Ahead of Sunday’s Euro 2022 final between England and Germany, we caught up with Jen Beattie to find out more about how the game could play out.
From the qualities of her Arsenal teammates and the threat of Alexandra Popp, to the key battles and players to watch, Beattie has years of experience against these two talented and exciting teams – and you can read all of her pre-match thoughts below.
What can we expect from this game?
It has to be said that Germany have tournament experience in abundance, so my first thought is that this is a side who won’t be fazed by the occasion or show any signs of nerves.
England meanwhile have a youthful squad with a number of their players experiencing top level international football for the first time. Sunday’s game marks their first final since 2009, but they’re currently experiencing a huge wave of confidence mixed in with the support of a home crowd, so they could come out the blocks flying.
With that being said, both teams have boasted outstanding defensive records throughout the tournament so far, each keeping four clean sheets from their five fixtures, but with the way that these two sides play, I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned into a game of transitions. Both teams have been lethal on counter-attacks with so much pace, movement and quality in the final third. If either team over commits numbers in attack, they could both be punished in similar fashion.
Where will the key battles take place?
Popp came into this tournament with a ruthless mindset, clearly coming from the fact that she’s sadly missed out on every European Championship with Germany before this summer due to injury. Watching her up against Millie Bright in the penalty area will be one of the best contests of the final. This will be a real battle of the two powerhouses.
On the right wing for Germany, they have another outstanding player in the form of Svenja Huth, who has been in fine form throughout the entire tournament so far. Her ability to beat most full backs in a 1v1 situation and deliver crosses into the penalty area is up there with the very best. Rachel Daly has started all five games under Sarina Wiegman so far and she’s put in some impressive performances, but her defensive capabilities will certainly be tested against Huth. Spanish winger Athenea del Castillo caused her some issues in the second half of the quarter-final with her direct runs and tight ball control, so she’ll need to be patient and wary of diving in during 1v1 scenarios.
Next up, we have the battles of the 6’s in Keira Walsh and Lena Oberdorf. Oberdorf is only 20 years old, but she’s already solidified her role as a rock in the Germany midfield. Her sound positioning and decision making allows her to sniff out any danger, so she could play a vital role in stopping England from finding their flow in the final third. Keira Walsh, however, is by far the better ball player. With her pass completion rate regularly surpassing 90 per cent at both club and international level, she’ll be looking to dominate the ball and dictate England’s play like she’s done all tournament. These aren’t just sideways passes for the sake of maintaining possession either. Keira is also capable of breaking the lines and kickstarting attacking moves with disguised passes into the forwards, allowing the likes of Beth Mead, Fran Kirby and Lauren Hemp to receive the ball in dangerous positions.
Where will the space be?
Interestingly, Germany and England both play with the same structure. Their managers instruct their wingers to position themselves as high and wide as possible to make the pitch big, and this has been a key part of why they’ve been so effective in the final third via wing play. But the problem here is that when you play with only one 6 in the midfield, the advanced positioning of your wingers can leave behind spaces in the pockets for the opposition to exploit. Whoever covers those spaces better on Sunday will be given a massive advantage.
Who do England need to be wary of?
Lina Magull has shown an unbelievable work ethic this tournament and is always looking to put pressure on the centre backs to create mistakes. She will certainly be trying to break up Keira Walsh’s play and prevent her from taking charge in the middle of the park.
As already mentioned, Popp is an absolute powerhouse inside the penalty area. She’s the joint top goalscorer alongside Mead with six goals to her name, and her ability to gain that extra yard against defenders in the box is up there with the best. Leah Williamson and Bright will need to be switched on for 90 minutes, while Mary Earps will need to expect shots from any angle or position, especially first time from crosses.
What do Germany need to be wary of?
Mead is in the form of her life for both club and country, assisting and scoring in almost every game. One of Beth’s greatest strengths is the unpredictability in her play - she’s one of the best crossers of the ball in world football, but she can also score goals from distance, beat players in 1v1 situations, and time her runs perfectly at the back post. She’s arguably been the best player at the tournament so far.
Next up, we have Lauren Hemp. Lauren’s pace is capable of causing havoc against any defence in the world if she’s given the chance to do so. Get too tight and she’ll skip right past you, but give her space and she’s capable of whipping in an inch-perfect delivery. She’s a complete winger, but Spain showed that teams are capable of limiting her strengths and I’m sure Germany will be looking to that game for inspiration. She’s yet to hit her prime, but she’s already become one of England’s most important players when it comes to finding space and creating chances.
Finally, we have the captain, Leah Williamson. The midfield role was a hot topic in the run up to Euro 22, but instead, Leah has been played in her natural position at the heart of the defence and she’s been exceptional throughout. Not only has her defensive reading of the game been faultless, but her passing range has been one of England’s most dangerous weapons. With a single pass, Leah is capable of taking an entire midfield out of the game and turning defence into attack in a split second. Her vision and ability to execute passes from deep is something that few other defenders can do, yet she somehow manages to make it look so easy.
Who do you remember playing against?
The first player that comes to mind is facing Popp at under-19 level with Scotland. I’ll never forget thinking that she was an unbelievable athlete even at that age, so it’s no surprise that she’s gone on to have such an incredible career. She stood out by a mile at that age and still does now. Even more recently playing against Wolfsburg in the Champions League quarter finals, she had just spent a year on the sidelines with a knee injury, but looked as sharp as ever and clearly gearing herself up towards this summer’s Euros. Huth also played really well over the two legs and was another standout player for me. Her tenacity in the final third against us was a huge part to Wolfsburg progressing in the competition.
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