England head into their first ever European Championship final this weekend when they face Italy at the Wembley Stadium.
The Three Lions have been in commanding form during the tournament, both offensively as well as defensively. Up until the semi-final, the English side have conceded only a single goal(vs Denmark) and at the same time, have managed to ten goals.
Most people have put England on the pedestal already, marking them as the favourites to win the final on Sunday but former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has hinted that if England are not careful then they could very well be sucked into Italy age-old counter-attacking ploy.
Conte said about Italy’s strategy: “The way I see it, dominance means creating scoring opportunities and dangerous situations. In that sense, the Spanish ‘domination’ of Italy was not remotely clear. If possession doesn’t use vertical channels to approach the goal or create one-on-one situations on the wings, then it becomes sterile.
“The xG is more fundamental than possession statistics, because you can keep the ball as long as you like, but if you don’t create chances, don’t shoot and don’t score, you won’t win.
“Italy are tough to beat because we are hardly ever unprepared, we don’t leave spaces and always force complicated approaches.
“There are two very physical midfielders like Rice and Phillips, who bring balance, but very few vertical passes, often going for the simple option.
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“A weak spot for England is that if their defence is pressed when building out from the back, they aren’t as good as Spain at escaping the press. However, if you are ultra-attacking in your press and they do escape, then watch out for their pace upfront.
“Again, this is when Italy must show their experience at reading the various moments of the game.”
England’s defenders need to help out their attackers:
The semi-final against Spain was the perfect example of how Italy managed to pick up a win despite being the second-best side all throughout the match.
Italy has one of the strongest defensive lines in world football and according to Cesc Fabregas, the English wingers could be key to unlocking the Italian defence on Sunday.
“Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, they love going on the front foot but they hate balls behind them and that’s why I think Raheem Sterling will be so, so important once again with his speed, especially if he can go in between the full-back and the centre-back on the Chiellini side. He can have a lot of joy,” Fabregas told the Telegraph, as quoted by The Mirror.
“Look at the goal of Alvaro Morata for Spain or the chance for Mikel Oyarzabal, there are these little spaces behind the Italy defence when someone goes behind the defenders and they have to run deep.
“I think these runs are a strength of England because they have great passers in the final third with Mason Mount, even Harry Kane when he drops deep and Jack Grealish and Phil Foden when they get on to the pitch.”
Ex-England international Gary Neville has also stressed the use of experienced wide players on Sunday to make sure the Three Lions can get behind players defenders such as Chiellini and Bonucci.
Neville told Sky Sports, as quoted by Metro: ‘I look at [Giorgio] Chiellini and [Leonardo] Bonucci, and I think, who wouldn’t they like to have in those wide areas, making those inside runs?
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‘And I actually think it could be a game for [Marcus] Rashford or [Jadon] Sancho to accompany Sterling in those wide positions.
‘I think those wide positions need to be quick players, who make out to in runs, so I don’t think we will see Saka on Sunday. I think it might be one game too much for him.’
The Azzurri are never afraid to do the dirty work to be able to see out a team and we doubt if Roberto Mancini will be trying anything fancy when his side take on England.
Gareth Southgate, on the other hand, will be under immense pressure to deliver the trophy and this could very easily lead to a tactical error.
The England manager used a three-man defence against Germany and we have a feeling he could revert to that same formation just to add an extra man in defence to be able to stop Italy from utilising the spaces during counter-attacks.