The day has come. Italy and England meet in the UEFA Euro 2020 Final at Wembley Stadium this evening and Kaustubh Pandey analyses the key battles that could determine the game’s outcome.
In some ways, the Euro 2020 Final at Wembley means more to Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli than we can probably imagine. These are two former Sampdoria players who were part of the 1990-91 side that won a historical Serie A title, losing the European Cup final to Barcelona one year later.
None of them were selected for Italy’s squad in 1994 and while Mancini was part of the Azzurri team in 1990, he didn’t play a single minute. Vialli had an injury-impacted tournament that year too. It’ll be a shot at redemption for the close friends, as they’ve overseen the rise from rock bottom of the Azzurri since 2018.
On the other side of the coin, there is the possibility of another redemption story. Gareth Southgate’s penalty miss in Euro 96 against Germany had haunted him for many years and winning the Euros on Sunday will go a long way in helping him put those ghosts to rest.
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It could also be Harry Kane’s first-ever major trophy win, as he comes up against the man who famously said the line ‘it’s in the history of Tottenham’ after Juventus had ousted Spurs from the Champions League back in 2018.
It will be a collision course of multiple subplots and the coming together of so many success stories that have started from the bottom. With that in mind, we look at some of the key battles ahead of the game on Sunday.
1. Jorginho v Mason Mount
These two aren’t strangers to each other at all. Having won the Champions League together recently, both have been key to taking their countries to the Euro 2020 Final. While Mount hasn’t really sparkled as much as Jorginho has, the Chelsea midfielder is expected to start in the attacking midfield role. Jorginho always sets the tone for Mancini’s men, helping Italy pick the right passing lanes and breaking down the opposition midfield.
Against Spain, Luis Enrique’s men used Pedri to man-mark the former Napoli man and that approach helped La Roja keep the 29-year-old’s influence away for a prolonged period. Considering that Mount is a very good presser and Southgate’s approach is often tailored towards nullifying the opposition, the battle of the two Chelsea stars will be key to deciding the game.
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2. Bukayo Saka v Emerson
Emerson didn’t have a bad game at all against Spain and he was perhaps one of Italy’s best players, but England’s approach against Denmark showed that they can often like to expose the opposition wide, as they made excellent use of the space that Atalanta’s Joakim Maehle left behind him. Saka’s brilliant movement was key, as Kane often dropped in that left-sided channel.
Emerson would have to watch out for this approach, as Saka would constantly look to run in-behind him, relying on Kane’s ability to drop deep and set the wide runners through. Italy generally have the left-sided full-back more advanced, with Giovani di Lorenzo dropping as the third centre-back. So there’s every chance that England use a similar approach against Italy too, where they look to Saka as a means of exploiting the space that Emerson leaves.
3. Harry Kane v Giorgio Chiellini
Against Spain, Italy regularly faced issues against a false nine in Dani Olmo and a floating wide player in Mikel Oyarzabal. They ghosted Chiellini and Bonucci and Kane is an expert at coming deep – as he showed in the build-up to England’s goal against the Danes. He ghosted the Danish backline, dropped between the lines and put Saka through. This tactic worked against Italy when Spain faced them.
On the flipside, Chiellini did very well keeping Romelu Lukaku quiet and Kane stands at a similar world-class level. With that tactical nuance in mind, the part about ‘it’s in the history of Tottenham’ would well be enough to spur Kane on in the final. Regardless, it will be a very intriguing battle between two top-class players.
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4. Kyle Walker v Lorenzo Insigne
Walker and Insigne are arguably among the best players in their respective positions. And both of them have had a good tournament, too, with Walker almost dropping in to play as a third centre-back instead of bombing down the right flank. And since Italy also play similarly with Di Lorenzo dropping as the third centre-back, they have Insigne playing as a left-sided forward in a 3-5-2 shape whenever they attack.
This would leave Insigne very close to where Walker is positioned and if the Manchester City man leaves too much space for the Napoli star, Insigne can crack one of his trademark curlers which can often end up in the top corner. Walker is blessed with loads of recovery pace, but he can make positional errors while defending. And he’d know that he can’t afford to make those against a player like Lorenzo Il Magnifico.
5. Harry Maguire v Ciro Immobile
Maguire, alongside Chiellini, are probably the best centre-backs in the tournament. Immobile has come under some criticism for often showing link-up, which hasn’t always been the best. Centre-backs have shown the willingness to harry him and nick the ball off him very quickly. Maguire is very good at this trait, as he intercepts the ball and carries it into midfield.
Immobile isn’t like Kane either, as he doesn’t drop deep to conduct play in any way. He prefers to stand close to the centre-backs and that could hand Maguire the chance to not allow the ball around him. If Maguire doesn’t do so, it’ll allow Immobile more time to link up with Chiesa and Insigne and cause problems for England.