Ukraine v England
Saturday 3 July 20:00 BST kick-off
Live on BBC One
Southgate and Sterling star for new Euro 2020 favourites
The dream lives on! After England’s fine victory over Germany, Gareth Southgate’s side march into their quarter-final tie with the Ukraine in Rome as the new 15/8 favourites to win Euro 2020 and with an excited nation right behind them once again.
Plenty of fans have had their say on England’s style of football, and Southgate’s team selection wasn’t the most popular, but the manager was proved correct and he showed a nice tactical acumen to highlight Germany’s strength out wide and nullify their main points of attack.
Without too much trumpet blowing, the game panned out as expected in our England v Germany preview which yielded a couple of winners, and a nod to Jack Grealish getting an assist. I’ll admit I fancied him to start but he’s quite an impact sub and the plan worked perfectly.
Southgate must get huge credit for putting his tactical plan and system first and finding players to fit in, with so many Three Lions managers in the past trying to shoehorn star names into a starting XI and finding that it just doesn’t work – his side all seem to know what they’re doing, and so far it’s working.
Grealish will again be the big question for the Ukraine game, as will Phil Foden, but Bukayo Saka performed well, Harry Kane finally got his goal and Raheem Sterling was magnificent. He’s not had his best season with Man City but he’s playing out his frustrations with this country – and credit again to Southgate for creating that team atmosphere.
Sterling’s direct running was a big issue for Germany and his eye for goal got the breakthrough, he’s England’s main man in this tournament and is understandably now a short 2.77/4 shot to score his fourth of the tournament. He’s still worth a bet though.
He’s also now the 6/1 market leader for player of the tournament.
Can Shevchenko continue to inspire Ukraine?
Andriy Shevchenko is a living legend in Ukraine and he’s an inspiring figure for his squad while also showing some tactical nous as his side booked their spot with a dramatic late winner against Sweden.
After being free-scoring entertainers in a 4-3-3 in the group stages, Shevchenko went to a three-man defence and played more cautiously against the Swedes – it looks like he could go that way again against England.
It’s just Ukraine’s second major tournament quarter-final following a 3-0 defeat to Italy in the 2006 World Cup, and they’re big outsiders against a team they’ve beaten just once in seven meetings – scoring three goals in total.
It’s an interesting stick-or-twist scenario for Ukraine, does Shevchenko go for broke and let his attack loose in this historic game, or play it safe and try and pinch it against the lowest scorers left in the tournament?
They have quality, and in Roman Yaremchuk they have a certified number nine that England didn’t have to face against Germany. Man City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko scored the first and assisted the winner against Sweden, while West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko is their star man with two goals and three assists so far.
Atalanta’s Ruslan Malinovskyi is an interesting prospect, as he was a lively creative spark in the group stages but dropped for the Sweden game, when he came off the bench after an hour. If Shevchenko plays safe then he’ll be the man operating the Grealish role of being saved to come and break the game open later on.
Defence still the way ahead for England
I don’t see any reason why Southgate would deviate from the winning formula of keeping a clean sheet as priority number one. He knows he has plenty of attackers who can win the game either from the start, or coming off the bench.
The bench could be crucial here too with Ukraine having played extra time and likely having less of the ball you can expect tired legs later on, when the likes of Grealish, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount (if he doesn’t in fact start) can all prosper.
England are rightly big 1.42/5 favourites and Ukraine a whopping 5.59/2 to somehow qualify for the semi-finals, with the 90-minute draw not beyond the realms of possibility at 4.67/2 given how the Three Lions do rely on just the odd goal to win games.
Winning is what they’ve been doing though, and they’ve been doing it with collective defensive stability. Only Italy have a lower expected goals against than England’s 2.7 for the tournament and they’ve matched the competition record with four straight clean sheets to start their campaign.
One more clean sheet will match Italy’s major tournament record from the opening five games of Italia 90, and with just two shots on target faced per game so far it’s 1.674/6 that Jordan Pickford adds another clean sheet to his tally.
The bookies are on to the fact England games don’t have goals in, with under 2.5 priced at 1.738/11 – further proof being that the last four meetings between these two contained just four goals in total.
The only way I’d imagine there will be more on Saturday is with an early goal, especially for England, that brings Ukraine out into full-on attack mode.
More likely is England controlling most of the ball, with Ukraine looking to play on the break, which brings in a half-time draw at 2.26/5. England have had three 0-0s at half-time out of four games so far, but it has to be said that they’ve hit the post in two and probably should have also scored against Germany.
If you’re betting in-play then note four of England’s last six has seen them score in the second half after drawing at the interval, while they’ve won 12 out of the last 12 times they’ve been ahead after 45 minutes
Who else but Sterling?
Kane is the 1.9110/11 favourite in the anytime scorer market after breaking his duck against Germany, with Sterling not too far behind now, and the way he’s playing it’d be a surprise if he didn’t score again.
While for Ukraine Yaremchuk is 5.04/1 anytime but Yarmolenko at 5.59/2 would be the preferred option as he’s the leader and big game player and has had a team-best 10 shots at the Euros with five on target.
Grealish is always worth a look for an assist and although he’s been shortened to 3.55/2 for this game there’s a chance he could start and he’s registered one in back-to-back games now.
For me, though, it all comes back to that defence and game management that England have been so good at so far – and when you throw in a Ukraine team I expect to try and keep just a fourth clean sheet in 20 games then you have potential for another low scorer.
If you want more outside factors then you have the nerves and pressure of a major tournament quarter-final, and the travel factor with Ukraine heading to a fourth different venue having played in Amsterdam, Bucharest and Glasgow already while England have to adapt to not playing at Wembley.
I’ll even give you a weather forecast, with a warm night and around 27 degrees expected at kick-off all adding to what should be another slow burner with England’s quality and depth eventually making the difference.
If Ukraine can’t start fast then I don’t think they’ll have an answer if Southgate’s side strike in the second half.