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Netherlands 1-2 England analysis: The effectiveness of playing through the lines

UEFA technical observer Ole Gunnar Solskjær analyses how both Netherlands and England found passes between the lines.

Jude Bellingham was among the England players who made a number of line-breaking passes
Jude Bellingham was among the England players who made a number of line-breaking passes Getty Images

"Both teams have been good at finding passes between the lines." Ole Gunnar Solskjær's comment came during the first half of the second UEFA EURO 2024 semi-final in Dortmund and it captured one of the main tactical features of a contest in which both England and Netherlands impressed the UEFA technical observer panel with the ability to play through the lines.

Beyond the late drama of Ollie Watkins' winning goal and another show of English resilience, Gareth Southgate's side used the ball well. "I thought we were excellent with the ball all evening," said Southgate, citing his team's share of possession (58%), and the data below, gathered by the UEFA performance analysis unit, supports that view.

The match as it happened

Overall, England managed 71 line-breaking passes. In their previous match against Switzerland their total had been 38.

This chart above showing the players with most line-breaking passes is headed by Jude Bellingham with 12 – and, reflecting their longer spells in possession, it is dominated by England players. The defenders and midfielders high on the list is an indication of England's positive approach with the ball.

According to Solskjær, England's movement was a significant factor. "I really liked their willingness to run in behind and offer an option for a pass as the spaces in between then opened up." In other words, by players moving and taking defenders with them, they created space for others.

This screenshot shows England building up in the sequence that ended with the award of their penalty and the white lines indicate the movement of Foden and Bellingham as they look for spaces in between the lines, centre-back Marc Guéhi picking out Bellingham with the pass.

Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman reflected afterwards: "England created problems in our midfield in the first half. We didn't control how they played between the lines with Bellingham and Foden. We added one more in midfield after that and it was more even."

This second graphic shows the players who received the ball most times between the lines – and leading the way are the England trio of Foden (15), Harry Kane (ten) and Kobbie Mainoo (nine). Foden, as the adjacent chart displays, was also the player with most runs in behind on the night with 13.

For Netherlands, scorer Xavi Simons was the player who got between the lines most to receive the ball (eight times). However, this second screenshot below shows Memphis Depay doing just that.

Prior to his early withdrawal through injury, Depay had asked questions of England by dropping to the tip of a diamond as Netherlands look to progress via the pockets centrally. "Depay is very good at knowing when to drop," said Solskjaær and this left John Stones with the dilemma of whether to follow him or not. The pity for Depay and for his team is that he had to depart the action after 35 minutes – an early setback on a night which ended for the Dutch with a painful sting in the tail.