as Germany gave them plenty to think about as the match proceeded and forced them to remain concentrated until the final whistle. The analysis will therefore focus on what Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s side changed to help them recover from a sluggish start, as well as the different tactics that ensured the Lionesses landed their first ever major trophy.
For the sixth time this tournament, England manager Sarina Wiegman named the same starting eleven and resisted any temptation to make alterations. That meant that Manchester United Women’s Mary Earps started in goal, whilst captain and Arsenal Women defender Leah Williamson was joined by full-backs Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly and Chelsea Women centre-back Millie Bright in the back four.
Further forward, Manchester City Women’s Keira Walsh was once again in the holding midfield role, with ex-club teammate Georgia Stanway and Chelsea star Fran Kirby just ahead of her, whilst Arsenal forward Beth Mead and Manchester City winger Lauren Hemp were once again tasked with getting up the wings and providing support for veteran striker Ellen White, who led the line.
Germany’s Voss-Tecklenburg, meanwhile, was forced into two changes for this game, with Bayern Munich Frauen attacker Klara Bühl ruled out with Covid-19, whilst star striker and captain Alex Popp picked up an injury in the warm-up. As a result, Hoffenheim Frauen winger Jule Brand came in as the left-sided attacker, whilst striker Lea Schüller, who has not started a match since the opening game against Denmark, started up front.
Merle Frohms was once again between the posts, whilst the back four of Giulia Gwinn, Kathrin Hendrich, Marina Hegering and Felicitas Rauch remained unchanged. In the midfield, Lena Oberdorf, Sara Däbritz and Lina Magull, of Wolfsburg Frauen, Lyon Féminin and Bayern Munich respectively, were all tasked with working together to disrupt England’s free-flowing play as much as possible.
Germany’s slow start
Before focusing on England and breaking down how they won this game, this analysis will first look at Germany’s performance. Whilst they played much better as the game went on, they began in a nervous manner and looked unsure of themselves in the early stages, which was not what many were expecting from a team that, like the Lionesses, had not lost a match during the tournament and had only conceded one goal.
What Sarina Wiegman’s side have built their success over the last month on is keeping the ball on the ground and playing through the thirds, which is not what Germany are necessarily comfortable with. As a result, they didn’t seem to know how to deal with their opponents’ quick transitions, committing to neither pressing nor sitting back in a low block. This meant that their play was often uncoordinated and lacked communication, with individual players caught out of position and spaces being left open for the Lionesses to exploit.
This situation demonstrates that point, with right-back Giulia Gwinn, who has been one of the tournament’s standout players, initially looking to close Lauren Hemp down but then reconsidering as soon as Rachel Daly advances toward her. Unfortunately, this moment of hesitation came at the wrong time, as she was unable to get back and prevent Fran Kirby from running between her and Kathrin Hendrich and receiving the Houston Dash forward’s pass in the unoccupied space behind. With Gwinn out of the game, Kirby was able to easily beat Hendrich in a 1-v-1 duel and feed the ball through to Ellen White in the middle.
Whilst the effort was squandered by White, the simple fact is that it could have been avoided if Gwinn had stayed back here because that would have made it harder for England to create a goalscoring opportunity, either through Daly not being able to make the pass or through Kirby having no option to run in behind the defensive line. Therefore, whilst England played well to use the spaces, Germany were undoubtedly creating their own problems at this stage.
The other thing that Germany had trouble with was their pressing game, which is something that they had used to great effect during the rest of the tournament. Normally, each of their players goes forward in turn, forcing their opponents to move the ball quickly and increasing the possibility of a mistake being made with the ball. However, this coordination was again missing against England, meaning that they struggled to contain their opponents.
Looking tactically at their attacking structure, they morphed into a loose 4-4-2 as the game went on, with Lina Magull tending to join Lea Schüller at the top of the field with the aim of preventing England from using Keira Walsh too much, as is shown here. However, with Germany staying narrow, England simply stretched out and played towards the wings instead, using the fact that Magull and Schüller lacked support from their teammates in those areas.
When Germany did press the two centre-backs, they didn’t support each other, which was another reason that this didn’t work for them at this point in the game. On this occasion, Schüller moved to close Leah Williamson down, and Magull needed to get tighter to Walsh to ensure that the latter was not left in open space. However, because she didn’t, the England captain was able to pass around the striker and into Walsh, who then passed up the pitch to start another attack. Again, this came down to Germany lacking basic communication, with players doing their own thing and not working as a team.
Nevertheless, Voss-Tecklenburg’s side did improve as the game went on, and one thing that they did a lot of was targeting key areas and trying to expose the positions where England have, at times, shown some signs of weakness during the tournament.
One of those slight problem areas for England has been the full-back positions, with both Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly being attack-minded players who love to get forward and support attacks, but who have both struggled with the defensive side of the role at times (Bronze didn’t get back when needed in the first half against Sweden, whilst Daly struggled to deal with Atlético Madrid Femenino winger Marta Cardona in the quarter-final against Spain).
Germany, therefore, knew that, if they kept putting pressure on Bronze and Daly, they might be able to find a way through and start delivering balls into the goal area. Here, their perseverance has paid off, with Daly stepping out of line and giving Gwinn the opportunity to play Schüller in behind her. It was moments like this that helped to turn the game in their favour, and there was an evident improvement in their overall mentality and tactical approach as the first half drew to a close.
However, the issue for Germany at the break was that they hadn’t been able to convert their improved play into a goal, largely due to England’s dogged and determined defensive work. Therefore, in the second half, Voss-Tecklenburg urged them to play with more pace and to press individual England players more aggressively around the pitch, preventing them from being able to build up play in the same way.
The impact of this was huge, with the Lionesses having to resort to more sideways passes and being forced onto the back foot, with a reinvigorated Germany proving difficult for them to compete with. In this case, Hemp has tried to cut inside and create something for her team, but the Young Player of the Tournament Lena Oberdorf has quickly closed her down and made a dominant tackle before she can find a teammate. The other important thing to note here is that Oberdorf had options around her, meaning that Germany had ways of moving the ball up the pitch at speed as soon as they regained it, highlighting how they were now working as a team and having more success as a result.
To aid her team’s second-half improvements, Voss-Tecklenburg also introduced Wolfsburg forward Tabea Waßmuth for Jule Brand, and she immediately combined with Schüller and club teammate Svenja Huth to create a much more potent forward line that worked together to press England’s back line with a higher intensity.
Once Schüller had been withdrawn for Nicole Anyomi, that front three reverted back to a two, with this situation showing how Huth and Waßmuth became the two main attackers in the team. When England passed towards the wings as they had done in the first half, the two full-backs, Gwinn and Felicitas Rauch, both pushed up the field and closed them down, and that was what they had been missing in the first half.
However, arguably their most important player in the second half was Lina Magull, who had dropped back from the front-line role that she had previously been in to become more of a playmaker. This suited her style of play much more and allowed her to move into different areas of the pitch, locating gaps in the England lines and constantly linking up play for her teammates. It was fitting that she was the one who scored their equaliser, with the goal coming through a good pass into Waßmuth before she moved into the half-space to get on the end of the return pass.
Therefore, the key thing to take from this is that Germany’s tactical and personnel changes had a big impact on the game, making them harder to play against and preventing the Lionesses from playing through them with as much success, and this was what led to the game being forced into extra time.
England’s key tactics
It has already been mentioned that England started well and looked to take advantage of Germany’s initial lack of confidence, but the Lionesses did need to adapt as the game went on to manage the threat posed by their opponents.
Something that was noticeable from the start of the match was the way that they were playing out from the back because it was slightly different to how they normally play in this area of the field.
Their formation in possession was the key thing here, with this situation showing them in a 2-3 setup. This was formed by Bronze and Daly pushing up the pitch to play in line with Walsh, staying wide to make the pitch as big as possible, and that created spaces that the two centre-backs, Millie Bright and Williamson, could move forward into. Therefore, rather than passing into Walsh, the two central defenders were taking the ball forward themselves and finding their teammates higher up the field more directly.
This is not a brand-new concept for the Lionesses, as they previously played with this strategy in their quarter-final against Spain. The reason that they turned to it was that Jorge Vilda’s side focused their tactics on limiting Walsh’s influence on the pitch, but the fact that they used it here when they had other options shows that they have different styles of play and can alter their approach as needed, and that is one reason that they have been so difficult to play against over the last month.
When on the offensive against Germany, they maintained the theme of using their wide players to stretch the opposing defenders out and force gaps to open in the middle. Player of the Tournament and Golden Boot winner Beth Mead is in possession here and looking for a teammate inside her, and there are only two defenders in a position to protect their goal, highlighting how effective this tactic has been for England. However, what is clever here is that Kirby and Hemp occupy the two players and stop them from getting out to White, who is making a late run towards the edge of the goal area to receive the cutback from Mead.
Whilst the Manchester City striker wasn’t able to find the target here, instead firing over, this showed how England can manipulate their opponents and control the game when going forward, and that was something that they used to great effect for periods of the first half.
However, as the match went on and Germany grew into it, England had to revert to being strong at the back and building through the thirds when opportunities to do so presented themselves. As a result, they had to go back to using Walsh’s well-known distribution to move the ball during transitions, allowing the back four to focus purely on defending against an opposing forward line that was growing in confidence and quality.
This was not England going backwards though, with Walsh arguably being one of the best ball distributors in the game and someone who always seems to pick the right pass at the right time. She is also brave on the ball and doesn’t only look for the easy passes that will simply maintain possession. Here, she passes up the field towards Ella Toone, who had come on for Kirby midway through the second half, and this one move takes five German players out of the game, showing how her intelligence and awareness have made her such an important player in this England side. Therefore, in the context of this game, she was a vital player to have available and in space, and her ability to constantly find teammates was one reason that England always had a good chance of winning.
When it came to their forward line, England showed flexibility in the way that the players were allowed to move around and fill different roles. Their shape became more aggressive as the game went on, as they looked to get their key attackers into dangerous areas as often as possible.
However, the slight surprise was that Alessia Russo tended to be in deeper spaces than she is normally found in, meaning that she wasn’t making as many runs behind the German defensive line. Instead, that role was left to fellow substitute and Manchester United teammate Toone, who scored the first goal of the game after attacking the space behind Germany’s defenders and receiving a well-timed pass from Walsh.
As well as Toone, Hemp and another replacement, Chloe Kelly, constantly looked to take on opponents in 1-v-1 duels and use their natural speed to help with ball progression into dangerous areas of the field, so it was clear that England, whilst under more pressure defensively due to Germany’s improvement, were still a significant attacking threat, and that has been a key characteristic of their title success.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has presented many reasons for England overcoming Germany and landing their first major trophy and the country’s first (men’s or women’s) since the famed 1966 final. Germany deserve credit for recovering from their slow start to make the final a competitive game, and their second-half goal was well-deserved on the basis that they were the better side after the break. However, they ultimately fell short in their quest for a ninth European title because, despite all of their good play, they missed Alex Popp’s physical presence at the top of the field, as well as her leadership which would have been vital to have when they were down on confidence at the start of the match.
They also lost because England showed the same refusal to be beaten that saw them return from the brink against Spain in the quarter-finals. However, what happened on the pitch is not the main topic of discussion among the wider fanbase, because plenty are focusing on the impact that their success will have on the wider society.
There is a lot of hope that this could be the moment when female footballers are seen as on a par with their male counterparts, whilst there is also a hope that the vast amount of people who have fallen in love with the women’s game over the last month will lead to higher attendances at WSL, Women’s Championship and local club matches up and down the country during the coming season.
There is even a greater urge for those in power to keep investing in and growing the sport, ensuring that girls and women who want to break into it have chances to do so and that the country capitalises on this win in the right way.
For the Lionesses themselves, they will have another chance to shine when next year’s World Cup comes around, should they qualify. However, for now, they should simply be allowed to enjoy the moment and bask in the atmosphere that they have created, in a July that English football fans will never forget.