LONDON, JULY 09
The following is a tactical breakdown of Sunday's Euro 2020 final between England and Italy:
Both teams are expected to stick with the formations that they used in their semi-final victories with Roberto Mancini's Italy settled in a 4-3-3 and Gareth Southgate likely to stay with his own version of the same system. England have played with a 5-3-2 in some games but there seems little reason for a switch back to that structure.
ITALY MIDFIELD STRONGER
If there is an area in which the Azzurri look to have the clear upper hand it is in central midfield where Jorginho is at the base with Marco Verratti operating in the centre-left slot and Nicolo Barella in the centre-right, the most attacking of the trio.
All three are comfortable on the ball and well-drilled in keeping possession whereas England's midfield is more defence-minded with Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips operating as a pair of 'holding' midfielders and Mason Mount given the sole responsibility for creating and linking-up with the front line.
Italy move the ball quickly whereas Rice and Phillips are more careful and cautious in their movement and passing decisions.
Mancini will therefore hope his team can establish dominance in the centre of the park and keep Rice and Phillips pinned back in front of the England back-four. The aim will be to press and stop England from playing out from the back.
ENGLAND'S FULLBACKS HAVE TO RULE
That balance of power in midfield means that England's best route to penetrating Italy's defence will come from the wide areas.
Italy have been weakened in the fullback position by the loss of Leonardo Spinazzola to injury with Emerson Palmieri a competent replacement but much less of a threat going forward in alliance with Lorenzo Insigne.
England have their own dangerous left-sided partnership with Luke Shaw in fine form at fullback and Raheem Sterling at his very best in the left-sided forward position. Italy right back Giovanni Di Lorenzo can expect a busy night.
On the other flank, Kyle Walker's strength and pace have been a major asset for Southgate but there is a question mark over who plays in front of him.
SOUTHGATE'S BIGGEST SELECTION DECISION
Bukayo Saka has enjoyed some bright moments on the right but the 19-year-old's inexperience has been evident in some of his positioning and runs and he made a very nervous start against Denmark before providing the assist for the equaliser.
Southgate may keep faith with Saka but he has plenty of other options with Jadon Sancho or Phil Foden the most obvious alternatives.
It is Saka's willingness to track back and help Walker with defensive duties that appears to appeal to Southgate and he may choose to start with the Arsenal winger for that reason, knowing there are more incisive attacking options available to him from the bench.
HARRY KANE V ITALY'S RUGGED DEFENCE
Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are a classic Italian central defensive pairing, combining great reading of the game and positional awareness with rugged physicality.
England striker Harry Kane enjoys pulling into deeper positions away from his markers, aiming to draw the defenders out of the back line and leave space for Sterling, Mount and Saka to move into.
Italy's central defence isn't blessed with great pace so that might be an approach that is fruitful for England, but Kane also won't shy away from a battle with Chiellini in the hope that it gets just a little too physical and results in free kicks or even a penalty.
CAN ITALY EXPOSE MAGUIRE AND STONES?
Harry Maguire and John Stones have looked composed and confident in the centre of England's defence and Italy's central striker Ciro Immobile shouldn't strike too much fear into their hearts.
But Italy's attack has been at its most effective when the wide players have been able to stretch defences and create spaces -- if not for Immobile -- then for others moving into the gaps.
Federico Chiesa on the right and Lorenzo Insigne on the left are quite willing to move into central areas and when Barella joins the attack, Italy can flood the channels.
A key question will be whether Walker and Shaw find themselves occupied by the movement of Insigne and Chiesa, as that would limit their capacity to get forward.
There is always a risk in a final of teams cancelling each other out but if Italy can dominate central midfield and England are effective breaking down the flanks, it should be an entertaining game for the neutral. Like all big matches, it could be tight and may well be decided by a moment of individual brilliance.