England face their toughest challenge yet at Euro 2024 on Saturday, taking on Switzerland in the quarter-finals. We look at how the Swiss can harm England in that crunch knockout tie.

England and Switzerland’s paths cross in the quarter-finals of Euro 2024 this weekend, but their journeys to this point could not have been more divergent.

Gareth Southgate’s side laboured to the top of Group C, and then barely survived an all-mighty scare in the round of 16 against Slovakia. They managed just two shots on target in 120 minutes of football and needed a moment of individual brilliance from Jude Bellingham to prevent what would have been catastrophic fallout.

In stark contrast, Switzerland have impressed. Only a last-minute Niclas Füllkrug header prevented them from topping Group A, and they followed up their strong group-stage showing by comprehensively outplaying reigning champions Italy in the last 16.

Switzerland will undoubtedly be the toughest opponent England have faced. Considering how the Three Lions have fared against weaker opposition to date, this game is likely to be an absolute battle.  

An experienced and disciplined side under Murat Yakin, Switzerland now have the individual star quality to go with it.

Ahead of the tie, we look at three ways they could really hurt England in Düsseldorf.

The Tools to Dominate Midfield

The experience gap between each side’s midfield is staggering.

The midfield duo of Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler have started together for Switzerland 50 times; England’s pairing of Declan Rice and Kobbie Mainoo – who started together against Slovakia and will likely partner each other again in this match – have played just 338 minutes together.

Xhaka and Freuler have featured in each of the last 30 games for Switzerland in all competitions, whereas England have started Trent Alexander-Arnold, Conor Gallagher and now Mainoo next to Rice in their four games at Euro 2024.

That’s not a dig at either Rice or Mainoo’s individual ability, nor their respective talent ceilings, but it serves to illustrate a salient point: Switzerland have the consistency, familiarity and individual quality to boss that part of the pitch against England.

Against Denmark, England’s most technically capable Euro 2024 opposition to date, they ceded control of the midfield areas, as the zones of control graphic below shows:

England zones of control vs Denmark Euro 2024

That enabled the likes of Morten Hjulmand and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg to enjoy the run of the pitch.

The Spurs midfielder ended the match with more touches (108) and more completed passes (74) than anyone else on the pitch as England struggled to get a foothold in the middle of the park.

The space between Rice and Alexander-Arnold was chasmic out of possession, and even in possession there was little connectivity between England’s midfield two and their front four. Southgate’s side had a collective pass accuracy of 86.2% in that game, their lowest in a fixture since playing Italy in qualifying back in March 2023.

In Xhaka especially, Switzerland have a midfielder who can really exploit any weaknesses in the opposition’s midfield shape. He made 27 line-breaking passes against Italy, more than double that of any other player in the match, while only Toni Kroos has made more such passes in a game at Euro 2024 (in three of his four matches).

In total, Xhaka has made 51 line-breaking passes at Euro 2024, and 33 of them have broken the opponent’s midfield line. He has the quality to feed the ball into dangerous areas if England aren’t in a good defensive structure.

Granit Xhaka midfield line-breaking passes Euro 2024

The Quality in Attack to Make England Pay

England looked frail defensively against Slovakia for the first time in the tournament and were arguably lucky to concede just the one goal.

Slovakia’s 13 shots produced an expected goals total of 2.09, which is more xG than England conceded from 26 shots in the group stage (1.15).

Granted, Slovakia had an extra 30 minutes to boost those numbers, but the last-16 game was the first time England have given up more than 2.0 xG in a competitive match since facing Belgium in the UEFA Nations League back in 2020.

It didn’t happen at all during Euro 2020 or the 2022 World Cup.

And let’s not forget they will be missing the impressive Marc Guéhi at the back, who will miss this game through suspension.

Enter Switzerland, who have been one of the most clinical teams at Euro 2024. Their 21.2% shot conversion rate is the best in the tournament, and the average chance quality of their open-play shots is 0.13 xG, the third-highest of all 24 teams.

Switzerland Open-Play xG Map

This is a side that – on current form – has the players to make you pay if you give them a chance.

Breel Embolo has had a tough season with injuries but started against Italy and looks to be nearing full fitness. Due to those injuries, his numbers for Monaco last term are modest, but we shouldn’t forget that during his time in the Bundesliga with Borussia Mönchengladbach, Embolo led the team for xG per 90 (0.48).

Dan Ndoye has looked quick and rangy when deputising as a forward, although he might start initially as right wing-back; Rubén Vargas has been a threat cutting inside from the left, and Xherdan Shaqiri – Mr. Major Tournaments himself – always has something special in his locker.

In fact, Switzerland’s seven goals have come from seven different players at Euro 2024 (Michel Aebischer, Kwadwo Duah, Shaqiri, Freuler, Ndoye, Embolo and Vargas), which is their most different scorers at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros).

If England allow Switzerland the same opportunities they did against Slovakia, this game could be over by half-time.  

Robust at the Back

As well as being a threat going forwards, Switzerland have genuine pedigree at the back.

Goalkeeper Yann Sommer came into this tournament as a title-winner with Inter, and a crucial part of their defensive setup that conceded the fewest goals in Europe’s top five leagues.  

Manuel Akanji played 30 times as City won a fourth successive Premier League title; Fabian Schär, who lines up next to him, is a Premier League stalwart.

With Akanji and Schär making up two of Switzerland’s back three, they’ll arguably have a better centre-defensive partnership than anything England will be able to put out.

Switzerland out-of-possesion shape Euro 2024
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

Switzerland’s out-of-possession shape best resembles a deep back five, which is the exact shape England struggled to break down against Denmark and Serbia. One, or sometimes two of their midfield players will drop to screen the defence as well.

It’s a shape that’s seen Switzerland give up just nine shots on target, the joint-fewest in the tournament, and a measly 1.02 xG per game.  

England have been nowhere near their free-flowing best and have averaged just 0.93 xG per game. That’s lower than 17 teams at Euro 2024, including Ukraine, Hungary, Croatia and Poland, none of whom got out of their groups.  

The betting markets have England as favourites, as does the Opta supercomputer. Given the talent levels of the two sides, and based on what each side could do, that’s probably right.

But based on what we’ve actually seen? Switzerland look a real threat here.

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