England have reached their first final at a major tournament since 1966. Is football coming home? We dive under the bonnet to explore Italy’s strengths, weaknesses and tactics.
England’s upcoming opponents certainly laid down a marker early doors this summer, kicking off the tournament with a 3-0 win over Turkey in Group A before replicating the same result against Switzerland and beating Wales 1-0.
Questions were raised over their credentials following a tricky 2-1 win over Austria in the last 16, but a 2-1 victory against the world’s No 1-ranked team Belgium quashed doubters, followed by a penalty shootout win over heavyweights Spain.
But Italy have been on the march for a considerable stretch of time under Roberto Mancini. In fact, the Azzurri are now unbeaten in 30 games under the former Manchester City manager – a run that dates back nearly three years.
The aggregate score since the Italians last lost against Portugal in the Nations League in September 2018? 80-10.
Which players are key to the Italian’s success this summer? As the interactive chart below shows, 22-year-old free agent Gianluigi Donnarumma is ever-present in goal, followed by Chelsea holding midfielder Jorginho and Juventus centre-back veteran Leonardo Bonucci.
Mancini has deployed a 4-3-3 formation throughout Euro 2020 but breakout Roma left-back Leonardo Spinazzola suffered a ruptured Achilles during the quarter-final win over Belgium and faces six months on the sidelines, with Chelsea’s reserve full-back Emerson stepping in against Spain.
Key finisher? There isn’t one!
Italy have been rampant. Among the last-16 teams, only Spain averaged more goals per game – boosted by their back-to-back 5-0 and 5-3 wins over Slovakia and Croatia, respectively. The finalists sit at opposite ends of the spectrum for attempts on goal: Italy average 18.0 per game, whereas England manage only 9.5.
Italy have attempted a tournament-high average of seven shots from range per match. So it has certainly been a case of speculative vs conservative in the finalists’ approaches so far.
Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate’s side, there is no glaring danger point to isolate. The shot maps below reveal the Italians’ goals have come from almost all angles – in addition to scoring a tournament-topping three goals from outside the box.
Nor is there one key finisher to nullify. Italy have five players locked on two goals: Ciro Immobile, Federico Chiesa, Lorenzo Insigne, Manuel Locatelli and Matteo Pessina. Nicolo Barella also chipped in with a goal against Belgium.
Unsurprisingly, the front three of Immobile, Chiesa and Insigne are the most prolific for firing shots, but Domenico Berardi and Andrea Belotti are prone to strike and yet to get off the mark this summer.
What about the creators?
We have established Italy are blessed with numerous players who can put the ball in the back of the net – but who are their creators?
With 12 goals scored, Italy rank behind only Spain (13), so it may come as no surprise that Mancini’s men also top the table for chances created per game and assists.
The map below visualises every chance created by Italy at Euro 2020 so far and reveals a tendency to create more down the left-hand third – a trait England also possess. There are notable dangers from long balls through or over defensive lines and a regular threat from corners taken down the right flank.
As with the finishing, there is not one standout playmaker. Three players are level on two assists – Immobile, Verratti and Barella – and another four have created one. However, Verratti, Insigne, Barella and Berardi tee up team-mates most frequently.
Those numbers suggest any Italian in the front two banks of three are dangerous – regular starters and substitutes alike.
Masters at countering and winning fouls
Italy have arguably been the most exciting team to watch at Euro 2020, and not just for the goals. The counter-attack style of play is a far cry from the slower style of play associated with Italian football.
No team that progressed from the group stages has attempted more fast breaks per game. Indeed, the two teams that trail in their wake were also among the most exciting teams this summer: Denmark and the Netherlands.
Mancini’s men are also experts at drawing fouls. Immobile’s dive against Belgium drew headlines, but the Azurri have a plethora of technically gifted players and England will be wary of committing challenges in dangerous areas.
In terms of the players, the collective team style rings true again. Seven players have registered a counter-attack, with centre-forward Immobile and winger Chiesa the most prolific, while even right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo has got into the action in this regard.
The full-back is also fouled frequently – only Jorginho has been brought down more – while Belotti, Verratti and Barella have all been awarded nine or more free-kicks at Euro 2020 to date.
How high do they play?
Drilling down deeper, the graphic below emphasises the earlier point about Italy’s tendency to attack down the left-hand third, with 42 per cent of attacks coming down that flank.
However, much of that threat could be attributed to the sidelined Spinazzola. The graphic below reveals the stricken star’s average position was almost as high as the left forward in Italy’s first five games – far higher than counterpart right-back Di Lorenzo.
Indeed, Italy averaged seven players in the opposition half during their run to the quarter-finals but only managed two during the semi-final with Spain – where Emerson replaced Spinazzola and kept a more reserved position.
England might expect Italy to approach the final in a similar style to the Spain game, with Emerson and the midfield bank of three dropping slightly deeper to navigate the occasion and opponent’s strengths. Italy will, however, look to draw England out and create counter-attacking opportunities.
The passing zones graphic below emphasises how Italy dropped deeper against Spain – but clearly highlights the disproportionate dip down Italy’s left flank in Spinazzola’s absence.
What about the press?
Italy may drop slightly deeper on Sunday but will still look to press from the front, with Mancini’s side ranking third of qualified teams for winning possession in the attacking third.
Interestingly, those numbers drop off drastically in the middle and defensive thirds. Jorginho still patrols and destroys in central areas, but almost exclusively, while their front-foot approach has perhaps resulted in fewer moments to win recoveries in their own half.
Indeed, their average starting distance for passing sequences is 43.5m from their own goal, which suggests only Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal registered a higher line.
Southgate will look to negate Verratti and Insigne, who contribute to a lop-sided number of recoveries down the Italians’ left channel in the attacking third, and navigate Jorginho who typically breaks up play in deeper, central areas.
Ok, so they must leave gaps at the back?
We’ve established Italy play a fast, attacking brand of football with a high line – so they must leave gaps at the back, right? Wrong.
So far, the finalists rank as the tournament’s most watertight teams. England edge Mancini’s men in that regard, standing alone with just one goal shipped in six games – Italy have conceded three.
Are there any weaknesses?
High lines bring risk if the opposition beats the press, but Italy sank deeper against pass-masters Spain and looked to spring counter-attacks at every opportunity.
England certainly do not keep the ball like Spain, but Italy will be aware of England’s own counter-attack threat with pacy wide forwards Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford in the ranks.
On paper, Southgate’s men should win the aerial battle: Italy rank 20th out of all teams in the tournament for headers won per 90 minutes.
Alessandro Bastoni has serious presence in the air but only featured in the 1-0 win over Wales to contend with Gareth Bale and Kieffer Moore, in which he won seven headers – surpassing Chiellini’s total for the entire tournament so far.
The two teams’ styles suggest a truly mouth-watering final awaits. England will likely test the water early in the game to see whether Italy sit deeper to draw them out or deploy their customary front-foot approach.
Southgate will have plans to defend the Italians’ dangerous counter-attack and high press, to bypass Jorginho in central areas, exploit areas behind the Italian full-backs and hit an aging high line with pace.
The Euro 2020 Final preview: Will England or Italy lift the trophy? | Selection dilemmas, tactical analysis, key players, and the view from Italy
England are preparing for their first ever Euros final – but can they beat Italy to lift the trophy? Jasper Taylor is joined by Kaveh Solhekol, Peter Smith and Oliver Yew to discuss what Gareth Southgate’s side will have to do to make sure they come out on top in Sunday’s showdown.
Sky Italia reporter Valentina Fass is also on the show to give us an insight into the Italian camp, the team’s renaissance under Robert Mancini, and what Italian supporters think of this England side.
Plus we hear from Gary Neville on the incredible atmosphere at Wembley and how that affects players, and Jamie Redknapp on why stopping Jorginho could be the key to England’s hopes.