England vs Italy: Three key areas where Gareth Southgate's men can win historic Euro 2020 final
and live on Freeview channel 276
England head into Sunday's Euro 2020 final knowing that they have the chance to win a first major international tournament since 1966.
Standing in their way, of course, are Italy who have arguably been the standout side of the competition this far.
After a commanding group stage performance, Roberto Mancini’s men made short work of Austria and Belgium before edging their way past Spain on penalties in the final four – not bad for a team who didn’t even qualify for the World Cup three years ago.
The Italians have, however, conceded in each of their last three matches, and Gareth Southgate will be fully aware that Sunday’s opponents are far from infallible.
So, how can the England boss best hope to outwit the former European champions?
We’ve taken a look at three potentially key areas below…
Italy’s High Line
One of the central facets of Italy’s success in this tournament, and in the group stage in particular, has been their willingness to counter-press quickly and effectively in advanced areas.
As soon as they lose the ball, Mancini’s men are intent on winning it back by pushing high and smothering an opposition. Their average of 13.5 interceptions per game in Euro 2020 is bested only by Finland, and many of those interventions have come in their opponents’ half.
To properly achieve this press, however, it requires a fairly high defensive line, and that’s something that England can exploit.
From the very first game against Croatia, England have proven on numerous occasions that they’re not afraid to get a little pragmatic and go long when needed.
With Raheem Sterling on one wing, and Bukayo Saka or Jadon Sancho both genuine contenders to start on the other, this is an area that the Three Lions should really look to target, especially against the ageing legs of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.
Silencing the midfield
Italy’s midfield have been superlative all tournament.
The balance that Mancini has struck between Jorginho, Marco Verratti, and Nicolo Barella is a delight to watch, and the dynamism, creativity, and combative streak that the trio possess in combination is a real threat.
Jorginho has won most of the praise when it comes to his tendency to dictate play in the centre of the park, and his pass completion rate of 92.9% makes those plaudits hard to argue with. Germany’s Ilkay Gundogan, Belgium’s Axel Witsel, and Scotland's Callum McGregor are the only other midfielders in the tournament to have registered higher figures.
But England have to be incredibly wary of Verratti too.
The PSG maestro has more passes per game than Jorginho since the beginning of Euro 2020, and his tally of three key passes per 90 minutes is bettered only by Kevin De Bruyne.
As far as England’s midfield goes, Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice have been nothing short of immense thus far, but this will undoubtedly be their biggest challenge to date, and the Three Lions' success could hinge massively on those two winning their battles in the centre of the park.
The Right Flank
England have been superb in wide areas this tournament, and their left-sided duo of Luke Shaw and Raheem Sterling will both fancy their chances of making it into UEFA’s team of the tournament.
The only man who could prevent Shaw from making the grade is probably Italy’s Leonardo Spinazzola. The AS Roma full-back was in unplayable form prior to suffering a tournament-ending injury against Belgium, and it really is an injustice that he won’t get to feature in Sunday’s final.
From an English perspective, however, it could be a real boost.
Without the sizeable attacking threat Spinazzola possesses, whoever Southgate opts for on that right-hand side – whether it be Saka, Sancho, or even Phil Foden – should be given more licence to get on the front foot and take the game to Italy.
If England can gain the upper-hand on the right flank, assuming that Sterling and Shaw continue to perform on the left, then it could be a key factor in swinging the final in the Three Lions’ favour.