England’s drive to the Euro 2020 semi-finals has been founded on rock-solid defence.
A redoubtable defender in his own playing days, manager Gareth Southgate has given his exciting array of attacking players the security to do what they do best by making sure the door is firmly locked behind them, and they are yet to concede a single goal in their five matches to date.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at just why England, who have kept seven successive clean sheets, have proved so difficult to score against.
Southgate’s rearguard has proved largely impermeable despite changes in shape and personnel over the course of its first five outings. Only Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and Manchester City central defender John Stones have been ever-present, while the pacy Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw have missed only one game each. Tyrone Mings deputised ably for Harry Maguire as he worked his way back to full fitness and Kieran Trippier lined up at left-back against Croatia and right wing-back as the manager opted for a back three for the last-16 win over Germany, but the blockade remained firmly in place.
Maguire’s participation at Euro 2020 was thrown into doubt by an ankle injury which prevented him from playing in Manchester United’s Europa League final defeat by Villarreal. Having sat out the first two group games, he has slipped seamlessly into the heart of Southgate’s back-line, dispelling any fears of ring-rust with a series of commanding displays in which his aerial prowess ability to carry the ball out of defence has proved invaluable.
Pickford has his critics, but England’s keeper, barring a handful of minor errors, has answered many of them with a series of resilient displays in the tournament. Seemingly more composed than he has been in the past, the 27-year-old former Sunderland stopper made important saves to deny Scotland’s Stephen O’Donnell and Germany duo Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, and his sometimes breath-taking distribution has proved a potent weapon.
Shaw’s career appeared to be going in only one direction during Jose Mourinho’s reign at Manchester United, but the £27million full-back has enjoyed an impressive renaissance since the Portuguese’s departure from Old Trafford. He has carried his impressive club form into the tournament and, while the left-foot service he has provided in the final third has been priceless, he has excelled in his primary function at the back too.
If England’s defenders have earned deserved praise for their performances, they will acknowledge their task has been made more straightforward by the efforts of holding midfielders Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips ahead of them. West Ham’s Rice has for some time been the man asked to provide an added layer of protection, but Leeds counterpart Phillips has been a revelation on the international stage and the pair have teamed up to good effect to both disrupt the opposition and keep their own side ticking.