Leonardo Spinazzola’s achilles injury means the battle for the left-back spot in the team of the tournament is still up for grabs. Prior to being stretchered off on Friday night against Belgium, Spinazzola looked as if he had the accolade wrapped up but, if Luke Shaw or Joakim Mæhle can help England or Denmark win the tournament, the voters may have to think twice.
Euro 2020 glory is within the grasp of both teams. England have home advantage as they try to lift their first major international trophy since the World Cup in 1966. Denmark, meanwhile, have been to a European Championship final before. Their current team, powered on by the desire to win the tournament for Christian Eriksen, will be aiming to replicate their great side of 1992, who went all the way at Euro 92 in Sweden.
Both teams have star players but the battle of the marauding left-backs could prove decisive at Wembley. For “Shawberto Carlos”, Euro 2020 has been the reward for a season of redemption. Shaw looked like he might be replaced when Manchester United signed Alex Telles last October but the Brazilian was restricted to just eight league starts for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side as Shaw consolidated his starting spot. Shaw also looked likely to play second fiddle at Euro 2020, either behind Champions League winner Ben Chilwell or Kieran Trippier, who started at left-back for England in their 1-0 win over Croatia in their opening game.
However, any doubts over who is first choice have been well and truly quashed. Shaw set up two of England’s goals against Ukraine, giving him three assists at Euro 2020; only Switzerland’s Steven Zuber (four) has more at the competition. What’s more, only Gareth Bale (five) has created more clear-cut goalscoring opportunities than the 25-year-old (four), with Shaw transferring his fine attacking performances for United to the international stage.
Shaw has also adjusted his game accordingly to play at left-back or left wing-back. Having been solid as a full-back, he excelled as a wing-back against Germany, providing the assist for Raheem Sterling to open the scoring at Wembley. His versatility is a huge asset for Gareth Southgate, who can use a 4-2-3-1 or revert to a three-man backline to mirror Denmark and help contain Mæhle.
Mæhle has not necessarily been a breakout star at the competition, but he has certainly become a household name across Europe after a series of standout displays for Denmark. Mæhle left Genk for Atalanta in January and has battled with Hans Hateboer for the right-back or right wing-back spot in the team. Given that Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand can call upon either Daniel Wass or Jens Stryger Larsen at right wing-back, he has elected to use Mæhle on the left.
Playing a right-footed full-back on the left could imbalance a team but, as Mæhle showed against Czech Republic, Denmark have no need to worry. He picked out Kasper Dolberg with an impressive outside-of-the-boot cross from the left for the Nice striker to score the decisive goal and power Denmark into the semi-finals.
Playing as a wing-back has suited Mæhle. He has been able to make the most of the space in front of him, powering down the wing, beating opponents and sending crosses into the box. Only Frenkie de Jong (16) has completed more dribbles than Mæhle (11) at the tournament and, with two goals and one assist to his name already, the approach is evidently working well for him and Denmark
For years now, there has been a greater onus on full-backs to provide width for teams, particularly in systems where the winger looks to cut infield, and both Shaw and Mæhle meet these demands impressively. If they are given space to show off the creative weapons in their arsenal, the battle between these two bombarding full-backs could prove to be the difference in this semi-final.