England have reached their first major tournament final since 1966. Is football coming home? We dive under the hood to explore Italy’s strengths, weaknesses and tactics.
England’s up-and-coming opponents certainly set a milestone this summer, opening the tournament with a 3-0 Group A win over Turkey before repeating the same result against Switzerland and beating Wales 1-0.
Questions were raised about their qualifications after a tricky 2-1 win against Austria in the round of 16, but a 2-1 win against world number 1 Belgium shattered doubters, followed by a penalty shoot-out win against heavyweight heavyweight Spain.
But Italy has been on the rise for some time under Roberto Mancini. In fact, the Azzurri have now been unbeaten in 30 games under the former Manchester City coach – a run almost three years ago.
The overall result since the Italians last lost to Portugal in the Nations League in September 2018? 80-10.
Which players are the keys to the Italian’s success this summer? As the interactive graphic below shows, 22-year-old free agent Gianluigi Donnarumma is ubiquitous in goal, followed by Chelsea midfielder Jorginho and Juventus center-back veteran Leonardo Bonucci.
Mancini set up a 4-3-3 formation during Euro 2020 but Roma breakout left-back Leonardo Spinazzola suffered a fractured Achilles in the quarter-final win over Belgium and has been on the sidelines for six months, with Chelsea’s reserve defender Emerson stepping in against Spain.
Turnkey? There is not one!
Italy was widespread. Among the teams in the last 16, only Spain averaged more goals per game – reinforced by successive 5-0 and 5-3 victories over Slovakia and Croatia, respectively. The finalists are at the other end of the spectrum when it comes to attempting goals: Italy average 18.0 per game while England only manage 9.5.
Italy has attempted a tournament-high average of seven long-range shots per game. So it was certainly a case of speculative vs. conservative in the approaches of the finalists so far.
Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate’s side there is no blatant danger point to isolate. The following shot cards show that the Italians’ goals came from almost every angle – in addition to the three goals the tournament scored from across the penalty area.
There is also not a single key finisher that can be voided. Italy have suspended five players on two goals: Ciro Immobile, Federico Chiesa, Lorenzo Insigne, Manuel Locatelli and Matteo Pessina. Nicolo Barella also added a goal against Belgium.
Unsurprisingly, the top three from Immobile, Chiesa and Insigne are the most prolific at firing shots, but Domenico Berardi and Andrea Belotti are prone to hits and won’t finish yet this summer.
What about the makers?
We found that Italy is blessed with numerous players who can get the ball into the net – but who are its creators?
With 12 goals scored, Italy are just behind Spain (13th) so it is not surprising that Mancini’s men also top the table in terms of chances per game and assists.
The map below visualizes every chance Italy has created so far at Euro 2020 and shows the tendency to create more in the left third – a characteristic that England also has. There are significant hazards from long balls through or over the defensive lines and a regular threat from corner kicks to the right.
As with finishing, there isn’t one outstanding playmaker. Three players are tied with two assists – Immobile, Verratti and Barella – and four more created one. Most often, however, Verratti, Insigne, Barella and Berardi serve teammates.
These numbers suggest any Italian in the front two rows of three is dangerous – regular starters and substitutes alike.
Master in countering and winning fouls
Italy were arguably the most exciting team you could watch at Euro 2020, and not just because of the goals. The counter-attack style is a far cry from the slower style of play in Italian football.
No team that survived the group stage attempted more quick breaks per game. In fact, the two teams that are after them were also some of the most exciting teams this summer: Denmark and the Netherlands.
Mancini’s men are also experts at pulling fouls. Immobile’s jump against Belgium hit the headlines but the Azurri have an abundance of tech-savvy players and England will be careful about tackling challenges in dangerous areas.
In relation to the players, the collective team style applies again. Seven players have recorded a counterattack, with center-forward Immobile and winger Chiesa being the most productive, while right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo has come into play in this regard.
The full-back is also frequently fouled – only Jorginho was brought down more often – while Belotti, Verratti and Barella have all been awarded nine or more free kicks at Euro 2020.
How high do you play?
The graph below highlights the previous point about Italy’s tendency to attack in the left third, with 42 percent of attacks coming from that flank.
Much of this threat, however, could be attributed to the failed Spinazzola. The graph below shows that the ailing star’s average position in Italy’s first five games was almost as high as that of the left-forward – far higher than that of right-back Di Lorenzo.
Italy reached an average of seven players in the opposing half during their quarter-finals, but only managed two in the semi-finals with Spain, where Emerson replaced Spinazzola and kept a more reluctant position.
England could expect Italy to approach the final in a similar style to the game against Spain, with Emerson and the three-man midfielder dropping a little lower to control the opposition’s opportunity and strengths. However, Italy will try to lure England out and create counter opportunities.
The graph of the pass zones below underscores how Italy fell lower against Spain – but clearly highlights Italy’s disproportionate drop on the left flank in the absence of Spinazzola.
What about the press?
Italy could fall a little lower on Sunday but will still try to push from the front, with Mancini’s side taking third place among qualifying teams for taking possession in the attacking third.
Interestingly, those numbers drop dramatically in the middle and defensive thirds. Jorginho still patrols and destroys in central areas, but almost exclusively, while her forefoot approach may have resulted in fewer moments to gain the rest in her own half.
In fact, their average starting distance for pass sequences is 43.5 meters from their own goal, suggesting that only Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal registered a higher line.
Southgate will seek to negate Verratti and Insignia, which add to a one-sided number of rallies on the Italians left in the attacking third, and control Jorginho, who usually interrupts play in deeper, central areas.
Ok, so you have to leave gaps at the back?
We established Italy, which plays fast, attacking football with a high line – so they have to leave gaps in the back, right? Not correct.
So far, the finalists are among the most waterproof teams in the tournament. England beat Mancini’s man in this regard and are alone with just one goal in six games – Italy have conceded three goals.
Are there any weaknesses?
High lines carry risks when the opposition hits the press, but Italy sank lower against pass champions Spain and tried to counter-attack at every opportunity.
England certainly doesn’t hold the ball like Spain does, but Italy will be aware of their own counter-attack from fast-paced strikers Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford in the ranks.
On paper, the men of Southgate should win the air battle: Italy ranks 20th out of all the teams in the tournament for headers won per 90 minutes.
Alessandro Bastoni has a strong presence in the air, but only played in the 1-0 win against Wales against Gareth Bale and Kieffer Moore, in which he won seven goals with a header, beating Chiellini’s total for the entire tournament so far.
The styles of the two teams suggest that a truly delicious finale is waiting for you. England will likely test the water early in the game to see if Italy sit deeper to pull it out or use their usual forefoot approach.
Southgate will have plans to defend the Italians’ dangerous counterattack and high press, bypassing Jorginho in central areas, exploiting areas behind the Italian full-backs and reaching an aging high line at pace.
Euro 2020 final preview: will England or Italy lift the trophy? | Selection dilemmas, tactical analysis, main actors and the view from Italy
England are preparing for their first European Championship final – but can they beat Italy to take the trophy? Jasper Taylor is associated with Kaveh Solhekol, Peter Smith and Oliver Yew to discuss what Gareth Southgate’s team must do to ensure they stay ahead in Sunday’s showdown.
Sky Italia reporter Valentina barrel is also on the show to give us an insight into the Italian camp, the renaissance of the team under Robert Mancini and the opinion of Italian fans about this English team.
We also hear from Gary Neville about the incredible atmosphere at Wembley and how it affects the players, and Jamie Redknapp why stopping Jorginho could be key to England’s hopes.