Where the Euro 2021 final between England and Italy will be won and lost
Another England win, another tactical masterclass from Gareth Southgate.
Until Euro 2021 Southgate was not considered much of a tactician, his rigid formations and late substitutions provoking disappointment form English supporters used to the hyper-fluidity of the club game.
But a sharp eye for detail, reactive tweaks and impeccable timing have clearly been developed in the job, with the 2-1 victory over Denmark in the semifinals just the latest example of Southgate getting every big decision right.
EURO 2021: Three words that irritated millions in the lead-up
His 4-2-3-1 helped to pin the opponent back for long periods; the Jack Grealish substitution capitalized on Denmark’s tiring legs and then the switch to a 3-4-3 to cope with Kasper Hjulmand’s move to a 4-2-4 saw the game out.
It has taken Southgate a long time to win over the doubters, to win the trust of those who wanted England to unleash its dazzling array of attacking talent, but there are surely no more disbelievers.
In Southgate we trust, and ahead of the Euro final against Italy — England’s biggest tactical test of the tournament — there is a belief he will get the big calls right. And there are some huge calls.
First, the formation, and Southgate is likely to stick with the 4-2-3-1; Italy’s strength in midfield necessitates a third central midfielder, making the 3-4-3 an unlikely choice.
Southgate will probably also pick the same starting XI, largely because Bukayo Saka’s defensive work gives England the best of both worlds. Saka can operate like a wing back, and with Kyle Walker mostly staying deep to form a back three while England is in possession, Southgate’s formation swings effortlessly between 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2.
MORE: What happens if teams are tied after 90 minutes?
Italy is also expected to stick with a 4-3-3 and the same lineup used in the penalty shootout win over Spain.
On that basis, here’s a look at where the final will be won and lost:
England’s focus on attacking down the wings
A theme of England’s play has developed through the knockout stage as Southgate’s team consistently attacks down the flanks; just 23 percent of its attacks are funneled through the middle, the fifth-lowest at Euro 2021.
Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice are not strong line-breaking passers, which means Mason Mount struggles to get on the ball as England arches its passes around to the flanks.
But it is also deliberate, given how often Raheem Serling and Saka are dribbling straight past the opposition fullbacks.
As a consequence England is developing an archetypal goal of driving to the byline and cutting the ball back, hence why all 10 of its goals have been scored within 12 yards of goal.
This is England’s most likely source of a goal against Italy, which sits in a 3-2-5 when in possession as right back Giovanni Di Lorenzo becomes part of a back three and Emerson drives forward from left back.
Emerson is considerably weaker in attack and defense than the injured Leonardo Spinazzola and this is where England can find joy. Behind the Chelsea man, Saka’s driving runs can cause havoc.
But Sterling, with Luke Shaw overlapping, remains England’s favorite form of attack and it could prove very productive in the transition considering Italy is likely to dominate possession for long periods.
What’s more, the now-familiar swap of Saka for Grealish, with Sterling moving to the right, will put Emerson under even more pressure late on.
Italy’s midfield dominance and a Jorginho conundrum
England’s biggest cause for concern is the elegant passing of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella, who are far more comfortable with the ball than Rice or Phillips.
Southgate’s side will need to be prepared to sit in for long periods. Its most likely defensive plan is another repeat of the Denmark game.
England’s press was slightly unusual Wednesday in that Sterling and Saka pressed the center of the pitch, leaving Denmark to play an easy ball out from the back into the wing backs.
England conceded this territory happily, confident in its ability to prevent the wing backs from creating crossing situations and blocking the center options to Mikkel Damsgaard and Martin Braithwaite.
On Sunday, this tactic should prevent Italy’s dominance of the center ground from pulling England out of shape, and against Southgate’s conservative defensive line there won’t be many opportunities to get Ciro Immobile in over the top.
A lot, then, will rest on Emerson and Federico Chiesa battling one-on-one with the England fullbacks.
Another area of concern for England is how to control Jorginho, given that Rice and Phillips will be preoccupied with the forward movement of Verratti and Barella.
Mount, operating as a No.10, must work hard to drop onto Jorginho and prevent him from getting too much time on the ball.
Counterattacks, set pieces and substitutions
That will be the meat of the game, but Sunday’s final could just as easily be won or lost in the transitional moments and the resulting set pieces.
Italy’s counters were not particularly good against Spain and yet after a period of England pressure, there is a possibility Chiesa can find joy behind Shaw, especially given that Harry Maguire is on that side. He can be caught out by quick, direct counters.
England and Italy both rank in the top three for goals from set pieces, which account for 23 percent of their combined total, and whether from counterattacks or not, free kicks and corners could settle a tight, nervy, and evenly balanced game at Wembley.
Harry Kane and Maguire up against those colossal Italian center backs is worth keeping an eye on at both ends of the pitch. But as with every tactical preview throughout Euro 2021 the formation, lineup and key battle discussion could become irrelevant as substitutions litter the field in the second half.
Interestingly, Roberto Mancini’s five changes against Spain seemed to disrupt Italy’s rhythm — it had just one shot in the remaining 35 minutes after the fifth sub — as it did Denmark in the other semifinal.
And that is where Southgate’s boldness in holding rigidly to his system — once considered a frozen, fearful trait — once again proves useful.
He makes fewer subs, maintaining England’s flow, and it may once again give his team the edge.
We are now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@TechiUpdate) and stay updated with the latest Technology headlines.
For all the latest Sports News Click Here