Euro 2020 final, tactical preview: Southgate’s England takes on Mancini's Italy

Euro 2020: Gareth Southgate’s England approaches the game in a more measured manner, seeking control across the pitch. On the other hand, Roberto Mancini's Italy has been flying in attack, a not so common sight for an Italian team in tournament football.

Giorgio Chiellini and Harry Kane

Giorgio Chiellini and Harry Kane will play vital roles in Sunday's Euro 2020 final between Italy and England.   -  AFP

When Italy and England take to the pitch for the European Championship (Euro 2020) final, the tactical battle will be underlined by the philosophy of the respective managers, Roberto Mancini and Gareth Southgate. According to UEFA’s statistics, Italy has put together 318 attacking moves to England’s 256. Italy has racked up 108 shots in six matches to England’s 58 attempts, 20 of them coming in the semifinal win against Denmark.

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Southgate’s England approaches the game in a more measured manner, seeking control across the pitch. On the other hand, Mancini's Italy has been flying in attack, a not so common sight for an Italian team in tournament football.

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England's set-up

While set up in a 4-2-3-1, England switches to a 3-1-3-3 formation in possession with right-back Kyle Walker holding his position close to the halfway line and the right touchline. The other full-back Luke Shaw has struck up an understanding with winger Raheem Sterling on the left.

Southgate has used the 3-5-2 formation in the round of 16 win against Germany and could opt for this system again when it faces a rampaging Italy. He will then have to decide on dropping one of Mason Mount (midfielder) or Bukayo Saka (winger) for the wingback Kieran Trippier.

The midfield pivot of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice isn’t the most eye-catching passing duo in the tournament but carry out the fundamental requirements on the ball. Phillips acts as the shuttler with his runs in support of the attack on the right, while Rice holds his position in the middle and circulates possession. Mount, who is the designated no. 10 in the side, similarly takes up positions in and around the opposition defenders and midfield to complement England’s front three.

England is quite often happy to pass the ball around in the middle third and move it from one end to another until the space opens up for a defence-splitting pass or a run. England’s best attacking options come through wingers or inside forwards Sterling and Saka’s ball-carrying ability and their direct runs behind the defence. Sterling, who has been England’s best player in the Euros, recorded the most dribbles (10) in a game this tournament in the semifinal against Denmark. An attack-minded Shaw provides the overlap option on the wing to set up cut-back opportunities in the box.

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Kane's role as no. 9

While Harry Kane is the no. 9 on paper, his movements and action points lately have been geared towards a profile of No. 10 or a No. 8. Kane drops in between the space in the opposition defence and midfield to collect the ball and turn goalside to pick out the runs of Sterling or Saka behind the last line of defence.

In England’s equaliser against Denmark, Phillips' run to the right channel in support of Saka drew the attention of Thomas Delaney out of position, which in-turn created space for Kane to peel away from his marker and show for the pass.

Phillips

Kane received the ball and a quick turn allowed him to find Saka’s run behind Denmark’s defence that brought about Simon Kjaer’s own goal.

 

 

A similar ploy caused Italy to concede in its semifinal match against Spain on Tuesday when Spain’s no. 9 Alvaro Morata dropped into the space between Italy midfielders Jorginho and Nicolo Barella. Barella failed to spot Morata’s movement between him and Jorginho, who was attracted to Pedri's run. Matteo Pessina was in two minds with Sergio Busquets next to him but ends up being drawn towards Aymeric Laporte on the ball.

 

Laporte found a defence-splitting pass for Morata in the vacant space.

Morata turned and ran towards goal to create a 2-vs-2 scenario against Italy’s centre-backs. A one-two with Dani Olmo released him through on goal to finish past Gianluigi Donnarumma.

 

While England’s football is functional, Mancini’s Italy is more modernised in its attacking and defensive approach. Operating in a 4-3-3, Italy has been among the best attacking sides in the tournament coupled with a high-energy press off the ball.

The Azzurri have averaged 52 per cent possession in this edition with the number dropping below 50 only against Spain, who averaged 66.8 per cent possession. Italy passes the ball around more quickly, creating overloads on the wings and create openings behind an opponent's defence.

Midfield duel

The midfield battle will be key in the flow of the game. Italy’s trio of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Barella complement each other well in both defence and attack. Jorginho acts as the sweeper in front of the defence to allow Verratti to join on the left side, where Italy focuses its attacks through. Verratti possesses the skill and passing range to find the runs of Lorenzo Insigne and Emerson Palmieri on the left. While Leonardo Spinazzola’s injury was a setback, Emerson showed attacking promise in the outing against Spain.

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Even though England has conceded only from a direct free-kick this tournament, there have been moments where the defence has been troubled.

Phillips and Rice have been excellent in midfield, executing a combined 262 pressures across the pitch. But on the rare occasion they are pulled apart, spaces appear in the middle to be exploited.

Against Ukraine, the duo was dragged towards striker Roman Yaremchuk, who executed the pass to Vitaliy Mykolenko. Yaremchuk’s movement allowed Oleksander Zinchenko to run into the vacant midfield space to play a one-two with Mykolenko to spot Yaremchuk’s run behind England’s defence. A better cut-back from the striker would have presented Zinchenko with a shooting chance.

 

 

In the game against Denmark, England lost possession from a simple throw-in routine which left the defence exposed. Phillips was caught on the ball close to the touchline by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who had room to run into.

 

Hojbjerg had two attackers in support but chose to take a shot from distance, instead of sliding a pass into the path of Mikel Damsgaard to run clean through on goal.

 

When playing out from the back, England found itself in trouble in the games against Germany and Denmark but was again unpunished. The Italians, who have scored 91 goals in their last 38 matches, areunlikely to let those opportunities pass this Sunday. A switch to a three-man backline would provide more cover for England in such scenarios with Walker's recovery pace to rely on.

As most finals go, one could expect a closely fought affair with both teams looking to make the least errors for the opponent to profit from.

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