England are favourites to beat Italy at Wembley on Sunday largely because bookmakers believe home advantage will make the difference. But Italy are the more complete team and have been more sternly tested than England through this tournament, with Gareth Southgate’s side arguably facing elite opposition for the first time this weekend.
Whatever the outcome, it will be a tight game. England will most likely continue with the 4-2-3-1 and the same line-up used in the 2-1 victory over Denmark in the semi-final while Roberto Mancini will continue with his usual 4-3-3. Both sides are accomplished in their respective systems and both sides boast a strong defence.
Here are the key players ahead of Sunday’s final.
Jorginho could control midfield
England’s biggest problem is that Jorginho, Marco Verratti, and Nicolo Barella are considerably better on the ball than any of England’s midfielders. Southgate is unlikely to revert to a 3-4-3 because it would give him a numerical disadvantage in the middle of the park but even in a 4-2-3-1 Italy will probably dominate for long periods.
Southgate’s side will have to be patient, remaining compact and waiting for chances to counter. Verratti and Barella will advance on the ball, occupying Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice, and that could mean Jorginho is free to dictate the play from deep. This is of particular concern given Federico Chiesa may get the better of Luke Shaw if Jorginho is free to spray passes out to the right wing.
It will be up to Mason Mount to drop back from his number ten position and track Jorginho, although England’s press will also help. Against Denmark they pressed the centre of the pitch, leaving the wing-backs free to receive a pass; that system could help clog up midfield and deny Jorginho time on the ball.
Bukayo Saka can counter behind Emerson
Italy are made considerably weaker by the absence of the injured Leonardo Spinazzola, whose overlapping runs on the left were their best attacking outlet. His replacement Emerson isn’t as good in attack or defence, and that gives Bukayo Saka the potential to do damage on the counter-attack – which is an extremely important part of England’s strategy considering Italy will hog possession.
As Emerson sits high Saka can weave out of danger from deep positions and drag England up the pitch, just as he did against Germany and Denmark, while the movement of Raheem Sterling off the opposite flank (he is very good at arriving between the posts) can complement Saka’s counters.
Saka is equally important from a defensive standpoint. His versatility means England can drop into a 3-5-2 when under pressure (Saka becomes the right wing-back and Kyle Walker tucks in), thus playing in the mirror image of Italy’s 3-2-5 and going man-to-man.
Raheem Sterling to deliver again
England have attacked down the flanks throughout the tournament, and in fact only four nations at Euro 2020 funnelled their play through the middle less frequently than England’s 23%, per WhoScored. They have even developed an archetypal goal: a cut-back from the byline, while all ten of their goals at this tournament have been scored from within 12 yards.
This is partly by design and partly because Phillips and Rice are not especially good at playing line-breaking progressive passes. On a tense night at Wembley, more than ever they will look for safe options as England play the ball carefully out to the wings for Saka and Sterling to attack Italy’s full-backs.
Sterling, easily England’s player of the tournament, is the bigger threat – especially with Luke Shaw overlapping. However, Italy’s back three when in possession presents a problem, because Giovanni di Lorenzo is a very good defender. Sterling will need to be at his very best to weave through Mancini’s defence.
Harry Maguire a threat from set-pieces
With both nations so strong at the back it is plausible that a single set-piece will decide the game. After all, England and Italy rank in the top three set-piece scorers at Euro 2020 and set-piece goals account for 23% of their combined total. Things could get fractured, with plenty of freekicks on the cards, and given England’s quality delivery we can expect them to swing balls into the box from anywhere in the Italy half.
Keep an eye on Harry Maguire then, England’s best aerial presence at both ends of the pitch. His battle with the two Italian centre-backs, Leonardo Bonucci and Georgio Chiellini, could prove decisive.
If England can stay compact and work hard to avoid Italy’s midfield from getting too much time on the ball, then they will have the platform for a narrow win.