Unveiling England's Strategies in Penalty Shootouts: Jordan Pickford's Preparation, Steve Holland's Analysis, Tactical Strategies, and Influence of a Former Netherlands Player


When the whistle blew after 120 minutes of back-and-forth action in Dusseldorf on Saturday night and a penalty shootout was looming, the overwhelming feeling in the England camp was one of calm.

There was a chaos about Switzerland – more on that later – while England looked every bit a group that was prepared for the moment.

In the Euro 2020 final it was noticeable in the pre-shootout huddle that Gareth Southgate was asking players if they wanted to take one. Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho were sent on with seconds to go purely to take a spot-kick and there was calm lacking.

Mail Sport takes a look into the secrets of England’s penalty shootout success.

England players celebrated wildly after a perfect penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland

England players celebrated wildly after a perfect penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland

Gareth Southgate does not like to give much away but there is an art to England's planning

Gareth Southgate does not like to give much away but there is an art to England’s planning

THE HUDDLE

Switzerland could count themselves unfortunate that they didn’t nick a winner in the second half of extra-time, not least when substitute Xherdan Shaqiri struck the post direct from a corner.

But when Murat Yakin and his players reconvened for the shootout it was bedlam.

There was one point where goalkeeper Yann Sommer took to the middle of the hastily assembled huddle and began a rallying cry for his team-mates to embrace the moment and make history against a star-studded England side.

Yakin did not have the same control over his tired troops as his counterpart did with England and so on the surface level, England’s calmness immediately stood out.

Harry Kane’s withdrawal – he is England’s primary penalty taker under normal circumstances – may well have flustered this group earlier in Southgate’s reign but not these days, with so much penalty preparation beyond the Bayern Munich striker.

‘I was weirdly calm on the bench,’ Kane told BBC 5 Live.

‘I see the way the guys prepare and the way they take them. We have a lot more players who take them for their clubs, and I know Pickers is going to save one.’

Southgate took control of the huddle and it set the tone of calm as the takers were pre-planned

Southgate took control of the huddle and it set the tone of calm as the takers were pre-planned

Assistant Steve Holland gave Southgate a dossier of takers - there was no need for volunteers

Assistant Steve Holland gave Southgate a dossier of takers – there was no need for volunteers

INFLUENCE OF JIMMY FLOYD HASSELBAINK

There is an art to penalties – just look at Ivan Toney’s phenomenal record from the spot, which continued with a stunner in Dusseldorf.

And while players are the ones carrying all of the responsibility, many in the backroom team put in endless hours.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has been one particular key influence and it was no surprise to see the former Chelsea striker singled out for specific praise on Saturday night following England’s five perfect spot kicks.

‘I was really confident in my preparation and the things I’d talked through with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink,’ Bellingham, who scored England’s second penalty, said.

‘He’s stepped up for us massively and it’s the work he does behind closed doors with the lads willing to take on that information that put us in those situations to be able to win.

‘This is a massive team effort.’

Hasselbaink was drafted into the England set-up to replace Chris Powell in March 2023 and he’s been a huge hit with the players.

The 52-year-old was a brilliant finisher in his heyday and it was his calmness in front of goal that many remembered. That ability to stay cool under pressure has clearly rubbed off onto this England group.

Each of England’s takers looked incredibly calm and while all the credit cannot go to Hasselbaink, his influence has proven undeniable.

Jude Bellingham was keen to highlight the impact of coach Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink after

Jude Bellingham was keen to highlight the impact of coach Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink after

Bellingham kept his cool to slot his penalty past Yann Sommer in the shootout in Dusseldorf

Bellingham kept his cool to slot his penalty past Yann Sommer in the shootout in Dusseldorf

Bellingham also pointed to the influence of having four goalkeepers in the camp, keeping the unpredictability for the outfield players when they are practising each day.

Southgate made the decision to take Jordan Pickford, Dean Henderson, Aaron Ramsdale and Tom Heaton to Germany.

‘They won’t get the credit they deserve but essentially if they don’t put in the right effort we don’t get to practice properly. And in those moments you don’t have the right practice to go out and execute,’ Bellingham added.

‘There is so much that goes into it now. You are always trying to find the edge in every game.’

REGULAR TAKERS STEP UP

It cannot be understated how important it was to England to have a set of takers that have been there and done it week after week in the Premier League and LaLiga from the spot.

Cole Palmer is Chelsea’s go-to man, who scored nine from nine last season, while Bukayo Saka netted six from six for Arsenal.

Ivan Toney is arguably the best penalty taker of the lot and has scored 23 of 24 penalties in his Brentford career.

As for Trent Alexander-Arnold he is the best ball striker at Gareth Southgate’s disposal.

‘A lot of practice goes into that moment,’ Alexander-Arnold said.

Cole Palmer showed incredible poise as he took the opening spot kick for England for 1-0

Cole Palmer showed incredible poise as he took the opening spot kick for England for 1-0

Trent Alexander-Arnold wrapped up the tie smashing the fifth and final penalty into the net

Trent Alexander-Arnold wrapped up the tie smashing the fifth and final penalty into the net

Brentford fans would have been familiar with Ivan Toney's penalty style as he stared down Sommer before smashing the ball beyond the Swiss goalkeeper

Brentford fans would have been familiar with Ivan Toney’s penalty style as he stared down Sommer before smashing the ball beyond the Swiss goalkeeper

‘When the gaffer tells me I am taking one, my belly does not drop. I enjoy it. I practise it. I knew what spot I just needed to execute it.’

Bellingham, too, has shown a desire to ramp up the pressure and embrace the moment. It was a high-pressure penalty against Man City in the Champions League that helped keep them alive en route to the final, which they won.

‘I do the practice like all the other lads and I have my process,’ Bellingham said.

‘Sometimes you can step up and miss penalties but I think there is a comfort when you are following a process that you have come to terms with.

‘I did not see one person change or fault their run up or the way they breathe. It is really impressive that they can keep that cool in that situation.’

PICKFORD’S CHEAT SHEET

For as good as England’s takers were, it proved incredibly useful that Jordan Pickford saved Switzerland’s first effort from Manuel Akanji.

The Everton shot-stopper has been Mr Reliable from the spot in an England shirt and that Akanji save makes it four of the 14 he’s faced at major tournaments denied.

It didn’t take long for Pickford’s water bottle ‘cheat sheet’ to surface online – and it was a valuable aide.

Written next to Akanji was ‘dive left’, and Pickford duly did so, keeping out the Swiss’ effort.

Jordan Pickford has come up big for England in shootouts and he did so again in Dusseldorf

Jordan Pickford has come up big for England in shootouts and he did so again in Dusseldorf

Pickford can thank his water bottle for the crucial save

The goalkeeper had instructions on where to dive

It appears Pickford can thank his water bottle for the crucial save as a cheat sheet was imprinted onto it – although he chose to ignore the instructions for defender Fabian Schar

Only once did Pickford deviate from his water bottle guider – and he was left to rue that decision as he’d have saved Fabian Schar’s effort had he played along.

The note for Schar read ‘fake right, dive left’, but Pickford chose to do the opposite and dive left, allowing Schar to score Switzerland’s second penalty.

PICKFORD’S CHEAT SHEET 

Penalty 1: Manuel Akanji 

Instruction: Dive left 

What he did: Followed it

Outcome: Saved

Penalty 2: Fabian Schar 

Instruction: Fake right, dive left

What he did: The opposite. Went the wrong way

Outcome: Scored 

Penalty 3: Xherdan Shaqiri 

Instruction: Dive left 

What he did: Followed it

Outcome: Conceded on same side

Penalty 4: Zeki Amdouni 

Instruction: Hold, dive left, go low

What he did: Followed it

Outcome: Player went down middle, scored

He was sent the wrong way by the very experienced Xherdan Shaqiri, while Pickford’s last penalty opponent was Zeki Amdouni.

Although he was unable to make the save, his cheat sheet proved partially correct again, even if he didn’t make the save.

The note on the bottle told him to ‘hold, dive left, go low’ and while he followed the instructions, the direction was wrong as the Burnley midfielder opted to shoot down the middle instead.

CLOCK MANAGEMENT

Much was made of Pickford’s eagerness to slow down Switzerland, even if only for a few seconds, by taking an extra long time to get on his line.

Akanji was made to wait for his penalty and subsequently missed, with Pickford not only delaying things but also contorting his face into an array of puzzling looks to try and put his opponent off.

Referee Daniele Orsato was quick to try and nip his antics in the bud.

‘The referee stopped me doing what I normally like to do,’ Pickford explained.

‘He was going to book me if I didn’t go back on the line, so I had to play the game a little bit.’

Under Pressure was blaring out in the speakers prior to the shootout starting and yet once the music stopped it was England who dictated the tempo of the symphony that followed.

It was noticeable how long Bellingham, who re-spotted the ball, and Saka, took with their run-ups and finishes.

‘How long players take from the whistle to starting their run is often an indication of how deliberately have they planned things,’ says Geir Jordet, author of Pressure.

‘The English players on average took 5.2 seconds — the Swiss players took 1.3 seconds.’

There have been arguments previously that taking too long is a bad sign, but on this occasion it was a clear sign of control on England’s behalf.

‘Time in itself has no value. That’s a worthless metric in itself. It’s all about what it represents: why do you do it?’ Jordet added.

Pickford distracted Switzerland players during the penalty shoot-out by pulling odd faces

Pickford distracted Switzerland players during the penalty shoot-out by pulling odd faces

Pickford saved from Manuel Akanji to help England progress to the semi-finals of Euro 2024

Pickford saved from Manuel Akanji to help England progress to the semi-finals of Euro 2024

‘If you stand for five seconds just because the coach has told you to, it has no positive impact. But if you stand for five seconds to have more control over yourself in that moment, to take the time to have two or three deep breaths that will send constructive hormones throughout your body and mind, with that time you take more control over the situation because you dictate when you take the kick. You make the goalkeeper stand there in a 100 per cent focused condition, waiting for you. You grab control over the moment.’

England are particularly secretive about the penalty dossier and all the preparation that goes into their shootout routines, so much so that the England press officer jumped in to stop Pickford answering one question in Dusseldorf about his preparation.

‘We think we’ve got a good process,’ Southgate, who appears to use a ‘buddy system’ where players are paired up to get through the shootouts, said after the game.

‘We’ve been in four, we’ve won three. We got absolutely crucified for the one we lost. We refined that process a little bit. We have more regular penalty-takers in the squad than we had in 2021 and more that have been in shootouts.’

It was Gary Neville, himself a former coach in the England set-up, who recently shed some light on Southgate’s meticulous penalty regime.

Bukayo Saka, who missed a penalty in the final of Euro 2020, capped off a fine performance that included a goal by sending Sommer the wrong way, rolling the ball into the corner

Bukayo Saka, who missed a penalty in the final of Euro 2020, capped off a fine performance that included a goal by sending Sommer the wrong way, rolling the ball into the corner

‘Someone told me the other week what Gareth does. He takes three players to a very quiet area of the training ground. They take three penalties each in a real methodical way. Quite short but concentrated and focused,’ Neville said on his Overlap show.

‘Basically, they are told to pick a place where they are going to take the penalty and they go in.’

Whether England need to rely on shootout heroics again in Germany remains to be seen.

But one thing is clear, if it goes to spot-kicks against the Netherlands in Dortmund or against either France of Spain in the Berlin finale, England are ready with a process that’s been years in the making.



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