Manchester United certainly can't be accused of standing still this year. A day after sealing the signing of Jadon Sancho, they confirmed a new contract for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer until at least 2024.

But there's still plenty to press on with for Solskjaer and United. While the signing of Sancho addresses one area that has been a problem in recent years, it appears there are still two glaring weaknesses in the first-choice starting XI.

It would seem United have identified the man to take care of one of them, with Real Madrid centre-back Raphael Varane reportedly set to bolster their defensive options. In one sense it will have been a signing long in the making, given the club were supposedly close to buying him from Lens as a teenager only for Los Blancos to get the deal over the line in the end.

Although it took Varane a little time to truly establish himself at the Santiago Bernabeu, he's gone on to enjoy a hugely successful time in the Spanish capital, winning three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns, among a host of other trophies.

Below, Stats Perform delves into the Opta data to see how Varane might improve United and where else they could do with reinforcements.

 

Physical dominance is the key

There are some obvious strengths that Varane would bring to United at the back – chief among them is his pace, which they arguably don't have a great deal of at centre-back.

While Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire may not be considered painfully slow, neither boasts the same kind of speed as the Frenchman and that would undoubtedly be a considerable asset for United.

Recent reports have suggested Solskjaer wants to play more attack-minded football in 2021-22, and having a faster centre-back could be crucial in that sense.

In theory, it would allow United to play slightly higher up the pitch. While they didn't exactly defend deep in 2020-21, their average starting position of 42.3 metres from their own goal was deeper than six other teams – Varane's pace could potentially provide them with a little more security in a high line.

In terms of possession, there's not a great deal separating Varane and Lindelof, the man whose position is surely in doubt. The Sweden international averaged fractionally more successful passes (58.1 to 55.9) and accurate passes in the opposing half (17.81 to 17.77) per 90 minutes last season, but that could be a reflection of slightly differing styles of play implemented by the teams rather than ability.

Opta sequence data suggests they are similar as well. While Lindelof (14) may have been involved in four more goal-ending passing sequences, the expected goals (xG) value attached to Varane in those instances is actually higher (8.9 to 8.8), meaning the current United man's influence is likely being exaggerated by particularly good finishing from his team-mates.

Even their ball carrying tendencies aren't hugely different, though Lindelof does boast a greater average carry distance of 11.3m to 10.9m, while his average progress up the pitch of 5.7m is a minor improvement on the 5.4m posted by the Madrid man.

But it could be argued United don't need their right-sided centre-back to be forward-thinking all the time because that's one of Maguire's key strengths. If anything, having a dependable partner could allow for their captain to have even greater prominence going forward, as he may feel more relaxed about stepping up with better protection behind.

 

And that's where Varane could really shine as an upgrade on Lindelof. The Swede's effectiveness in physical duels has been routinely questioned since he joined from Benfica in 2017 – a prime example being when Mbaye Diagne bullied him as West Brom scored in their 1-1 draw with United in February.

While it's impossible to guarantee Varane wouldn't have also been dominated in that instance, he does have a better record in situations where physicality is important. In 2020-21, he won 2.4 aerial duels per game across all competitions compared to Lindelof's 1.8.

That equates to a 72.3 per cent success rate for Varane, as opposed to 59.4 for Lindelof. In fact, Maguire – the most dominant defender in that respect in the Premier League last season (100 duels or more) – only marginally edges the World Cup winner (72.9 per cent).

But when we broaden the comparison to encompass all duels, Varane comes out on top among all three of them (66.5 per cent). Maguire wins 63.8 per cent of those contests, whereas that drops to 53.1 per cent for Lindelof.

United fans have been crying out for a more physically dominant defender to partner Maguire, and in Varane they may have identified a centre-back to rival him in those stakes.

Is the Fred-McTominay axis necessary?

Centre-back certainly isn't the only area United fans would be eager to see an upgrade – there's little doubt they have room for growth in midfield, regardless of whether or not Paul Pogba leaves.

The Frenchman actually featured more from the left during the second half of 2020-21 and looked more comfortable out there with some creative freedom, rather than sitting behind Bruno Fernandes in the middle.

That meant Fred and Scott McTominay were, more often than not, the first-choice pairing at the base of the midfield.

Now, it must be said that both players have clearly improved significantly over the past couple of years and they do offer a lot to United in certain areas.

 

For instance, in the Premier League in 2020-21, Fred won possession more often than any other United player (228) and his 81 tackle attempts were only bettered by Aaron Wan-Bissaka (88). McTominay ranked fourth for tackles (51) and joint-second for fouls won (42), which speaks to his improved ability on the ball as well as a knack for relieving defensive pressure in transition.

But neither are particularly creative. Fred laid on 25 key passes with an expected assists (xA) value of 2.1, while McTominay created 17 chances that combined to an xA total of 0.7.

Of course, you can't expect every outfield player to offer creativity. In many cases a player's productivity – or lack of – is intrinsically linked to the role they're playing or system they're part of, and Fernandes has done a lot of the heavy lifting. But United are a side who generally have more of the ball than their opponents – do they need two 'destroyers'?

 

If Solskjaer is to implement a more forward-thinking setup in 2021-22, he would be wise to finally ditch the Fred-McTominay axis. More often than not, it comes across as extremely conservative.

 

But the caveat to that is Solskjaer's rather limited options. Donny van de Beek endured a pretty dreadful first season as he showed very little authority whenever he played, Pogba was more useful towards the left so his lack of work rate off the ball wasn't exposed, and Nemanja Matic just isn't athletic enough anymore even if he is still a talented ball-player.

Pressure now on Ole

Who's to say if another midfielder, Varane and Sancho will be enough to overthrow Manchester City while also holding off a Liverpool side who promise to be back with a vengeance and defending European champions Chelsea.

But such decisive addressing of the team's weak points should at least give Solskjaer the right tools to work with. It'll then be on him to prove conclusively he's the right man for the job, because further under-achieving with such a strong squad won't be tolerated for long, regardless of his new contract.

Jose Mourinho was sacked less than a year after signing his renewal in January 2018.

Jadon Sancho's long-awaited move from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United has finally been completed.

The 21-year-old England international arrives at Old Trafford having scored 50 goals and provided 57 assists in 137 appearances across all competitions for the Bundesliga side. 

He became the first Englishman to reach at least 10 assists for three straight seasons in Europe's top-five leagues since former United star David Beckham, who achieved the feat between 1997-98 and 2000-01.

The €85million (£72.9million) fee makes him the fourth most expensive signing in the Red Devils' history.

Here, Stats Perform looks at how the rest of the top five fared at Old Trafford.


Paul Pogba - £94.5m from Juventus, August 2016

Four years after letting him leave Old Trafford on a free transfer United paid Juventus a then world-record fee to bring the France international back to the club. 

There have been moments of brilliance during his second stint, but he remains a source of much frustration for United fans, who believe he should deliver the kind of displays he does when playing for his country more often at club level. 

His cause has also not been helped by the continued public utterances from his agent, Mino Raiola, that he wants to leave the club, with Real Madrid considered a likely destination. 

Pogba – who enjoyed a fine Euro 2020 for France before they were knocked out in the last 16 by Switzerland – is now into the final 12 months of his contract at United and could well start the 2021-22 season elsewhere if a club comes in with an attractive offer. 

Harry Maguire - £78.3m from Leicester City, July 2019

Maguire became the most expensive defender of all time when United paid £78.3m to Leicester City for his services. 

He has been a robust, if unspectacular, presence at the heart of the Red Devils’ backline since then, playing in 71 consecutive league games following his move until an ankle injury against Aston Villa on May 9 ended his 2020-21 campaign early. 

Despite missing the last four games of the season, Maguire ranked second in the Premier League for aerial challenges won (135), fifth for duels won (203) and sixth and seventh respectively for interceptions (60) and recoveries (199).

He was one of England's stars during their stunning Euro 2020 run and will surely arrive back at Old Trafford ahead of the 2021-22 campaign with a spring in his step.

Romelu Lukaku - £76.23m from Everton, July 2017

The Belgium international was the first-choice striker for the best part of 18 months under Jose Mourinho after United stole in ahead of Chelsea to sign him from Everton.

He scored 27 goals in all competitions in his first campaign, but the Portuguese coach's successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer preferred the more mobile and agile Marcus Rashford to lead the line.

Lukaku still managed to make an impact during his second season, scoring twice in United's famous Champions League turnaround away to Paris Saint-Germain in March, but his tally in all competitions was down to 15. 

He completed a move to Italian giants Inter in 2019 and played a significant role in their 2020-21 title win.

Angel Di Maria - £67.5m from Real Madrid, August 2014

After four hugely successful years at Los Blancos, Di Maria was expected to light up the Premier League. 

A glorious chip against Leicester City early in the season suggested he would do just that, but things fell away dramatically for the Argentina international after that.

He left for Paris Saint-Germain after one disappointing season in which he found the back of the net just four times across all competitions.

England defender Harry Maguire says he is not surprised by the "terrible" racist abuse directed towards England team-mates Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka.

Rashford, Sancho and Saka all missed from 12 yards as England went down to a 3-2 penalty shoot-out defeat against Italy in Sunday's Euro 2020 final, which finished 1-1 after extra time.

The trio were quickly subjected to vile abuse on social media, while a mural of Rashford in his native Withington was defaced.

People flocked to the artwork in the Manchester suburb to attach messages of support and admiration for Rashford, who campaigned successfully for free school meals provision to be extended for struggling families during the coronavirus pandemic.

Those scenes were representative of an outpouring of support for the three England players and Gareth Southgate's squad as a whole, with Maguire – whose successful penalty clattered into the top corner and broke the in-net camera – praising their bravery under intense pressure.

"It does not surprise me," he told the Sun when addressing the racist abuse. "For the three lads who have given everything for the country and been so brave to get this is terrible.

"When I was 19 or 20, I would have been standing there saying 'I don't want to take one'.

"So, look at the courage and bravery of these young lads, look at the age of Bukayo, Jadon and Marcus.

"The things I have gone through have made me more confident and have given me belief.

"These people who are being abusive would not be able to handle the pressure.

"It is the highest amount of pressure you will feel, so to do it at their age and to show such bravery should be applauded.

"I spoke with the three lads afterwards. I have checked up with them and seen how they are, but they are courageous lads.

"They should be applauded rather than criticised."

If the awful slurs directed towards Rashford, Sancho and Saka were the focus of attention after the match, beforehand numerous instances of disorder involving fans outside and around Wembley amounted to a dark day for English football.

Some supporters gained access to the stadium without tickets and videos showing violence between fans were rife on social media.

UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings in relation to incidents inside Wembley, with events surrounding the ground also set to be investigated.

The whole affair does no favours for a mooted England and Ireland joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup, although matters struck much closer to home for Maguire, whose father was trampled and left with two suspected broken ribs after – according to The Sun – ticketless fans gained access through a disabled entrance.

"My dad was in the stampede. I have not spoken with him too much, but I am pleased my kids didn't go to the game," the Manchester United centre-back said.

"It was scary. He said he was scared and I don't want anyone to experience that at a football match.

"It was not a nice experience; it shook him up. But he was fortunate as every game he has been to, he has had my nephew or one of my kids on his shoulders.

"So, I'm thankful that did not happen as it could have been a really serious moment."

Cristiano Ronaldo was the biggest omission as UEFA named the Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament.

Five players from competition winners Italy made the best XI announced on Tuesday, though there was no place for Golden Boot winner Ronaldo.

The Portugal forward scored five times, as did the Czech Republic's Patrik Schick, but Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku got the nod in a front three with Federico Chiesa and Raheem Sterling.

Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire were the other England representatives in the team.

But there was no place for fellow defender Luke Shaw, who scored in the final to cap a fine tournament, or his Manchester United team-mate Paul Pogba, one of the tournament's stars before France's elimination in the last 16.

Player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma was joined by Italy quartet Leonardo Bonucci, Leonardo Spinazzola, Jorginho and Chiesa.

However, midfield star Marco Verratti missed out despite some influential performances in the knockout stages.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Pedri were the sole representatives for Denmark and Spain respectively, both teams having gone out in the semi-finals.

Lukaku also edged out Harry Kane, Karim Benzema and Emil Forsberg, who all ended up with the same goal tally (four) as the Inter forward.

 

The best players to miss out

Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer enjoyed an incredible tournament, saving a Kylian Mbappe penalty in his side's shoot-out win against France in the last 16.

He made a tournament-high 21 saves in total, 10 of those coming in the eventual defeat to Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals.

Denzel Dumfries saw his reputation enhanced during Euro 2020, even if the Netherlands were sent packing by the Czech Republic at the last-16 stage.

He became just the second ever Netherlands player, after Ruud van Nistelrooy, to score in his first two European Championship appearances, while also helping his side to a couple of clean sheets in his four outings.

Bonucci and Maguire earning selection meant their centre-back colleagues Giorgio Chiellini and John Stones narrowly missed out despite playing crucial roles.

England conceded just two goals all tournament, with only one of those coming in open play. A large part of that was down to ever-present defender Stones, who won 20 aerial challenges – the joint-second most of any defender in the competition, one behind Maguire.

Shaw was left out for England's opening game against Croatia, but the full-back soon made himself a consistent presence. He was even compared to the great Roberto Carlos after starring with two assists against Ukraine in the quarter-finals.

The Manchester United defender provided three assists in total and netted the fastest-ever goal in a European Championship final with his volley against Italy. Those four goal involvements were bettered only by Schick (five) and Ronaldo (six).

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Verratti was a major fitness doubt for the tournament and sat out Italy's first two matches, but made an emormous impact in the following five games.

Since his first game against Wales on June 20, all-rounder Verratti ranked first among all midfielders at Euro 2020 for chances created (14), passes completed (388), progressive carries (59), tackles (18) and recoveries of possession (37).

 

Pogba likely paid the price for his team's exit rather than his own displays. 

He scored a stunning goal against Switzerland after getting two assists in the 2-2 group-stage draw with Portugal, and his supreme link-up play with Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Benzema was among the highlights of the early weeks of the tournament.

Schick not only scored the joint-most goals, but he was responsible for surely the most memorable one of the lot - a 49.7-yard lob against Scotland, the furthest ever distance a goal has been scored at a European Championships.

The Bayer Leverkusen forward found the net in all but one of his side's games, with three of his goals coming from open play, compared to just two for Ronaldo.

Even though it was far from a vintage tournament for Ronaldo and dethroned champions Portugal, the Juventus superstar still claimed the Golden Boot accolade thanks to having one assist more than fellow five-goal forward Schick.

Ronaldo's 72 minutes per goal was the best return of any player to have played at least three times in the tournament. 

His haul also moved him level with Iran great Ali Daei as the all-time leading goalscorer in men's international football with 109, a record that he will get a chance to break later this year.

 

UEFA's Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy); Kyle Walker (England), Leonardo Bonucci (Italy), Harry Maguire (England), Leonardo Spinazzola (Italy); Jorginho (Italy), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Denmark), Pedri (Spain); Federico Chiesa (Italy), Romelu Lukaku (Belgium), Raheem Sterling (England).

A lot can change in a month. Think back to England's pre-Euro 2020 friendlies and most fans or pundits were likely highlighting the defence as their primary concern.

Harry Maguire was injured and seemingly a doubt for the entire group stage; Trent Alexander-Arnold was ruled out of the tournament; and certain decisions made by Tyrone Mings had alarm bells ringing.

Yet, here we are, four weeks on and England are preparing for a Euro 2020 semi-final having not conceded a single goal in five tournament matches.

While sceptics might suggest the general level of those opponents wasn't always world class, the fact is their five clean sheets has equalled a major tournament record – it is a genuine achievement in itself.

That record is extended to Jordan Pickford as well, with the Everton goalkeeper one clean sheet away from setting a new record for the most clean sheets at a European Championship (six).

 

Before Euro 2020, most will have been championing England's forward options as the team's strongest element, but now there's more than a case for the defence.

Solid and dependable

While Everton fans would insist Jordan Pickford's form has been strong for a while, it's fair to say there are many who've been surprised – rightly or wrongly – by his showings at Euro 2020.

His kicking has been an asset to England, while he's produced some excellent saves and his importance to the team is quantifiable as well.

According to xGOT (expected goals on target) conceded data, Pickford has actively prevented 1.5 goals at Euro 2020. Now, that may not sound massive in the grand scheme of things, it's actually highly impressive given the small sample of matches involved.

Only Stole Dimitrievski (2.6) and Tomas Vaclik (2.5) have prevented more goals than him in the tournament, though their respective xGA (expected goals against) figures of 8.85 and 6.7 show their records come from a larger pool of quality chances than Pickford (2.95).

 

Of course, away from goalkeeping, defensive excellence can be difficult to outline with statistics, particularly in good teams. For example, if John Stones was leading the charts for the most tackles, it would suggest England were playing a risky game because of the over-reliance on someone in their backline. He isn't, and that obviously reflects well on the Three Lions' organisation.

But two individual metrics reflect particularly well on Harry Maguire. The Manchester United centre-back has received great praise since returning to the team for the third group game, impressing with his reliability at the back.

The acclaim is backed up by the fact he's not lost a single aerial duel (8/8) and come out on top in 14 of his 16 overall duels since coming back into the side.

Both he and Pickford will be looked to again on Wednesday, particularly given Denmark – whose 15 direct attacks is the most of all teams at Euro 2020 – have scored 11 times so far, a haul bettered by only Spain (12) before the semis.

Shields up

Central midfield was another area of the team that had sections of the support unconvinced ahead of the tournament, with the double-pivot of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips deemed by many as too conservative. Granted, few Premier League fans would have looked at them and thought, "these two guarantee goals", but international football over the past nine years has given great credence to the idea pragmatism rules.

It'd now be fair to assume the majority of England fans would start both players for the remainder of the tournament, regardless of the opposition. As a pair they possess great athleticism, good ball-retention ability, work ethic and defensive nous.

Phillips has arguably been the greater eye-opener. While his advanced role against Croatia may not have developed into a continuing theme, his ability to sniff out danger and be in the right place at the right time has been notable, and as such only six midfielders could better his 28 recoveries prior to the semi-finals.

 

Similarly, his athleticism has translated well to aerial battles as well, with his 10 aerial wins ranking him fourth among midfielders.

Rice has generally been the one of the two with the greater defensive responsibility, as reflected by his eight interceptions, two blocks and seven clearances, all of which put him in the top five for midfielders at Euro 2020 prior to the semi-finals.

Though it's also worth highlighting that, although Rice works effectively off the ball, his influence in possession is also significant, as evidenced by the collective xG value of build-ups he's involved in being 3.1, only bettered by four Spain players.

Sure, this metric will be weighted in favour of teams who play more games and have a greater share of the ball, but he's ranked higher than the likes of Jordi Alba (2.3) and Jorginho (2.6), which speaks volumes.

So, while the defence and Pickford are certainly doing a fine job, their defensive shield is also proving highly capable.

Passive effective

In 2021, high-intensity pressing is very much in vogue, which is another reason why this England team is so interesting. While some teams almost religiously stick to such principals, the Three Lions prefer to pick their moments.

This is partly reflected by England's 35 high turnovers being the lowest of the four semi-finalists (Spain and Denmark on 47, Italy on 42), while their 98 defensive actions is also well behind (Spain 159, Italy 134, Denmark 127).

England's average starting position of 42.6 metres (also a low among the last four) shows how they tend to defend deeper, and the fact they allow 18.6 passes on average before initiating a defensive action (PPDA) further reflects Southgate's desire to have a lower line of engagement.

 

It's not that England don't press, they are just more passive in general. This certainly won't be a surprising revelation to anyone who has watched them at Euro 2020.

This passive nature doesn't necessarily lend itself to many people's idea of exciting football, but it seems to be having a real impact…

How it all comes together

Whether or not Southgate's masterplan was to shutdown the opposition and rely on their own clinical finishing, only he can say, though it's worked out that way so far.

Again, generally speaking England games haven't exactly been packed with excitement for the neutrals, with their matches averaging just 15.8 shots – that's the lowest of any side in the Euros dating back to at least 1980, with the next being Germany (2021) on 18.5.

Seemingly England's low defensive line – which has often comprised of a back three – coupled with two defensive-minded deep-lying midfielders has contributed to England facing just two shots on target per game, second only to Italy (1.8).

 

On top of that, 43 per cent of their shots faced have been outside of the box, the fourth-highest share of all teams at the tournament, and that undoubtedly plays a role in England's 0.07 xG against per shot being the lowest at Euro 2020 ahead of the semis. Additionally, their 2.95 xG against and two Opta-defined 'big chances' conceded are the lowest.

Of course, that would all be for nothing if England couldn't put the ball away at the other end, yet their 21.6 conversion rate is the highest of all 24 teams prior to the final three matches and shows just how efficient they've been, despite Harry Kane coming in for significant criticism earlier in the tournament.

 

Nevertheless, England's excellence at the back so far is by no means a guarantee of success on Wednesday. It only takes one moment of genius or calamity to ruin all the hard work, and that could come from anywhere, anyone.

But the data helps paint a picture of structural effectiveness in the team, as well as a collective quality that is breeding consistency.

While the relevance of the past certainly pales in comparison to what comes next, it's undoubtedly comforting to Southgate and England fans alike that they've had such a solid foundation to this point.

However, it will be defined by what happens in the next five days: crumble and England will fade, or stand firm and the Three Lions will surely roar again.

England are a better side now than the one that lost to Croatia at the 2018 World Cup and have a lot more faith in overcoming Denmark in their latest semi-final, according to Harry Maguire.

The Three Lions eased to a 4-0 win over Ukraine in Saturday's Euro 2020 quarter-final in Rome – their biggest win in the knockout stages of a major tournament – to set up a showdown with Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday.

England lost their most recent semi-final appearance in the competition on penalties to Germany in 1996, while also losing at that stage to Croatia in the World Cup three years ago en route to finishing fourth.

Not since being crowned world champions on home soil in 1966 have England reached the final of a major tournament, but Maguire insists his side will use the pain of their most recent semi-final heartbreak to drive them on.

"The motivation is there," he said at a news conference on Monday. "It's the semi-final of the European Championship. Losing the semi-final at the World Cup hurt a lot.

"We need to make sure when it comes on Wednesday we get a positive feeling rather than the one we got against Croatia.

"I think we're in a lot better place than we were then. The experience of that, we've learnt from it and also the experience of the games in between as well, for example the Nations League.

"We've had a lot of big games in that period to improve and a lot of time spent together on the training pitch, friendlies and qualifiers. Every game we play we feel we improve.

"My mentality will be the same, but there is more belief going into Denmark than Croatia. We hadn't been to a semi-final in so long in 2018 so the belief wasn't there. We've just got to focus on ourselves."

 

Wednesday's match will be a special occasion for Gareth Southgate, who will become just the second manager to take charge of England in the semi-finals of both the World Cup and the European Championship after Alf Ramsey in 1966 and 1968.

"Gareth sits here and gives us all the plaudits," Maguire said. "But we appreciate the job he's doing and the way that he sets us up and his man-management skills.

"I can't speak highly enough of him and his coaching staff and the way that he's gone about his business over the last four years."

Maguire made his senior international debut under Southgate in October 2017 and has gone on to make 35 appearances for England, the most recent of those being the quarter-final win against Ukraine in which he scored his side's second goal.

England are expected to be given a far tougher test by Denmark, who are competing in the semi-finals of the competition for the first time since famously lifting the trophy against all the odds in 1992.

The Nordic nation – the first team to qualify from the group stage despite losing their first two games - have been the story of the tournament following Christian Eriksen's cardiac arrest on the pitch in their opener against Finland.

Eriksen has subsequently recovered and is in regular contact with his team-mates, who have gone from strength to strength since understandably making a slow start to the competition.

"First and foremost, our thoughts have always been with Christian and his recovery and we're all right behind that," Maguire said. "They're a good team. They've proved that for years.

"They're the highest-ranked team we will have played in this competition. They're a strong team with great leaders in their team, great experience. We know it will be a tough game, but we're really focused on ourselves."

All seven meetings between England and Denmark at Wembley have finished 1-0, with England winning five to Denmark's two, though the Danes have won their last two competitive games against the Three Lions at the stadium.

 

Harry Maguire talked up the belief in the England camp and said his side will not settle with reaching a first European Championship semi-final in 25 years.

The Three Lions eased to a 4-0 win over Ukraine in Saturday's semi-final at the Stadio Olimpico to set up a showdown with Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday.

England lost their most recent semi-final appearance in the competition on penalties to Germany in 1996, while also losing at that stage to Croatia in the 2018 World Cup.

On the back of that extra-time disappointment at the hands of Croatia three years ago, Maguire is desperate to go one better this time around with victory against Denmark.

"It's a great feeling. Back-to-back semi-finals at a major tournament is a great achievement," Maguire, who scored the second of England's four goals, told BBC Sport. 

"I don't want to be a party pooper. We have another big game coming up. We want to go further this time than at the World Cup. 

"It is a great feeling that we are here and the way we have done it shows the progress we are making. Long may the improvement continue.

"It is hard to soak it up when you have another big game coming and you know who you are playing and when. 

"There's a great atmosphere in the dressing room, but we will wake up tomorrow and be focused again. This group are not settling for a semi-final, we want to go further."

 

Harry Kane opened the scoring for England inside the first four minutes – the Three Lions' earliest European Championship goal since Michael Owen against Portugal in 2004.

England endured a difficult period at the end of the first half after Andriy Shevchenko tweaked Ukraine's system, but Maguire scored 55 seconds into the second half to settle nerves.

Kane's second of the match four minutes later put the game out of Ukraine's reach and substitute Jordan Henderson rounded off the routine win with a fourth just after the hour.

It is only the second time England have scored four goals in a major tournament knockout game, the other instance being the 1966 World Cup final against West Germany.

"We have great belief in the dressing room," Maguire added. "The first half was tough. We got the early goal we wanted but they caused us problems with their change of shape. 

"The second goal settled us down a lot and from there we controlled the game. The third and fourth were deserved on the night. It was an impressive performance. 

"We spoke about being better on attacking set-plays. We hadn't scored one before the two tonight. It's nice to chip in with a goal but the main thing is the victory."

 

Kane's double made it three for the striker at Euro 2020 and nine in major tournaments for England, moving him level with Alan Shearer and behind only Gary Lineker (10).

The Tottenham star finished as the Golden Boot winner at the 2018 World Cup, but he is hopeful of a different outcome to that semi-final heartbreak this time around.

"What a great performance in a big game," he told BBC Sport. "We were favourites, there was a lot of pressure and a lot of expectations. The performance was top-drawer. 

"We set out a vision before the tournament of what we want to achieve. We're knocking it off step by step. The World Cup was great but we fell short, and in the Nations League.

"Now it's about getting over the line, the next step that we have got to do on Wednesday."

England have kept five clean sheets in a row from the start of the tournament, something only Italy in 1990 have previously managed at a World Cup or Euros.

But Kane is not getting too carried away ahead of facing Denmark, 2-1 winners over the Czech Republic in Friday's other quarter-final, on home soil next week.

"Another clean sheet, four goals, it was a perfect night for us," he said. "We're building on [clean sheets]. 

"We have a great unit here from front to back. It's a vital part of winning games and tournaments. The job is not done yet. There's a lot more football to play."

Harry Kane scored twice as England eased to a 4-0 victory over Ukraine at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday to set up a Euro 2020 semi-final with Denmark on home soil.

England were riding the crest of a wave after beating Germany in the last 16 and, in their first game away from Wembley this tournament, took the lead inside four minutes when Raheem Sterling played in Kane.

That was England's earliest European Championship goal since Michael Owen against Portugal in 2004 and the Three Lions added two more quickfire goals to their tally in the first five minutes of the second half through Harry Maguire and Kane.

Substitute Jordan Henderson's first international goal gave Gareth Southgate further reason to cheer as his side kept their fifth clean sheet in a row from the start of the tournament, something only Italy have previously managed at a World Cup or Euros.

Sterling and Kane scored in England's last-16 win against Germany and the pair combined for their side's early opener in Rome, the Manchester City winger threading the ball through for his team-mate to poke past Georgi Bushchan.

England had failed to win any of the previous five European Championship games in which they had scored in the opening four minutes and they were given a warning when Jordan Pickford was tested by a Roman Yaremchuk strike.

The Three Lions continued to dominate possession but their only other on-target attempt of the first half came via a powerful Declan Rice drive that was routinely dealt with by Bushchan.

Ukraine were making just their second quarter-final appearance at a major tournament and ended the opening period on top, though they found themselves further behind 55 seconds into the second half when Maguire headed home.

Luke Shaw set up that goal and also played in the cross that Kane headed through the legs of Bushchan for England's third, effectively killing off the contest with 40 minutes to play in the Italian capital.

England continued to search for goals and Henderson, just six minutes after replacing Rice, made the most of some terrible Ukraine defending to head in a fourth for Southgate's side, who had little trouble in seeing out the win.

History and odds will be stacked against Ukraine in their first ever European Championship quarter-final against England on Saturday.

The Three Lions have only lost one of their previous seven meetings with Ukraine, who never scored more than once in any of those matches.

That does not bode well when you consider England are yet to even concede once at Euro 2020, having become only the third side in Euros history to keep clean sheets in all of their first four games of a tournament.

If England do shut Ukraine out, they will match the record set by Italy at the 1990 World Cup of five successive clean sheets from the start of the competition.

 

While England fans may already be mentally preparing themselves for a second successive major tournament semi-final, Gareth Southgate acknowledged the Three Lions will arguably be out of their comfort zone for the first time in Euro 2020 as they travel to Rome.

"We've got to go away from Wembley, into a potentially quite hot climate, hardly any England fans in the stadium, and maybe a not particularly full crowd full stop," he said.

"And then there is this perception that all we've got to do is turn up, and we are on our way. We're very clear now that the total focus is on Saturday. We have to prepare the game in the right way, and our mentality is critical."

'The bigger they are, the harder they fall,' Ukraine will be telling themselves.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ukraine – Georgi Bushcan

The performances of Ukraine goalkeeper Bushchan have been largely positive, though the odd mistake has crept in – for example, he gifted Memphis Depay the opener in the group stage defeat to the Netherlands. Further to this, the goals prevented metric puts him at fault for 1.2 goals, the joint-third worst record at Euro 2020. If Andriy Shevchenko's men are to progress here, they will need Bushcan at the top of his game.

 

England – Harry Maguire

Manchester United defender Maguire has been a rock in his two Euro 2020 games, winning every single one of his aerial duels so far, but his importance to England goes beyond his physicality. His forward-thinking nature has been notable since his return, with his 11.5 progressive carries per 90 minutes being the best of everyone in the squad, while he and John Stones are also England's most direct carriers in possession, bringing the ball upfield 20 per cent of the time. With Ukraine likely to sit deep, Maguire will see a lot of the ball and therefore have significant influence in starting attacks.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Andriy Yarmolenko has either scored (two) or assisted (three) five of Ukraine's eight European Championship goals. Indeed, his five goal involvements is level with Shevchenko (four goals, one assist) for the most by a Ukraine player at major tournaments (World Cup and Euros).

- Raheem Sterling has scored three of England's four goals at Euro 2020 so far, while only two players have ever scored more for the Three Lions in a single edition at the tournament – Alan Shearer in 1996 (five) and Wayne Rooney in 2004 (four).

- Coming into the quarter-final matches, only Italy (2.1) have a lower expected goals conceded total than England (2.7) at Euro 2020. England have faced just eight shots on target in their four games (two per game), their lowest ratio on record in a major tournament (since 1966 for World Cup and since 1980 for the European Championship).

- Ukraine's only previous quarter-final appearance in a major tournament ended in a 3-0 defeat to Italy in the 2006 World Cup. Ukraine have won two of their last three European Championship matches, more than they had in their first seven in the competition (W1 L6).

- Each of England's previous three quarter-final matches at the European Championship have gone to extra-time and penalties – after progressing from the first of these against Spain in 1996, England lost in penalty shootouts against Portugal in 2004 and Italy in 2012.

Jack Grealish and Harry Maguire will start England's Euro 2020 Group D match against the Czech Republic at Wembley, with Arsenal's Bukayo Saka a surprise inclusion in Gareth Southgate's XI.

Grealish was a second-half substitute in England's 0-0 draw against Scotland last Friday and Mason Mount being forced into self-isolation after a coronavirus scare has cleared the way for the Aston Villa favourite to start in the number 10 role.

Raheem Sterling – the scorer of England's only goal in the tournament so far – and captain Harry Kane retain their places, with Saka completing the forward line.

The 19-year-old netted his first international goal in a friendly against Austria earlier this month and is preferred to the likes of Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, the Borussia Dortmund winger who is yet to feature at Euro 2020 despite 16 goals and 18 assists at club level in 2020-21.

Manchester United skipper Maguire returns to partner John Stones at centre-back following ankle ligament damage and the duo are charged with keeping Golden Boot contender Patrik Schick, the spearhead of an unchanged Czech line-up, quiet.

 

Schick has three goals in two outings so far and a draw will be enough for his country to deny England top spot.

England's fourth and final change from the Scotland match is Kyle Walker's inclusion at right-back, although his Manchester City team-mate Phil Foden is not in the matchday squad, with Southgate electing to rest the playmaker due to a yellow card he collected against Croatia, which put him at risk of suspension for the round of 16.

Harry Maguire is fit enough to be involved in England's Euro 2020 clash with Scotland on Friday, Gareth Southgate has confirmed.

But the Three Lions boss also revealed he has yet to make a decision over whether the defender is ready to feature from the start at Wembley.

Maguire has been out of action since sustaining an ankle injury during a Manchester United win over Aston Villa in early May.

However, he was included in England's squad this summer regardless and, according to his manager, is now nearing a return to the pitch.

Southgate said: "Harry will be involved tomorrow. The decision we have got to make is whether he's ready to start but we're really pleased with his progress. 

"He's trained with the team for four or five days now and had no reaction and each session that he's involved in he gets more confident. 

"I think he's on a really good path. Of course, we want everybody available, it causes difficult decisions but this morning we had 26 players training and that's a great situation for us to be in."

Maguire was not the only injured player somewhat controversially named in England's squad, with Jordan Henderson also among the final 26 despite missing the end of the season.

But, when asked about the recent debate over the Liverpool captain's inclusion, Southgate explained that his off-the-field influence was a major factor in his involvement. 

He continued: "I think with the 26-man squad we were able to take a little bit more of a risk with Hendo. 

"What he brings to the group on the training pitch, around the camp, his experience, the way he can speak to some of the other players in those quiet moments around the hotel, the way he trains the way he approaches his work, it's a great advantage for us to have him with the team. 

"He's training consistently now and he's getting closer to the level that we need him to be at. Also, I think we've got some decent cover in that area of the pitch. 

"But I think that the drop-off from not taking Hendo was such that we preferred to give him the opportunity to make it. 

"You've got to have the physical part, there's no doubt about that, even if it's for 15-20 minutes in the game. you've got to be able to press well, you've got to be able to get around the pitch well, but there are other factors when you're building your squad and when you're building a team. 

"All of those parts are key to producing a winning environment."

England's win over Croatia in their first group game means they can qualify for the knockout stages of the European Championship by beating their old rivals Scotland.

Southgate is confident that his players will be able to keep their cool in an undeniably high-stakes fixture.

He added: "We know that you've got to compete because otherwise you can get overrun in any game, but our focus has been on solving the tactical problems that Scotland pose with the way that they play, the way they defend, the way they attack. 

"Our focus has got to be on getting better with every game that we play. For the fans and for us it's a big occasion but it's another opportunity for three points and our objective is qualification so that's what we've got to focus on. 

"In the past we've done that well, I thought we did that well on Sunday. [It] was a big occasion for everybody and – with the heat as well – I thought we dealt with that really, really well."

England and Scotland will meet for the 100th time in competitive internationals on Friday in a match that could prove pivotal to their respective Euro 2020 campaigns.

The Three Lions began Group D with a 1-0 win over Croatia at Wembley, while Scotland suffered a 2-0 loss to the Czech Republic, Patrik Schick scoring from a header and then a quite remarkable strike from near the halfway line.

This is typically a high-scoring match: these teams have met 32 times previously at England's national stadium and none of those matches has ended goalless. In the 21st century, this fixture averages four goals per game, with England scoring 11 and Scotland five overall.

Victory for Gareth Southgate's side would guarantee their place in the last 16, while a positive result is a must for Scotland: should Steve Clarke's men lose and Croatia fail to beat the Czech Republic, the Scots will be unable to finish in the top two and must rely on their chances of ending up as one of the four best third-placed teams.

Recent history is not on Scotland's side. They have beaten England just once in their past 11 meetings: a 1-0 win at Wembley in November 1999, secured by a Don Hutchison goal. Their only previous meeting at a major tournament, back at Euro 96, saw England win 2-0 thanks to goals from Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne.

 

England defender Harry Maguire, who has declared himself fit enough to be involved after recovering from an ankle ligament injury, expects "a great occasion" when Friday's game begins at 20:00 local time.

"Of course it is a big game," said the Manchester United captain. "Any game in the Euros is a massive game, putting Scotland in there as well is huge.

"It is going to be a great day, a great occasion for the country to get together and push us forward and try our best to go and get the three points and perform on the day.

"It will only be a great day if we get the three points and then I am sure we will enjoy the occasion."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

England – Kalvin Phillips

Arguably the best player on the pitch against Croatia, Phillips delivered an accomplished display, assisting Raheem Sterling's goal as he completed 95 per cent of his passes in the opposition half, the most of any starting player.

With Jordan Henderson struggling to be fit, the Leeds United man could well keep his place for a game in which his passing array could prove useful.

Scotland – David Marshall

Marshall made five saves against the Czech Republic but still came in for criticism for Schick's second, given how far he was off his line when Scotland's attack broke down.

The Derby County goalkeeper could be pivotal to Scotland's chances of a result here, though, as England will be expected to create opportunities.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- England have won all six of their matches in all competitions in 2021, only the third time they have won their opening six matches of a calendar year (also in 1909 and 1986). They have never won their first seven in a year previously, while the Three Lions last won seven consecutive games between September 2014 and March 2015 under Roy Hodgson.
- Scotland have failed to score in five of their seven matches at the European Championship. The only games in which they have found the net have been in their third and final group games of their two previous appearances (3-0 vs CIS in 1992, 1-0 vs Switzerland in 1996).
- Scotland had the highest expected goals tally of any of the four sides in Group D on matchday one (1.9). However, they were unable to convert any of 19 attempts in their defeat to the Czech Republic.
- Sterling has been directly involved in 19 goals in his past 17 appearances for England (13 goals, six assists). Sterling has ended on the winning side in all 11 previous matches when he has scored for the Three Lions, the best 100 per cent win record in games scored in England's entire history. He has also played the most games for England at Wembley without losing (23 – W21 D2).
- Andy Robertson created six chances for Scotland against the Czech Republic, the most of any player in Group D on matchday one. In fact, in European Championship history only Gary McAllister (16) and Gordon Durie (seven) have created more chances than Robertson among Scottish players, despite those players playing at least four games more than the Liverpool defender.

Harry Maguire has declared himself fit to play in the Euro 2020 clash between England and Scotland at Wembley on Friday.

The Manchester United captain has been sidelined since suffering ankle ligament damage on May 9 in the Red Devils' 3-1 Premier League win at Aston Villa.

Maguire was hurt after falling awkwardly beneath Anwar El Ghazi. He sat out United's final five games of the season, including the Europa League final, which ended in defeat on penalties to Villarreal.

The centre-back was not ready to feature in England's warm-up games with Austria and Lithuania or the 1-0 win over Croatia last Sunday, in which Tyrone Mings partnered John Stones at the heart of Gareth Southgate's defence.

Speaking on Wednesday, Maguire said: "I feel good. I'm back available, I've been training and I'm looking forward to it. I've done a few sessions now and I feel like my fitness is there."

Confirming he was "available to the manager for selection," for the Scotland game, Maguire added: "I'm here as a player but also as a fan so I fully understand my position in the camp. Whatever happens, I want England to win – that's my main focus."

Maguire felt buoyed by Southgate's decision to include him in England's 26-man squad despite knowing he would miss at least the opening group game with Croatia.

"Gareth has shown great faith in me and that's not just in this camp, it's since I made my debut," he said. "I know Gareth trusts me and it gives me great confidence to come here and try and do as much as I can for him and, most importantly, for the country.

"I knew it was a pretty serious injury because it didn't come from impact or contact. I knew it was a twist straight away so there would be some sort of ligament damage in there. Obviously, you fear the worst but I'm here now and ready to go.

"I haven't had an ankle injury before but, from speaking to players and physios, I'm sure it will be niggling. As long as it's stable and the pain is bearable then I'm sure I'll be fine."

 

SOUTHGATE'S ROCK

Maguire played in all eight of England's games for Euro 2020 qualifying, more than any other defender, helping the Three Lions to keep five clean sheets in those matches.

The former Leicester City man averaged 2.75 successful aerials and 1.6 interceptions per 90 minutes, the most among defenders.

He also completed by far the most passes (672) and most long passes (38) in those eight matches, as England finished top of Group A with seven wins from eight games.

In total, England have won 62.5 per cent of the 32 senior games Maguire has played, keeping 16 clean sheets and conceding 23 goals.

Harry Maguire was back in team training with England on Thursday ahead of their Euro 2020 opener against Croatia at the weekend.

All 26 members of Gareth Southgate's squad took part in the session at St George's Park as preparations for Sunday's game at Wembley continued.

Maguire has not played since May 9, when he damaged ankle ligaments during Manchester United's 3-1 Premier League win away to Aston Villa.

The centre-back missed United's final four league games of the season, in which they lost at home to Leicester City and Liverpool, drew with Fulham and won at Wolves.

He also sat out the Europa League final against Villarreal, which the LaLiga side won on penalties following a 0-0 draw in Gdansk.

Speaking last week, Southgate said it would be "tight" for Maguire to be considered fully fit for the match against Croatia after he also missed England's warm-up friendlies with Austria and Romania.

However, the Three Lions boss insisted it was right to include the former Leicester defender in the group, saying: "I think he's such a good player and we had the additional size of squad, the fact that that leadership which is growing in him all the time, we wanted to take that opportunity to bring him into the squad."

England, who are in Group D, also face Scotland on June 18 and the Czech Republic on June 22.

 

Gareth Southgate described Trent Alexander-Arnold's injury as "heartbreaking" for the Liverpool full-back, who will miss Euro 2020.

Alexander-Arnold sustained a thigh injury late on in England's friendly win over Austria on Wednesday, and scans the next day confirmed he will face around six weeks out.

His place in the 26-man squad for Euro 2020 had been the subject of fierce debate in the media, but the 22-year-old made the cut.

With three other right-backs in his squad, Southgate will make a call on who replaces Alexander-Arnold in his selection after Sunday's friendly against Romania in Middlesbrough.

But for now, the England manager offered his support to Alexander-Arnold, whose focus will be on returning to fitness ahead of Liverpool's 2021-22 campaign.

"Well it's heartbreaking really, for any player to get to the eve of a major tournament, be named in the squad and then to miss out through injury," Southgate told a news conference.

"You know how rare these opportunities are, even though he's a young player who's going to have these opportunities again, that's a really difficult moment for him especially.

"It's a big disappointment for us of course, as well, but you can't help, first and foremost, to feel for Trent in this situation.

"The one thing I was pleased about immediately after the game, I didn't like the look of the injury but at least it sounds like he'll be fine for pre-season and next season, but that is a very small positive. Of course he was very upset, bitterly disappointed and in those moments everybody is thinking about him."

England have six players available on standby – James Ward-Prowse, Ben Godfrey, Ben White, Ollie Watkins, Jesse Lingard and goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.

The Three Lions still seem well stacked in defence, though midfield is an area they look to be short in, with Jordan Henderson's fitness still in question, albeit centre-back Harry Maguire is also working his way back from injury and seems unlikely to be able to feature in the Group D opener against Croatia on June 13.

Pressed on whether it would definitely be a defender who replaces Alexander-Arnold, Southgate replied: "We want to see how we get through tomorrow's game, be able to assess everything and we'll make a decision from there.

"It's important to have time to consider everything, we're obviously talking about that as a coaching staff. We'll know more after tomorrow's game where everybody is physically, whether there's any more issues, it's important we get the positional balance right for the whole squad."

Asked for an update on Maguire, who is still not training with the team, Southgate said: "With any injury it's impossible to predict 100 per cent.

"Our medical team are pleased with his progress, particularly over the last couple of days, so we know there is always that risk, but all of the guide is that he should be available. It's a case of when he can slot back into training with the group.

"There's always that risk with any injury that you only have to have one minor setback, I am very realistic about that. If he's fit and available, that's a bonus for us."

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