Inverted wingers and false nines – Robbie Keane dissects forward play at EURO 2020

Sat, Jan 15 2022
Italy were crowned European champions at EURO2020

Italy were crowned European champions at EURO2020 Credit: Alex Morton / UEFA / Getty Images

The UEFA report on EURO 2020 that was published this week was complied by their 16 person team of technical observers that included Packie Bonner and Robbie Keane along with Esteban Cambiasso, Fabio Capello and David Moyes amongst others.

While Keane may be employed by the FAI without having a role in the organisation following Stephen Kenny stepping up to manager, the Republic of Ireland’s record goalscorer spent last summer observing games in stadia right across Europe for UEFA.

He gave his thoughts on trends and goalscoring in forward play as part of UEFA’s analysis while Packie Bonner kept on eye on the goalkeepers.

Striking stat attack

UEFA published a wide range of statistics for the tournament and concentrating on goalscoring some of the headlines were:

  • 31% increase in goals from EURO 2016
  • 2.78 goals per game on average
  • 35% scored from crosses and cut-backs
  • 11 own goals (two more than the previous 15 tournaments combined)
  • 3% drop in headed goals
  • Only one goal was scored directly from a free-kick

While in the previous two EUROs 4-2-3-1 was the dominant formation, in the most recent tournament 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 was used more often. Keane highlighted the three forward system and the use of teams deploying inverted wingers - strikers who played wide and cut in – rather than traditional wingers as a new trend 

Keane edge

“These guys are now coming inside and this is the overload in the middle of the park which creates different opportunities and different spaces,” said Keane speaking in UEFA’s Coaching Programme video. 

With 35% of goals scored from crosses and cutbacks, the crosses more often came from central areas rather than the more traditional cross from wide areas.

“I would say more of a pass than a cross. We’ve certainly seen a different role, a change in the last few years with strikers. I would say there are more inverted wingers – there were more strikers when I was playing.

"It’s a trend we’ve seen in the last five to six years and it’s given more opportunities to score.”

Keane highlighted Raheem Sterling, Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne as those players who thrived from those positions – making runs from wide into the middle. Insigne made the most solo runs into the penalty area (16), with Sterling one fewer and Kylian Mbappe third on 13. Leonardo Spinazzola and Chiessa had 11. 

No surprise Spain had the most possession (72%) with Pedri covering the most kilometres (12.7km per game) and he also made most solo runs in the attacking third (27) above Marco Verratti (25) and Sterling (19).


On the goalkeeping front Italian netminder Gianluigi Donnarumma was the player of the tournament, helping the Azzurri claim the championship.

Bonner, who led UEFA’s goalkeeping analysis team, said the way Donnarumma defends when facing attacks and set pieces “has a big impact on the way the defensive execution is set up. He was very high, even from corners, and he was totally in charge of the space; his influence was distinct.”

Donnarumma’s pass completion rate of 81% was only bettered by Unai Simon and Manuel Nauer. He passed to a player inside the box from goal kicks on average 68% - only Portugal had a higher rate.

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