On Tuesday and Wednesday night, the semi-final stage of Euro 2020 will take place at Wembley Stadium in London. Italy, Denmark, England and Spain are the four national teams left in the competition, but each has had a different journey to this point. Spain has had to come through extra-time twice to beat Croatia and Switzerland, whereas the Italians needed extra-time to beat Austria but were able to dispatch Belgium without. Alternatively, England and Denmark have beaten their respective knockout opponents in 90 minutes, so have not yet endured extra-time.
What this means, in practice, is that the four semi-final squads will arrive at Wembley with differing levels of freshness. In a tournament of fine margins, this could prove the difference between reaching Sunday’s final or not. So what does the data tell us about each semi-finalist?
ANALYSIS – INDIVIDUALS
Below is a scatter graph plotting total minutes played vs. percentage of minutes played for Italian, Danish, English and Spanish players in the tournament so far.
As expected, we see a linear scatter of plots due to the positive correlation between total minutes played and percentage of minutes played. However, the dots are not packed as tightly together in the top-right quadrant (within the red rectangle) as they are in the bottom-left quadrant. This is because the effects between the teams playing in extra-time (Spain and Italy) and not (England and Denmark) are more visible in the regular starters than the fringe players.
So let’s zoom in on that top-left quadrant, more specifically the top five involved players for each semi-finalist. This is shown in the graph below.
Unsurprisingly, the top three players are Spanish. Unai Simón and Aymeric Laporte have played 510 minutes each (100% of La Roja’s possible minutes), with young midfielder Pedri close behind on 509. Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma and Jorginho complete the top five, playing 479 and 465 minutes respectively, before four players are found on 450 minutes – one from England (Jordan Pickford) and three from Denmark (Kasper Schmeichel, Joakim Maehle and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg). Martin Braithwaite completes the top ten for Denmark with 445 minutes.
This matches up with what we would expect to see given that Spain has played in two extra-times, Italy one, and Denmark and England none. However, whether this is reflected throughout the full teams depends on how each national manager has utilised their squads. Have they rotated minutes or are they concentrated in fewer players?
ANALYSIS – SQUAD UTILISATION
To work this out, I am focusing first on the average minutes played by the top five involved players for each team. These are shown in the graph below.
This is where we start to see the effects of squad utilisation. Despite playing in one extra-time, Italy has a lower average than both England and Denmark, indicating how Roberto Mancini has been able to share minutes throughout his squad instead of concentrating them in his regular starters.
Gareth Southgate has also utilised his squad well. His top five have played an average of 424.8 minutes compared to Denmark’s 447.2, even though both teams have made it through to the semi-finals without needing extra time. It gives England a slight advantage going into their knockout clash on Wednesday night.
Luis Enrique’s side top the average with 474.8 minutes, indicating that the two extra times Spain has played have been exacerbated by poor squad rotation. Going into the semi-finals, this could be crucial. Spain’s top five have played an average of ~55 minutes more than their Italian counterparts. Quite a staggering difference to build up in just five matches.
These dynamics are maintained if we expanded the criteria to the top eleven involved players for each side, shown in the graph below.
Italy still has the lowest average of the four, with Spain the highest, though the gap between the two has shrunk from 54.2 minutes to 42.7. We see a similar trend with the other two semi-finalists. England keeps its lower average than Denmark, but the gap between the two has decreased from 22.4 minutes to 17.4.
Smaller margins, yet you would rather have them favouring your side than against. If both Italy and England make it through to the final on Sunday night, it would not be unreasonable to argue that player freshness might have helped them get there, especially after the crazy amount of football that has been jammed in during this pandemic-hit season.