For starters, Monday should be a national holiday. The European Championship Final at Wembley will have the nation gripped until late Sunday evening, and either utter jubilation or remorse will follow, Monday morning. The amount of people not in for work the next day will far exceed those attending Wembley, probably.
England have not won a major competition since the Wold Cup in 1966. The years of hurt, the thousands of caps given & endless failures of teams could end this weekend, as they perch the brink of success.
Euro 2020 has been a great competition thus far, and the football on display has been a delight to behold. The tactical battles have been intriguing, and the two teams that have been the most tactically astute meet on Sunday, in what promises to be a titanic battle between to giants of the international stage.
Italy arrive as the team of the competition, no doubt. Their legendary defensive partnership of Juventus pair (Giorgio Chiellini & Leonardo Bonucci), have defied the hands of time, and stood out as the warriors they are. The bedrock of this team allows the rest of the side to function and flow, with the reassurance of their captain & vice captain at the rear. The only issue in that defence, is that Leonardo Spinazzola is now injured. His left back displays were of a higher level than that of Luke Shaw, which goes some way to state his importance to his side. The defensive line of the Italians will be key to how England instigate their attacks, with space in behind limited, they will need to be aggressive if they are to hurt them.
The rest of Mancini’s team should pick itself, with Giovanni Di Lorenzo once more starting at right back, and Emerson Palmieri filling in a left back. The midfield three of Marco Verratti, Jorginho & Nicolò Barella is a unit that will look to control the game, if given the chance. With Lorenzo Insigne & Federico Chiesa playing either side of Ciro Immobile, the team is a dominant group for sure. If Chiesa fails to get over his injury, then presumably Domenico Berardi comes in off the right.
The way Italy have set up has not adjusted for anyone. They have the belief in their own system, and Mancini has instilled a winning mentality throughout. The way in which the midfield has dominated proceedings has only been at odds against Spain, where the tactical battle was intriguing to view. In order for England to hurt Italy, they must find a means of overcoming or stopping this midfield. The system in which Gareth opts for, is therefore vitally important.
England cannot head into this game with a 4-3-2-1 and look to outplay the Italians. They are simply not strong enough in the middle, and either a switch to 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 (to help zonal overloading), is needed. To opt for 4-3-3 would probably mean either Bukayo Saka or Mason Mount dropping out. Jordan Henderson (with his big occasion and game experience) could then start outside Declan Rice, with Kalvin Phillips on the other side. Phillips & Henderson work under Marcelo Bielsa & Jurgen Klopp, respectively. Both managers put massive demands on their midfielders (and the two noted especially), when it comes to pressing the ball. In order to overcome the Italian midfield, it may be a case of merely out working them, and forcing the ball back. To allow the Italians to dictate play in key areas would be suicide, therefore England should be working on setting traps to exploit Emerson at left back more than any other. The pressing game would allow this dynamic, and force instead of beauty could be a sound strategy.
If England were to look for a more solid foundation to grind out this game, before bringing on a raft of fresh attackers, 3-4-3 could be a possibility. With Kieran Trippier coming in for one of the before mentioned (Saka or Mount), this would allow the defensive and midfield blocks to overload as required. The same would apply in terms of pressing and springing attacks, but this may not suit England against a fearsome 4-3-3.
The forward line will consist of Harry Kane and the current player of the tournament, Raheem Sterling for sure. The third attacking player is the most unclear, where Mount could be pushed into the forward line, with the view of dropping into the 10 as needed. If a true winger is called for, then one of either Saka or Jadon Sancho could be used to run in behind, when opportunities arise. The game will be cagey, but England would be foolish to sit back too much. This Italian team is far more dangerous than the Germans or the Danes. To impose a press heavy game and counter the Italians at pace, would perhaps give those fleeting moments of space in behind their experienced defence. If England opt for breaking down this side with cute through balls, this will play into Chiellini & Bonucci’s hands. They are experts (still) at defending small spaces, and even balls into the box will be defended with assurance. The absolute must is to create opportunities that see the defence high, and therefore vulnerable. Sancho coming in to the team to run at Emerson is a logical one alongside Sterling, with the use of 5 subs making latter changes vital.
The Italian attack is vibrant and talented, but to starve them of good service from midfield is most important. England have shown good defensive awareness, but need to protect Jordan Pickford, who despite a good overall tournament, is prone to mistakes.
I feel this game could be won or lost in a huge midfield battle, and Southgate must look to win his own tactical battle with Roberto Mancini. The final offers no reprieves, and both legends and villains, will rise from the ashes of the result. England must survive, England must endure, and if Southgate’s England can overcome this brilliant Italian side, they will finally be bringing the European Championship home.