Fewer Fouls, Missed Penalties, and the Unluckiest Team? The Trends of the Euro 2020 Group Stages
71% of Euro 2020 has been and gone. That’s sad because we have loved every minute, but look at it like this: all those matches are just prologue to the mouthwatering knockout rounds which start tomorrow. How can we fill time until that starts, though? How about some questions on the tournament so far? You asked, we provide.
Q: There’s been a lot of positive talk about referees. The games have felt like they’ve flown better. Is there anything in the numbers to support that?
The refereeing has felt good in Euro 2020. Maybe it’s because we feel less partisan watching games that don’t involve our clubs. Maybe we treat matches at international tournaments like the spectacle they are, rather than simply another square on a season-long quilt. Maybe it’s because we’re all so disenchanted with the application of VAR in the Premier League. Bottom line, for the most part, the officiating has been very good. There’s clearly been a memo from UEFA for referees to encourage the game to flow, being more lenient on ‘smaller’ fouls, as well as a fairly no nonsense attitude to simulation.
And it’s made for better matches.
For starters, Euro 2020 has seen the highest percentage of ball-in-play time (64%) at a major tournament since Euro 2012 (66%). More football = good, particularly when you are watching it…
The rise in play time is probably because we’ve seen fewer stoppages in play than in recent years. So far Euro 2020 has seen the fewest fouls per game on record (since 1980) – everyone’s feeling the love.
It’s not just fouls.
Offsides are at all-time low as well.
The willingness of referees to play advantage and to let the game flow, as well as the judicial and swift use of VAR in the most part is certainly making for a better spectator experience.
Q: I am the mayor of Agen in France, the birthplace of Aymeric Laporte and I am saddened he now plays for Spain. How is our boy doing?
The Franco-Basque-Spanish defender has certainly settled in well, and has played every minute of every game for Spain in Euro 2020 so far. His new side ended the group stage in style, winning 5-0 against Slovakia with Laporte responsible for the second goal. More importantly he seems to be one of the Spanish players who is taking responsibility when the team revert to their factory settings and try and make 1,000 completed passes per half.
Laporte has made 87 carries with the ball so far at Euro 2020, by far the most of any central defender, and as the map below shows, a lot of them are him moving forward, the Pep student trying to beat the press (or whatever teams do when they play Spain) and create options for his teammates. He may have moved south in international terms but on the pitch Laporte is always moving in the right direction.
Q: Ronaldo’s at it again. Any good stats on him?
If you are 20 years old you have never have lived through a European Championships that Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t scored in. The most recent edition not to feature a goal from the Portuguese icon was Euro 2000, a tournament that contained players such as Dennis Wise, Gheorghe Hagi and Lothar Matthäus. Matthäus played at Euro 80 of course, a tournament that featured four players born during the Second World War. The only guarantees in life are the passing of time and Ronaldo scoring, possibly forever.
Q: What’s with all the missed penalties?
Until Ronaldo and Karim Benzema combined to score three penalties in France vs. Portugal on the final night of the group stages, Euro 2020 had the worst penalty conversion rate in the history of a Euros. As it stands, it’s still been pretty bad, with just eight of 14 (57%) penalties converted:
Q: I’ve heard rumours there were loads of goals in the group stage. Legit?
Yes and no. There were 94, including 18 on a crazy final day, and that’s 25 more than there were in the same stage at Euro 2016, the only other edition of the Euros with this 24-team format. But if you adjust to goals per game, which, let’s be honest, you always should, then Euro 2020 sits fourth amongst Euro group stages on 2.61 goals per games, behind 2.67 in both Euro 84 and Euro 2004 and a delightful 2.71 in the daddy, Euro 2000, a tournament that for many outside England and Germany, remains the peak of the competition. Either way, we have come a long way since the hyper-drab play of Euro 92, the final competition before the backpass law was changed, which saw only 21 goals in 12 group games, an average of 1.75 per match. Do I not like that.
Q: Who have the ‘luckiest and unluckiest’ teams been so far in terms of expected goals versus actual goals scored?
Ah, so there’s a masochist among you.
It should be said that expected goals are more indicative of team’s attacking performance when assessed over a long period of time. Using xG on a single game basis can be problematic, and even with three matches under our belts we’re still not yet really seeing a good enough sample size to say anything definitive.
Let’s start with those sides who are overperforming their expected goals totals. We’ll use the phrase ‘overperforming’ rather than ‘lucky’ here, as ‘lucky’ carries a connotation that performances or outcomes are somewhat undeserved. There was nothing lucky about Patrik Schick’s wondergoal against Scotland, despite it having a very low xG (0.03). It just doesn’t happen very often.
Belgium are way out in front in terms of overpeformance, scoring seven goals so far from an xG of 3.9. That’s an overperformance of 3.1 goals.
Expected Goals Overperformance Euro 2020:
Team Goals Expected Goals Goals – Expected Goals Belgium 7 3.9 3.1 Croatia 4 2.3 1.7 Hungary 3 1.5 1.5 Slovakia 2 1.1 0.9 Italy 7 6.6 0.4
The thing is, Belgium have Romelu Lukaku. And Lukaku is on fire right now. In fact, of all players to take five or more shots at Euro 2020 so far, Lukaku has the second-highest conversion rate (42.9%) behind Cristiano Ronaldo’s 45.5%. And the Belgian’s not had the luxury of taking any penalties.
When you’ve got someone as clinical and in-form as Lukaku, it can be easy to run hot on your numbers, particularly across a tournament. Croatia are next on the list, their overperformance no doubt aided by Luka Modrić’s exquisite goal against Scotland in the final round of group games.
Expected Goals Underperformance Euro 2020:
Team Goals Expected Goals Goals – Expected Goals Scotland 1 4.0 -3.0 Spain 6 8.8 -2.8 England 2 4.5 -2.5 Turkey 1 3.1 -2.1 Wales 3 4.6 -1.6
Speaking of poor old Scotland… There they are at the other end of the scale. Their process was good, amassing a total of four expected goals in the group stage, more than the likes of Belgium (3.9), Czech Republic (3.0) and Croatia (2.3) all of whom qualified. But with just a solitary goal to their name, they underperformed their xG by three whole goals, more than anyone else. When you only score as many goals as Turkey and Finland you’ve only really got yourselves to blame.
Before they cut loose against Slovakia, Spain were on course to ‘win’ this. That’s what missing two penalties does, though.
Turkey were arguably unfortunate not to score more. But let’s be honest, it probably wouldn’t have made an iota of difference.
Q: So who’s enjoyed the best birthday within Euro 2020?
Lionel Messi might disagree but there’s really not much glamour having a June birthday, and as such, only three players have got to play for their country on their special day in Euro 2020 so far. We’ll warn you now, it’s not exactly a stellar list: Callum McGregor for Scotland against the Czech Republic, Ondřej Čelůstka for the Czech Republic against Croatia and Darko Velkovski for North Macedonia against the Netherlands. In what experts are calling a “genuine feel-good story”, Velkovski is the only one of these players to get a touch in the box on his birthday, which in some ways is the epitome of the present giving ceremony.
Q: Which team has the highest upfield speed?
We can use our sequences model to isolate how each team plays. Sequences are defined as passages of play that belong to one team and are ended by defensive actions, stoppages in play or a shot.
Looking at the team style comparison below, we can see Wales are the most direct team at Euro 2020, progressing the ball up the field on average 2 metres per second. They don’t hang around with it either, averaging only three passes per sequence. Pass, pass, pass, “can I hit Bale high and wide, can I hit Ramsey over the top, can we play up to Kieffer Moore?”
At the opposite end of the spectrum are England. The Three Lions’ style hasn’t been easy on the eye, with many labelling them ponderous, slow and yes, kind of boring. That feeling is borne out in the numbers, too. Southgate’s side have made, on average, the sixth most passes per sequence (4.5), but progress upfield the slowest of any team (0.98 m/s). Just 17% of their sequences go upfield, the lowest directness of any side in Euro 2020. Pass, pass, pass …
Q: Who’s been the most wasteful/unlucky player in front of goal so far?
It won’t stun you to learn that a Denmark player appears here. Two players in the tournament have reached double figures for shots but are yet to score. They are Burak Yılmaz for former dark horses Turkey and Martin Braithwaite, the Dane. We’ll show Braithwaite’s shots because his team are still in the tournament, and kick off the knockout rounds when they play Wales on Saturday. Famously signed by Barcelona well outside of a transfer window because they were running low on strikers or something, Braithwaite has scored nine times for his national side. He may reach double figures for goals against the Welsh in Amsterdam or he could continue to waste opportunities. We simply don’t know, and that’s the unpredictability of football that keeps us coming back for more.
Q: Tell me about pressing. Who are the most aggressive and least aggressive pressing sides?
We can use PPDA – or opposition passes per defensive action allowed – as a proxy measure for pressing. The lower your PPDA number, the more aggressive you press. The higher your PPDA number, the more passes you allow the opposition to have before engaging.
Spain are our chief pressors so far, with a PPDA of 8. Able to dominate the ball for large swathes of their matches, Luis Enrique’s side had the energy and positional structures in place to quickly pounce to win the ball back after losing possession.
The Netherlands are another side who rank highly (10.7 PPDA). One of the hallmarks of the Dutch play at Euro 2020 has been the intensity of their high press. So far, they’ve completed 44 high turnovers, a tournament high and two of those turnovers have led to goals.
While a high press is undoubtedly in vogue, ‘pressing a lot’ doesn’t equal ‘pressing well’. Turkey’s position as sixth on this list proves that. And Italy, who have a middling PPDA value of 12.8, have the joint-most shots and joint-most goals following a high turnover in the competition. They are more selective over when they press, but when they go, they go.
Similarly, just because you aren’t a high-energy, pressing side, it doesn’t mean you can’t be successful. The fact that three of lowest teams ranked by PPDA progressed through to the Round of 16 shows there’s not just one way to play. Take France, who have traditionally been defensively minded under Didier Deschamps. They have been happy to sit in a low block at various stages of the competition.
Q: I’m a medley sort of guy. Can you just give me a medley of stats please?
Sure, no problem. How about we start with chatty Ondrej Duda of Slovakia who was booked twice for dissent in his nation’s three-game stint at Euro 2020. Duda, where’s my manners? Those of you who prefer yellow cards handed out for brutality, or persistent fouling at least, should revere Poland’s Grzegorz Krychowiak who picked up three yellow cards for fouls in his time at the tournament, two in one game against Slovakia, which earned him a ban for Poland’s game against Spain, then another when he returned for the final group match against Sweden. That’s more yellows in two games than he managed in 27 Premier League matches for West Brom in 2017-18. Tournaments: they’ll send you mad.
Moving away from disciplinary matters, the current leader of the David De Gea award for most saves with their feet is Turkey’s Ugurcan Çakir with four, a number which represents 22% of his total in the tournament. Scotland players lead a few categories, including most unsuccessful flick-ons (Lyndon Dykes, 11) and most unsuccessful crosses and corners (Andy Robertson, 21), while Finland’s Joel Pohjanpalo can one day tell his grandchildren how he saw five shots from inside the penalty area blocked by opponents at Euro 2020. Fine margins.
Q: So, come on. Who’s gonna win it?
The beauty of sport is that no one knows. Plus, if we did know, and yet were still sitting here writing a response to this question then you’ve really got to question our sanity.
That said, with the help of Stats Perform’s AI team we’re able to give you some numerical support for the most likely outcomes.
The answer’s France (just). There were the model’s favourites pre-tournament and that’s where they remain, with a 19.6% chance of winning Euro 2020. Belgium are close behind at 17.9%.
The full breakdown is below.
Don’t forget that this model dynamically updates as and when results change, so don’t be surprised to see those numbers shift after the Round of 16 games.
For more on the maths behind the model, click here.
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Design by Matt Sisneros.