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Spain 2-1 France analysis: The other side of Nico Williams

UEFA's technical observers saw a different side to Nico Williams' game in Spain's UEFA EURO 2024 semi-final win against France.

France's Jules Koundé  under pressure from Spain's Nico Williams
France's Jules Koundé under pressure from Spain's Nico Williams Getty Images

Nico Williams has earned plenty of plaudits for his attacking efforts for Spain on their path to the final of UEFA EURO 2024. Yet during Tuesday's semi-final victory against France, it was the winger's defensive work which caught the eye of UEFA's technical observers.

The productive understanding between Williams and full-back Marc Cucurella was highlighted earlier in the tournament, but the focus here is the support that he gave Cucurella in containing the threat of France right winger Ousmane Dembélé.

Dembélé played a part in France's opening goal with his switch of play to the left to Kylian Mbappé, who subsequently delivered the cross for Randal Kolo Muani's header, yet overall Spain's left-sided duo dealt with him well. As technical observer David Moyes said: "Dembélé had a couple of runs but Spain doubled up with Cucurella and Williams."

The screenshot above offers an illustration by showing how deep Williams has dropped to support Cucurella against Dembélé, turning a possible 1v1 into a 2v1 in Spain's favour. Although Dembélé made nine crosses from open play (with one of them completed), the Cucurella-Williams combination succeeded in stopping him from attacking the box at times, thus limiting his effectiveness.

This graphic shows the average distance between Spain’s left-sided pair, which was 8.7m – a sign of Williams' defensive discipline on the night. To offer a comparison to previous fixtures in this tournament, they had an average of 13.5m between them against Germany, with 10.9m vs Italy and 9.8m vs Croatia.

The match as it happened

Another measure of Williams' hard work was his number of ball pressures in the defensive third compared to previous matches, underlining that he was tighter to the opposition and more active defensively. Against Croatia in the opening game, he made eight such pressures. That rose to ten against Germany in the quarter-finals (within the 90-minute data). Against France, he made 13 – the second-highest number among Luis de la Fuente’s players – and his defensive output also included three ball recoveries to add to the four that Cucurella produced across the game on that side of the pitch.

Overall, Williams' attacking contributions have been eye-catching at this EURO – he ranks third in the tournament for take-ons, for example, behind only Jérémy Doku and Jamal Musiala with 34. Yet, as he showed in Munich, he can be safely entrusted with defensive duties too.