England have been stung by seemingly straightforward draws in European Championships before.
Even as recently as 2016, Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions squad was sent packing by Iceland and their viking thunder clap in the round of 16, much to the shock and horror of pretty much the entire footballing commentariat.
The hope will be that five years on some serious lessons have been learned heading into this Saturday’s Euro 2020 quarter-final against Ukraine.
For one thing, Harry Kane hasn’t been seen anywhere near a corner-kick for roughly half a decade, but more importantly, Gareth Southgate looks to have found a way of keeping his squad grounded and focused fully on the task at hand.
Realistically, this is England’s best chance to reach the final of a major international tournament in a generation, but for all of the excitement and rhetoric surrounding the Three Lions at the moment, the general impression from inside Southgate’s camp is one of humility and a strong desire to avoid complacency.
With that in mind, beating Ukraine is all that matters right now, and we’ve identified three key weaknesses that England could look to exploit in Saturday’s opponents…
A lack of movement up front
In Roman Yaremchuk, Ukraine have got a genuine top-tier striking talent leading their line.
The 25-year-old hit 23 goals across all competitions for Belgian outfit Genk last season, and with two goals and an assist to his name already in Euro 2020, he’s proving that he can deliver on the biggest stage of all.
What he is unlikely to do, however, is get on the shoulder of the last man and stretch England’s centre-backs.
Arguably the two biggest chances that Germany created at Wembley on Tuesday night saw them slot balls through the heart of defence, with Timo Werner seeing his low effort saved by Jordan Pickford and Thomas Muller squandering a gilded opportunity late on.
At 6’3”, Yaremchuk is more likely to pose a more traditional physical contest, and that’s something that Harry Maguire in particular should relish.
Both he and John Stones have averaged three successful aerial duels per game this tournament.
Following on from that allusion to England’s aerial prowess, the Three Lions could really make the most of set-pieces against Ukraine.
Southgate’s men are yet to score from a dead ball situation in this tournament, but Stones did rattle a post against Scotland in the group stage, and Maguire should have done much better with a headed effort of his own against Germany on Tuesday evening.
Interestingly, Ukraine have won just 9.5 aerials duels per game, the fourth-lowest in the competition and a full 8.5 fewer than England’s average.
You would assume that the Three Lions will have plenty of other ideas on how to get at Andriy Shevchenko’s men, but this isn’t bad ace in the hole to utilise either.
Width, width, width
England are blessed with a veritable mountain of attacking talent in wide areas, and it’s no coincidence that both goals against Germany came directly from deliveries out on the left flank.
Like Southgate, Shevchenko opted for a four-man defence before switching to a five-man backline with wing-backs against Sweden in the last round.
One of the hallmarks of Ukraine’s win in that one was the extent to which those wide man pushed on, but as was proven at Wembley on Tuesday, if you give this England side space in behind out on the wings, they will punish you.
Assuming they stick with five at the back, that means that the Ukrainians are going to have to enact something of a balancing act in Rome if they want to keep the Three Lions quiet while still posing a threat of their own.
Southgate will surely know that, and will be eager for his wingers to exploit even the slightest mistake.