Talking Tactics: How Italy’s defensive masters clinched Euro 2020

class=”styled__BannerImage-sc-1wadlxz-1 iLJqYu styles_articleMainImage__Lj_Qv”>Italy lift the European Championship trophy at Wembley after beating England on penalties

Italy lift the European Championship trophy at Wembley after beating England on penalties

Penalties proved England’s undoing once more as Italy clinched the European Championship by winning 3-2 from the spot.

The game finished 1-1 after 120 minutes at a febrile Wembley, meaning it was spot-kicks to decide who would be European champions.

Bukayo Saka saw the decisive kick saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma who also denied Jadon Sancho.

Italy maestro Jorginho missed his effort to give England a lifeline before Saka saw his effort saved.

It all started well for England who took the lead inside two minutes – Luke Shaw in the right place at the right time to drill home Kieran Trippier’s cross.

It was the fastest goal in European Championship final history and Shaw’s first for the Three Lions since debuting in 2014, capping a marvellous tournament for the left-back.

With 25 minutes remaining, the Azzurri drew level after a sustained period of pressure.

England failed to deal with a corner and after Jordan Pickford saved Marco Verratti’s header, Leonardo Bonucci bundled home.

Italy celebrate victory over England on penalties
Italy celebrate victory over England on penalties

Italy remained on top for the second half but could not force a winner, sending the game to penalties.

After Marcus Rashford hit the post and Sancho saw his penalty saved, Pickford saved brilliantly from Jorginho.

Arsenal teenager Saka was next but Donnarumma saved once more, clinching Italy’s first European Championship title since 1968.

Here are five tactical takeaways from Wembley…

Wing-back wonders

The big call in terms of team selection saw Saka drop out to be replaced by Trippier as England switched to a 3-4-3 shape.

England boss Gareth Southgate was vindicated inside two minutes.

It was the Atletico Madrid man who crossed to the back post where a lurking Shaw was on hand to ram home England’s opener.

The Three Lions consistently found space in the wide areas with Trippier’s battle against stand-in Italy left-back Emerson particularly fruitful for England on the first half.

Kane: No9 or No10

Prior to kick-off, much was made of the battle between England skipper Kane and Italian duo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.

However, the Tottenham striker scarcely engaged the Juventus duo.

Instead, as had been the case in every game before the final, Kane did his best work by dropping deep to pick up the ball and orchestrate play.

Kane took up dangerous positions between the lines, picking out those ahead of him and creating openings for the Three Lions.

Spain caused Italy problems in their semi-final defeat by deploying Dani Olmo in the same role and England tried something similar.

By full time, the narrative had changed.

Kane took just five touches inside the penalty area and with England managing just two shots on target, questions must be asked of whether this is the best use of such a reliable goalscorer.

No striker? No problem

Ciro Immobile (pictured) struggled to get into the game for Italy
Ciro Immobile (pictured) struggled to get into the game for Italy

Italy coach Roberto Mancini did not need a No9.

Ten minutes into the second half, the former Manchester City boss withdrew the ineffective Ciro Immobile and decided to go without a recognised centre-forward.

Instead, the Azzurri had three wide players up front in Federico Chiesa, substitute Domenico Berardi and Lorenzo Insigne – and it worked.

From that point on, Italy got a foothold in the game and looked more threatening with the pace and mobility of their fluid front three central to that.

Chiesa switched to the left, driving inside at will and keeping Kyle Walker busy, while Berardi flitted into space wherever it materialised.

In fact, he might have scored shortly after Bonucci’s equaliser, but hooked his effort just over the crossbar on the run.

Spot of bother

Losing on penalties is nothing new for England or their supporters.

But Southgate will ponder in the coming days whether he waited too long to make changes after subs Rashford and Sancho, both brought on to take spot-kicks, missed.

He was not helped by a late masterclass in ball retention from the Azzurri, delaying England’s changes until the last possible seconds of extra time.

But Rashford has appeared to be getting ready since the start of extra time.

Perceived wisdom says takers need time to ease into the action and neither Rashford nor Sancho were afforded that luxury.

Italy’s centurions

Giorgio Chiellini gave a defensive masterclass as Italy triumphed at Wembley
Giorgio Chiellini gave a defensive masterclass as Italy triumphed at Wembley

Goalkeeper Donnarumma might have been named Player of the Tournament for his part in two shoot-out wins, but the central defensive pairing in front of him were immense – again.

Chiellini, 36, and Bonucci, 34, have played 337 games between them for club and country and it showed.

Their understanding, nous and reading of the game snuffed out countless England attacks and protected Donnarumma’s goal throughout 120 minutes.

No one on the pitch won more aerial duels than Chiellini (6) who also led the way for interceptions (11).

The way he halted Saka’s touchline dash at the end of the game was the encapsulation of all his experience in one cynical, yet perfect, moment.

Bonucci’s contribution, of course, stole the headlines with Italy’s equaliser. That goal made him the oldest scorer in a European Championship final.

But as Italy’s defensive centurions proved, age is just a number.

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EnglandItalyEuropean Championship