England could not have asked for a better start to the final. Luke Shaw rocketed home a volley in the first minute and with 65,000 English fans in Wembley Stadium, it seemed like everything would come together for The Three Lions. England rode the momentum of Shaw’s goal, with their front players causing problems for Italy’s defense early on. However, Italy grew into the game and their two midfield maestros, Jorginho and Verratti, were excellent on the day. Italy began to dominate possession and dictate the tempo of the game. England were resilient in defense but offered next to nothing in attack after the initial 20-30 minutes of the match. Italy’s counter-press worked to keep the ball in England’s defensive half, and their backline adjusted in the second half to prevent the types of chances England were seeing in that early period.
Extra time saw Italy throw bodies forward searching for the winning goal, and England desperate to keep the score level. Italy got the better of England in the shootout, and while it was heartbreaking for the England players to lose in that fashion you would have to say the better team on the day came out victorious.
In this analysis, we will look specifically at how England’s formation and attacking players caused problems for Italy early on. Then, we will look at the adjustments made by the Italians and the reasons why England struggled offensively as the match went on.
Italy stuck with the 4-3-3 shape that they have used throughout the tournament. No real surprises here form Mancini. Notably, Emerson got the start again for the injured Spinnazola and Chiesa was chosen ahead of Domenico Berardi at the RW position.
Southgate once again decided to go with a 3-4-3 formation, dropping Bukayo Saka for Kieran Trippier in the starting lineup. Southgate opted for three of his most trusted attackers up front in Mount, Kane, and Sterling, leaving the likes of Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka out of the chosen XI. While there is sure to be debate over whether Southgate should have gone for a more attacking lineup, it is important to understand his logic in picking 5 defenders. While Italy defend in a 4-3-3 they attack in more of a 3-2-5, with Emerson and Barella pushing high up to form that front 5. So, the decision from Southgate was probably to match the attacking formation of Italy and not allow for a 5 v 4 disadvantage at the back. Southgate used the same tactic against Germany, and it worked to great effect.
England Score Early
England got off to their dream start with Luke Shaw scoring after just 1:56’. The fastest goal ever scored in a European Championship final. The goal came after an Italian corner.
Here we can see how the goal developed. Shortly after the corner is cleared away, Shaw receives the ball on the touchline and Kane is left unmarked with plenty of time and space to turn and run at the defense. Italy, still in transition, are out of position and vulnerable. Trippier and Walker see the space and make their runs forward as soon as Kane receives the ball and turns.
A few moments later, Kane plays the ball out to Trippier. Walker gets around Trippier on the overlap, while Shaw and Sterling continue their run forward on the other side. After playing the pass, Kane drives forward into the box as well.
Walker’s overlap gives Trippier the time and space to pick out a cross to the back post. Kane’s run into the box is crucial because it draws two Italian players, Barella and Di Lorenzo. Shaw is then left unmarked at the back post and finishes beautifully. 1-0 England at Wembley.
England’s Early Attacking
As mentioned before, England continued to ask questions of Italy’s defense early on in the match. England’s formation in attack made them dangerous. Shaw and Trippier would get forward to join the front three, which created a 5 v 4 advantage against Italy’s backline. We can see in the following clips how that unfolded and the chances it created for England.
In the above example, England’s wingbacks push up and provide width, creating a front five with Mount, Kane, and Sterling. The presence of the wingbacks help to stretch the backline of Italy, and Kane and Sterling importantly occupy the two central defenders. As the ball circulates wide to Shaw, Di Lorenzo steps out to cover leaving Mount free to run in behind. Jorginho is the one to cover the run of Mount, but he would much rather be screening the backline than defending 1 v 1 outside the penalty area. Nothing really comes from the chance, but it is a perfect example of England’s attacking shape causing problems for the back four of Italy.
Another example here above actually sees Kalvin Phillips stepping up into the frontline momentarily and Kane dropping deep to facilitate play from a free kick. Again, we can see how England uses the wingbacks to create a 5 v 4 numerical advantage, which in this case leads to Trippier being free to receive the ball and cross from a dangerous area.
Another tactic from England that was successful early on was their forwards dropping deep – away from the backline of Italy – to pick up the ball in space. Kane and Sterling were particularly dangerous when doing this. Bonucci and Chiellini were hesitant to track the forwards into midfield and that often resulted in Jorginho being left in a 2 v 1 situation. Forced to mark either Kane or Sterling, unable to effectively cover both players on his own. As we saw throughout the tournament, Sterling is particularly dangerous when given time and space to run at the backline. In the following clips, note how Italy’s defenders are unwilling to step out of the backline, leaving England’s forwards to receive the ball in space. Also notice how Jorginho more often than not chooses to stay with Kane, leaving Sterling with opportunities to turn and carry the ball forward.
These situations did not necessarily lead to any big chances but they allowed England to advance the ball into the final third, and could have led to clearer opportunities with better decision making from Sterling.
In the example above, Chiellini chooses not to step up to follow Raheem Sterling who has dropped off to receive. Jorginho is then essentially left two-against-one in the middle with Kane also in the area. Jorginho chooses to mark Kane, leaving Sterling with space to receive and run at the Italian backline. This was an excellent outlet option for England early, and allowed them to advance the ball into the attacking third.
This next example is very similar, Sterling drops off into space and Chiellini chooses not to follow him. Jorginho is occupied with Kane and therefore Sterling has the time and space to turn and run at the backline. He does not take full advantage of that opportunity, however, choosing to go sideways with his first touch.
One last example here. We see Sterling again finding that same pocket of space. Chiellini is reluctant to get tight to him and he is left with time and space to dribble. Jorginho is left 2 v 1 in the center once again.
Why England’s Attack Faltered
England’s attack looked far less threatening after the opening stages. This occurred for a couple of reasons which we will now look at.
First and foremost, England sat deeper and deeper as the game went on. Italy took control of the game, with excellent intelligence from Jorginho and Veratti in midfield. England defended for most of the game in a 5-2-3 low block, so when they did win possession, it was typically deep in their own half with few viable outlets to advance the ball forward. Italy was very good at counter-pressing to regain possession in their attacking third, but at times England made it far too easy for them by not having the options to play forward.
Here are some examples.
Here, Kyle Walker does well to win the ball back but hesitates and consequently gives possession right back to the Italians. In his moment of hesitation, you can see that only Kane and Mount are in front of the ball as outlets to progress play forward. But even then, both players are marked tightly and are still fairly deep in their own half. In reality there are no viable options to advance the ball forward and the result is a turnover in possession.
Here, Maguire reads the play well and steps in to win possession. However, after winning the ball his options to play forward are limited. Instead of trying to link with a teammate he decides to boot the ball out of play. This instance is quite a good illustration of England’s inability to get out of their own half as the match wore on. The fact that Maguire would choose, in a moment like that, to play the ball out of bounds towards no one in particular shows a lack of confidence and a lack of options going forward.
That was England’s biggest problem for a majority of the match. They defended too deep and when they won the ball, they had very few options to play forward, making it easier for Italy to counter-press and keep control of the match.
Next, in the second half Italy’s central defenders were much more willing to follow Kane and Sterling into midfield. They started to mark more aggressively and it is clear that they did not want to allow Sterling in particular the same time and space that he was given in the first half.
In the above clips you can see the adjustment made by the backline of Italy. Chiellini was given the license to mark Raheem Sterling more aggressively and follow him into midfield when he dropped off to receive. Chiellini was unsuccessful in his pressure in the second clip, but you can still clearly see the change in mindset from the defender. This small change from the backline was key to preventing England from building attacks and finding easy outlet passes to Sterling and Kane in space.
One last thing to consider when regarding England’s attack later in the match is the change that Southgate made to their shape. After Italy scored the equalizer, Bukayo Saka was subbed into the match, replacing Kieran Trippier and effectively converting England’s 3-4-3 into a 4-3-3. This change seemed to allow Italy to defend more comfortably, as they no longer had to worry about wingbacks getting forward and creating the numerical advantages that we saw early in the first half. Italy’s midfield matched up three-against-three with England’s, and Bonucci and Chiellini were able to bracket Harry Kane in the forward line.
In the above clips, you can see how this formation change made it easier for Italy to match up against England in defense. Italy’s midfield players, particularly Jorginho, looked more confident in knowing where to be positioned and who to mark. Bonucci and Chiellini were no longer having to step out into midfield, keeping things more stable in the backline.
England began the final extremely well. Not only creating the opening goal, but in the period after they created chances and looked dangerous going forward. Their attacking shape and the movement of their forwards caused problems initially for Italy.
However, as the game progressed, Italy forced England deeper into their own half and they were not able to consistently play forward and beat Italy’s counter-pressing. In the second half, Italy made adjustments to their backline to limit the effectiveness of Kane and Sterling dropping into midfield to receive and dictate play. England made a formation change as well that made it easier for Italy to defend. Italy controlled the majority of the game and ultimately deserved the trophy.