England at Euro 2012: A Statistical Horrorshow

In my preview of yesterday’s match, I predicted that Italy would win 2-1 on the basis that they had the edge on England in the group stage statistically; more possession and shots, and fewer shots against.

I may have got the scoreline wrong, but the Azzurri easily dominated a poor England side as expected. With the Three Lions now heading home, I thought I’d look at their stats and consider what they mean for England.

After a relatively bright start yesterday, England were outclassed for the vast majority of the match. Whilst thirteen of the fourteen Italian players to grace the pitch managed a pass success rate of over 80%, only five Englishman could say the same.

The context of this fact makes it even worse unfortunately. Of England’s five players to complete over four out of every five passes, Jordan Henderson attempted just six passes and Theo Walcott only ten. The other three fared little better despite spending significantly longer on the pitch than the aforementioned substitutes: Welbeck (22), Johnson (32) and Parker (35) adding only eighty-nine passes between them.

Whilst England’s 80%+ quintet attempted 105 passes between them, man of the match Andrea Pirlo attempted 131 on his own, with a 87% pass completion record to boot.

In total, the Three Lions had possession of the ball for a meagre 32% of the time. In view of how negatively England played, I tried to think of an example of a minnow facing a giant to see how they compared possession-wise.

In a 2006 FA Cup tie, non-league Burton Albion went to Old Trafford to play the biggest club in the land. Whilst they lost 5-0, they had control of the ball for 43% of the time according to the BBC match report from the time, which is a whopping eleven percent more than England had against a team that are curently six places below them in the FIFA rankings.

I’m sure you put as little faith in those rankings as I do, but the facts remain that Roy Hodgson took the most expensive squad at Euro 2012, and set them up like a minor footballing nation, where avoiding defeat was the aim and anything else was a bonus. It was depressing to watch, and based on his career history, it’s here to stay for the duration of Hodgson’s tenure I’m afraid.

Of course, it’s not Roy’s fault that the value of the England squad is inflated by Premier League teams paying over the odds to extract the English talent from their rivals, but it most certainly his choice to surrender possession to the opposition in every match; the Three Lions have only had 50% possession in one of Hodgson’s six games in charge of the country so far, against Sweden.

He has been quoted today as saying “I don’t regard statistics, and especially possession statistics, as particularly important when saying which is a good team and which is a bad team”. Let’s review the stats from Euro 2012 so far then, shall we Roy?

The top two teams for possession are the likely finalists: Spain (67.5% average), then Germany (59.3%). Who were the bottom three? Ireland (33.3%), Greece (38%), and then England (39.8%), certainly three of the worst teams at the tournament, whichever way you look at it.

If possession stats don’t tell you which team is good and which is bad, then I certainly think they give you a mighty big clue!

What makes matters worse is that tactics employed to try to avoid defeat merely invited pressure on to the team, and the statistics reflect this. England gave away the second most number of shots per game (22.3) at Euro 2012, and as they had very little interest in attacking aside from set-pieces, they had the fourth fewest shots on target per game too (with just eleven across their six-and-a-half hours of football, or just 2.8 per game).

To try to put those poor attacking stats into context, I have compared them to those for Liverpool in the Premier League last season (if you’ve read my blog before you’ll know that’s who I mainly write about, so I have masses of research to fall back on).

In Liverpool’s best attacking performance of 2011/12, a 3-0 win away at Wolves, they put thirteen shots on target; two more than England did in four games plus one lot of extra time, in other words. The Reds out-shot England’s average in all but three of their thirty-eight league games too.

In truth, it was only England’s absurdly high conversion rate (45.5% of their shots on target were scored, compared to a Premier League average of 28.5% across the last four seasons) combined with wastefulness on the part of their opponents (just three goals against from an incredible eighty-nine shots conceded) that enabled England to be within a penalty shoot-out of their first tournament semi-final in sixteen years, and what would’ve been only their third since the glory of ’66.

That for me is probably the saddest part of the whole charade; with England exceeding expectation, whilst employing a coach whose methods have famously not changed in thirty-six years or more, it’s hard to see how or where they will significantly improve.

Whilst England will surely qualify for theWorld Cup in Brazil in 2014 (as Ukraine, Poland, Montenegro, Moldova, and San Marino should not provide stiff opposition in qualifying), at this point it’s impossible not to think that the Three Lions will perform in the same manner as they have this summer and be on an early plane home from the tournament.

As an Englishman, I’m dreading it already.

Statistics were sourced from EPLIndex  and from WhoScoredPlease take a look at my other articles, a list of which can be found here. You can follow me on Twitter here.

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