England vs Ukraine: Set Piece Deep Dive

There’s been a lot of talk around the England side during the Euros this year. Qualifying for the semi-finals is impressive, but doing it without conceding a goal is incredible.

England’s 4-0 quarter-final win over Ukraine was a seemingly dominant attacking display.

But how much can we really take from it?

Over the past year or so I’ve been doing a few scouting certificates and badges, and funnily enough, yesterday we looked at the England and Ukraine goals.

In this article, we’ll break down one of the England goals we looked at, and see if it was good play by England, or poor defending. Or a bit of both.

If you like things such as this - I might do more of them, or hell…. maybe even a fresh newsletter for those who just want dorky stuff like this!

England’s Fourth Goal - Attacking Corner

Honestly, I could look at any of England’s four goals here and break them down - but I chose England’s fourth goal - a corner scored by Jordan Henderson, for a few reasons:

  • It’s the one I looked at in the course I mentioned earlier

  • And because it’s probably the most obvious example of the message I’m trying to put across. I was able to explain this play to my dad and he isn’t the sporty deep-dive type at all. So if he understood it, that’s a good sign.

Anyway… if you don’t remember it, here’s the goal.

I love this footage because it shows it from a few angles, which we’ll be using in this breakdown.

Initial Setup

Here is how Ukraine initially set up for their defensive corner.

They’ve man marked the five people in the box (four on the edge of the box, and Sterling, who is on the 6-yard line), and have an extra line of four people on the six-yard line who are marking zone. We’re calling this a “zonal line”.

Basically, they’re marking the area in front of them.

So, if the ball drops into the space in front of them, it’s their job to get rid of it. If the ball goes over their head, it’s the role of the person behind them to head the ball out - that way you avoid a defender running backwards to head a ball and crashing into the defender behind them.

There’s also the one man who is protecting the short ball.

A quick head count -that’s the entire Ukraine squad (one keeper, one protecting the short ball, five man-markers, and four zone markers).

Here is another angle of the initial setup.

For this analysis though, there’s only really six people that I want to focus on. From Ukraine, the number 7 (Yarmolenko) and 5 (Sydorcuk) - who are in the zonal line, 21 (Karavaev) and 15 (Tsygankov) - who are man-marking; And from England, number 8 (Henderson) and 10 (Sterling).

They are the main people in this play.

Initial Mistake - Ball Watching by Man-Marker

Arguably the first, and biggest mistake is by Ukraine’s number 15 (Tsygankov), who is marking Jordan Henderson’s run at the edge of the box.

Tsygankov is caught ball watching, and at no point is on the correct side of Henderson.

Here’s another angle of Tsygankov’s “marking” on Henderson.

As you can see, the Ukraine marker lets Henderson in behind him while he’s watching the flight of the ball.

By the time Henderson gets to the ball, there’s about five or so yards between him and his marker.

Bloody tough moment for a player I like - here’s a scouting report I wrote on Tsygankov last year sometime.

Mistakes on the Zonal Line

Another key mistake here is the organization in the zonal line on the 6-yard-box. Let’s go back to the image I showed you at the start.

There’s a massive gap between the second and third person on the line.

Ukraine number 7 (Yarmolenko) and 5 (Sydorcuk), who are the second and third men in the line, are way too far apart to begin with. Even the gap between the third and fourth man in the zonal line is pretty wide.

On top of that, Yarmolenko edges even further forward before the ball is kicked.

This makes the already big gap even bigger.

Usually there’s a couple potential reasons for this:

  • Nobody is leading the line and telling people where they need to be. This is the keeper’s fault usually (we can talk more about him later), or Sydorcuk needs to tell Yarmolenko to move back a bit.

  • Yarmolenko doesn’t want to be in the zonal line to begin with and isn’t too comfortable being there. By edging forward, he’s creating less work for himself because there’s less space in front of him to defend. I’d have to see more of his defensive set piece work to get more of an opinion on that though. Can’t really judge off one play.

England’s Use of Blockers

One underrated player in this corner is Raheem Sterling.

As we saw, the second man in the zonal line (Yarmolenko) pushed too forward, leaving a large gap behind him.

In turn, that means the third man in the zonal wall, Sydorcuk (number five) has a lot more space to guard. Probably double what he should be marking.

Sterling takes advantage of this, using himself, and his man-marker, to block Sydorcuk’s run at the space he’s marking.

Here’s another angle of that happening.

You can see that Sterling is happy to have his man-marker (Karavaev) push against him and hold his ground on the six-yard line. This blocks the run of the zonal defender, leaving the gap left by Yarmolenko wide open for England’s runners to penetrate.

In fact, check this out. At the every last moment, Sterling kind of pulls the chair from underneath his marker (Karavaev), getting him out of the way - if Henderson misses the header, or if all runners are blocked, Sterling is in prime spot for a tap in.

Now Let’s See it all Together

Let’s see the goal again, this time with the annotations, and with the play slowed down at key moments.

You can see a real defensive lapse by Ukraine.

Why Does All This Happen?

It’s hard to say for sure. You’d have to look at hundreds of set pieces from both Ukraine and England to know this for sure, or be able to read minds of the players - but here’s a few things that could contribute.

  • All of England’s goals came from either wide set pieces (this corner, and the free kick) or plays that started out wide (both Kane goals), so it seems as though they wanted to exploit Ukraine’s lack of defensive organization and leadership. Honestly, you could do another article like this on the free kick - as that was just as bad a mix-up.

  • I wish I could claim this point as my own, but it’s definitely one that I’ve taken from a pro scout during my course. The goalkeeper is constantly bouncing before shots are being taken, this means he’s never set and ready to dive - this slows down his reaction time and created moments of indecision. Watch the goals again - Here is the same video as before.

    I’m always going to watch for bouncing keepers now.

  • A lot of this happened at the start of halves - perhaps a strategy to get in early to Ukraine players that are playing in massive moments that they’re not entirely familiar to. Not many players in the Ukraine squad would have played in a match that’s anything like a Euro quarter-final.

For me though, the lack of organization and defensive leadership on set pieces and wide plays definitely had a role.

Final Thoughts

So, were England clinical in attack or were Ukraine poor defensively?

Honestly, it’s a bit of both.

Ukraine were pretty terrible in a few ways on all goals.

  • First goal: the scouting report on Sterling would basically just say “don’t let him cut inside”, the fullback shows him inside, and he sets up Kane. Goalkeeper bouncing up and down, and too slow to come out - poor keeper body shape and doesn’t “make himself big”

  • Second goal: A mess of a free kick defensively - Line nowhere near deep enough, and poor marking never once getting in front of Maguire. Keeper indecision.

  • Third goal: Ukraine overcommitted in attack, scrambling defensively, don’t track Shaw’s overlap and again poor marking in the box for the cross. Keeper again at fault too with poor decision making.

  • Fourth goal: Mess of a corner.

The middle-part of the venn diagram is pretty large when it comes to analyzing soccer. One team’s mistake is another team’s homework paying off.

It’s pretty plain to see though, that England had a game plan to exploit what they saw was Ukraine weaknesses and it worked.

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