The European champions will be decided on Sunday as two teams face off for a title which, despite their rich history, they have won in a remarkably rare way. Italy’s only victory came in 1968, at a time when the Euro was unrecognizable from the 24-team giant of a competition it is today, when no one in England needs to. remember his 55 years of suffering on the international stage.
Let’s take a look at how the game might play out with some bold predictions:
1. Walker will save England once
For a team with John Stones and Harry Maguire – not the most elastic of chickens – in the center back, the defensive line they’ve built up under Gareth Southgate can often seem like something pretty cavalier. With the obvious exception of the win over Germany, the round of 16 saw England’s defensive line stretch further and further forward – both center-backs had more touches of the ball in the middle third of the ground than in the last third.
At its maximum, this line allows England to exercise a grip on their opponents as they did at the start of extra time against Denmark; nearly three attacking lines camped inside or on the edge of their opponents’ half of the field, so composed with the ball at their feet that they can dig and probe for minutes at a time. But the Danes have shown a way to burst that bubble that threatened to envelop them, a way Southgate can be assured Italy will seek to replicate.
Several times throughout the game, a Danish defender kicked the ball into the important gap between England center-backs and Jordan Pickford, who in his time may be the most chaotic of sweeper keepers, for Mikkel Damsgaard to chase after him. It seemed like it could work, but almost without fail, Kyle Walker would emerge from the corners of TV shooting, moving like Roadrunner on steroids to chew the ground to quell any threat. In this tournament he was the perfect insurance policy.
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Along with Declan Rice, Walker ranks second among tournament players in interceptions, has won every tackle he has landed and still hasn’t been dribbled. Throw balls at him and he has the recovery pace to match Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa, try to beat him one on one and you will have to do very well. The likes of Ivan Perisic, Robin Gosens and Joakim Maehle didn’t register a single shot on target against the 31-year-old, while Timo Werner was largely chaperoned in the round of 16 by Walker.
Italy is unlikely to seek as many long balls as Denmark, but if the chance is there to free Chiesa or Insigne behind, they will grab it. Walker might just be the man to close that avenue to goal.
2. Italy sticks to the Spanish victory system
Although tournament football can be a long task until the finish line which often sees teams swinging from one tactical plan to another depending on the fitness and form of their team and their opponents A team’s history can often be written in the lowest stakes way of meeting early in the group stages. There the timbre of what’s to come can be set and it is natural for many – this column included – to see each game that follows through the prism of those ideas that we initially formed as a team. Italy is therefore the team that has dismissed Turkey and Switzerland, black horses before the tournament for many, in an elegant way. Not everything that has happened since has changed that.
And yet, almost since the start of the round of 16, this side of Italy has, at best, only been visible in flashes. They never came close to monopolizing possession as they did against Turkey and Wales: partly because of the increased quality of their opponent, partly because of the state of the matches against Belgium and , for a shorter period, Spain. It was natural to sit down and protect the slopes, and also because a team that turned relatively little during this tournament is starting to look a bit exhausted. This was especially evident in the semi-finals, when the constant scrutiny of the Spanish attack seemed to have exhausted them from the start.
Where they could have tried to strangle their opponents at the top of the pitch, Italy shows a greater willingness to go down deep, trusting Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci to do what they have been doing for decades and hold the attackers far from their goal. In the opener, 40 percent of Italy’s ball pressures came in third from Turkey, by fbref. That number steadily declined until the semi-final, where it stood at 21%, with significantly more defensive work in the Italian half.
It should be noted that the absence of Leonardo Spinazzola seems to have baffled Italy, especially on a left flank who seemed able to separate their opponents at will. That’s still where a lot of their danger comes from, even without the Roma defender, but the threat is rather more orthodox with Emerson harassing the signing. With Spinazzola and Insignia together, the duo would pivot the point of attack, one parked off the sideline for a moment before exchanging a few passes and coming out the other side in an entirely different setup. Behind them, Marco Verratti and occasionally Chiellini would provide quick and precise passes to build attacks.
The absence was also felt in the pressing without the ball. Italy picked up the ball in their own left channel around the central zone more frequently than anywhere else on the pitch, according to Sky Sports. In short, it was the place where Italy won games before losing Spinazzola. Maybe it’s yet again – Emerson was an impressive performer with little ball against Spain – but there isn’t the same chemistry in this team without his left back right foot.
With Spinazzola we may have seen another Italy enter the tournament. Without so much push down the left flank, they may play in a manner quite similar to the penalty shootout victory over Spain, although the battle for possession is approaching parity.
3. Kane finds the right time to reprise his role for Spurs
If England learned one thing from Spain’s near success against the Italian defense on Wednesday, it will be Dani Olmo’s success. Chiellini and Bonucci love nothing more than winning over a traditional center-forward. Attacking them up close is the footballing equivalent of showing Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert simultaneously. You will walk away with bruises, most likely both physically and emotionally.
Better get them out of their comfort zone, Luis Enrique rightly ruled. Have them chase little guys like Dani Olmo around the perimeter. It worked thoroughly, with Spain finding seams in an Italian defense that one might never have imagined such veterans leaving. Of his 73 touches in the game, Olmo only had the ball twice in the penalty area. Even when the more orthodox striker Alvaro Morata ended the fray, he spent much of his time outside the box, trailing the center before a brilliant back-and-forth with Ferran Torres before his acceleration only takes him into the area for the original equalizer slot.
It’s fair to wonder if Harry Kane would have the pace required for this move, even against two center-backs with a combined age of three beyond Italy’s 67-year-old retirement age, but it may be. – still being the moment when his tendency to fall into space finally proves to be the ideal solution for England.
His tournament has seen his push to a deeper role on the club scene collide with a team with many creators, but no one can occupy the box as well as the Spurs forward. Against Denmark he found something akin to a happy medium with more than half of his touches entering the third striker for the first time in this tournament. The 10 hits he had in the box were by far the most important in his competition so far. He wasn’t on an island like he has been in previous matches and was still able to satisfy his desire to go down deep and bring the ball towards the goal – only Luke Shaw had more progressive reaches than the n ° 9 English.
It would take years for Kane to forge the instinctive bond with Raheem Sterling he has with Heung-min Son (Manchester City would certainly be willing to let him try), which has propelled him to the top of the the Premier League last season. . But there have been signs that the past six weeks or so have seen this relationship with England strikers approximate. Bring his perfectly judged deep ball to Bukayo Saka hence England’s equalizer against Denmark. Put Kane in those positions and he can deliver in more ways than his score… and that might be the best way to put two of the best defensemen of their generation off guard.