Welcome to The Data Day, our daily Euro 2020 blog where we try and make sense of what just happened.
Manuel the Automatic Hero
So Italy have started well. Too well? That’s for them and us to find out, but as it stands they have six points, six goals and now about six billion people on the planet backing them to land the trophy. The first team to officially make it through to the last 16, Roberto Mancini’s side, in association with Sassuolo, has done something almost un-Italian so far in this tournament: romped.
Coming into Euro 2020 it was a quirk that Italy had never scored more than two goals in a game in the competition’s history, but two 3-0 wins in the space of six days has changed that for good. That’s as many wins by three goals in less than a week than Italy had recorded in their previous 94 games in major international tournaments.
If Italy in 2021 don’t feel quite like Italy, then that’s understandable. Their three group games at the Stadio Olimpico in the 1990 World Cup saw them win 1-0, 1-0 and 2-0. Their World Cup win in 2006 saw them score 12 goals in seven games, with no player scoring more than twice. Two games into Euro 2020 and two Italians, Ciro Immobile and Manuel Locatelli, have already doubled up.
Locatelli was the standout player in the Switzerland game, scoring the first brace of his senior career. The Sassuolo DNA that courses through Mancini’s squad was delightfully evident with Locatelli’s first, the midfielder playing a par five distance one-two with his club teammate Domenico Berardi. His second was a well-hit effort from just outside the D, which took just enough of a deflection to reduce its aesthetic impact from “wow” to “decent”. There will now be a lot of squad-hungry football clubs doubling down on either the careful research they have done on Locatelli over the past few seasons or the pretend careful research they have done on Locatelli over the past few seasons. Either way, he’s hot property.
He is now operating in that weird Big Tournament Zone™ where a good player can make the absolute most of playing sides who are essentially weaker than most of the teams he plays against in club football. As mentioned above, Locatelli had never scored two goals in a game before and his expected goals map from Serie A last season shows four goals, 41 shots and an average xG of 0.09 per effort.
Contrast that with his activity at the Euros so far: three shots with an average xG of 0.3. This isn’t sustainable based on his usual form but so what, tournaments aren’t sustainable either. They are short jamborees designed to delight both devoted and casual fans, and bring a country together. Looking at the reaction of both the Italian players and their supporters to Locatelli’s two strikes against Switzerland, he is doing both of those things superbly.
Can he continue this against Wales in the final group game? Will Roberto Mancini even want him to? Second place in the group will give that team a potentially easier route through the knockout stages but it would be a brave decision to squander the Roman feel-good factor that Locatelli has helped conjure up so far and let the Welsh finish above them. Italian football often revels in such arcane machinations but right now it’s just one big party.
Baku to Their Best
As the saying goes: “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on both of us.” Well, Aaron Ramsey fooled the Turkish defence in the first half, wasting two clear cut chances in the opening 24 minutes of the match for Wales. However, he ensured there was no more shame dished out by slamming home the third gift against Turkey moments before half-time.
That goal turned out to be the match-winner for the Welsh, as Ramsey scored his 17th international goal – a tally that only six players have beaten for Wales. The Juventus midfielder attempted four shots, totalling 1.64 expected goals – the most by a player from non-penalty shots at Euro 2020 so far. In fact, Wales 3.70 xG in this match is the most by a team in European Championship finals match since Germany’s 3.75 against Northern Ireland in 2016.
Gareth Bale had an unusually quiet opening game of Euro 2020 against Switzerland, but he was absolutely brilliant in this match for Wales. Bale completed just four passes in the first half on MD1, but in this game he’d racked up three chances created from passes for Aaron Ramsey in the opening 45 minutes alone – the third being the assist for the opening goal.
Yes, he may have selected his pitching wedge to take the penalty, and yes, he did sky a penalty over the bar. But his overall performance was key to Wales’ victory here.
Bale assisted both of Wales goals, created five opportunities for his teammates (a Euros record) and his total of 1.25 expected assists is the most by any player in a Euro 2020 match by a big margin of 0.42. Even more impressively, Bale the only player to create five big chances in a European Championship game in recorded history (since 1980).
Gareth Bale the only player to create five big chances in a Euros game (1980-2021)— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) June 16, 2021
Also the only player to create four big chances in a Euros game (1980-2021)
Some of the players to create 3: Michael Laudrup, Bergkamp, Zidane, Figo, Robben, Sneijder
Time and time again Wales have relied on the Bale/Ramsey double act, and they rarely fail to produce. Ramsey (17) and Bale (33) account for 50 of the 73 goals Wales’ current EURO 2020 squad have scored in international football.
So, what does this result mean? Before this game, Wales were being given a 38.5% chance of qualifying for the Last 16 in Group A – that chance is now 99.2% – a near certainty. For Turkey, this has been a grim tournament so far, with two defeats and no goals scored – no team has ever qualified for the knockout stages of the European Championship after two losses in the opening two games. Ahead of tonight’s Italy vs Switzerland match, we only give them a 3.1% chance of progression to the knockout stages. At half-time of the opening game against Italy, when they were drawing 0-0, the predictor gave them a 56.2%. Things change fast at international tournaments.
Finnish? Not with the xG on those shots.
Russia secured their first win of the tournament with a 1-0 win over Finland in Group B, but this was far from a classic. In fact, I’m looking for some sympathy from all of you for even having to write about this match.
The data shows some of the issues we witnessed in Saint Petersburg:
53 touches in the opposition box. The most in a game at Euro 2020 = very good.
25 shots by the two sides combined. The fifth-most in a game at Euro 2020 = good.
0.07 xG per shot in the game. The worst at Euro 2020 = bad.
The Russians won’t care one bit. It was a much-needed win, one which ignites their hopes for a place in the Last 16. Before this match, we rated their chances at 48.4% in our tournament predictor of doing just that, but following three points in this game, it’s risen to 57.8% – the second highest in Group B.
Aleksei Miranchuk’s smart finish in first-half injury time was the only goal of the game and the first shot on target – the longest wait for an effort on target in a Euro 2020 match so far. This was his sixth goal for Russia and ended a run of nine appearances without a goal for his nation.
Glen Kamara was one bright spark for Finland. The Rangers’ midfielder – linked to a Premier League move this summer – put in an accomplished performance in central midfield and misplaced just five of his 61 passes in 90 minutes, with a match-high 92% accuracy.
Following this defeat, it looks as if Finland will have hope to qualify as one of the four third-placed sides, unless they produce a miracle victory against Belgium while not falling behind Denmark or Russia on goal difference in the table. But with three points on the board, that just might be enough to get them into the knockout stages – something that we rate as a 52.5% chance of happening in our tournament predictor, after we only gave them a 33.4% chance of doing at the start of Euro 2020.
Russian Redemption? Finnish the Job? Turkish Delight? All to play for on MD2
The absence of an early kick-off in yesterday’s action left many of us feeling weirdly empty. Thankfully, we can now settle in for four consecutive days of pulsating, three-game-a-day action.
We start in Group B with two teams who had contrasting fortunes on Matchday 1. Russia put in an abject display against Belgium, while Finland were the unlikely victors in their opener against Denmark.
In their win over the Danes, Joel Pohjanpalo scored Finland’s first ever goal at the European Championships, with what was their first shot in the competition. His header saw Finland become the first side to win a match at the European Championships in recorded history (since 1980), while only attempting just a single shot.
According to our tournament predictor, Finland now have a 68.6% chance of qualifying to the Round of 16, while Russia’s has dropped to just 48.4%.
But history in this fixture is well and truly on Russia’s side. They’ve have won all four of their games against Finland, scoring at least three goals in each of those matches, netting 15 goals in those fixtures and conceding just once.
That’s borne out in our win predictor, which gives Russia as 58% of claiming a much-needed three points, with Finland an outside chance at 16.7%.
A win today would snap a six-game winless streak for Russia at the European Championship, including defeats in their last three games. They’ve never lost four in a row…
We then hop back to where this all began. We’re in Group A for Turkey vs. Wales.
Turkey were perhaps the most disappointing side in Matchday 1, with many tipping them as dark horses in Euro 2020. Granted, Italy were mighty impressive, but Turkey mustered just three shots in their first match, their fewest ever in a European Championship match, while they are the only side without a shot on target at Euro 2020.
Wales aren’t used to early exits. In their, admittedly brief, history at major tournaments, the Dragons have made it out of the group stages in both two previous appearances (1958 World Cup and Euro 2016). That’s despite failing to win their second matches in both of those editions, drawing 1-1 with Mexico in 1958 and losing 2-1 to England in 2016.
This feels like a must-win for Turkey, and our win predictor gives them a 42% chance of victory later today. Wales are the slight underdogs, with the model giving them a 28% of picking up the win.
Turkey will need to be wary of Wales forward Kieffer Moore’s danger in the air. Four of Moore’s six goals in all competitions for Wales have been headers, including his equaliser on MD1 against Switzerland.
This clash with go a long way to deciding the fortune of these two sides in Group A. As it stands, Wales has a 38.5% of progressing according to our predictor, while Turkey’s stands at 38.4%. Lose this, and suddenly you’re in big trouble…
Italy’s display on the opening night was probably the best we’ve seen of any side so far. Roberto Mancini’s side showed no signs of opening-game pressure, as they swept aside Turkey in a commanding performance. For the first time in a single game at the European Championship, the Azzurri scored three times, registering 24 shots in the process, as they extended their unbeaten run to 28 matches stretching back to September 2018. A major element of their recent form has been their miserly defence. The Azurri have kept a clean sheet in each of the last nine matches in all competitions, going 875 minutes with conceding.
Switzerland are winless in their last eight matches against Italy (D4 L4) and our match predictor doesn’t like their chances of bucking that trend. They’re just 13.5% for the win, with Italy the huge favourite at 66.2%.
The Swiss did look like a considerable threat from set pieces against Wales however, with Breel Embolo rising highest to nod in their opener from a Xherdan Shaqiri cross. The Liverpool man will once again be the key man for Switzerland going forwards. Since 2014, he has been involved in 50% of Switzerland’s goals in major tournaments (Euros and World Cup), scoring five and assisting three of their 16 goals in that time.
A win here will see Italy become the first side to qualify for the knockout stages.