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Strong midfields to create patient, low-scoring game
These are two very similar teams tactically, both looking to retain possession for long periods through their talented central midfields and respective 4-3-3s, and that probably means this will be a tense and cautious game of football. For Spain, their primary strategy is for Pedri and Koke to split wide for Sergio Busquest to play through the lines, although from here they often run out of ideas – struggling to create many chances from open play.
Jordi Alba is their most important attacker and his head-to-head with Giovanni Di Lorenzo will be interesting to watch, certainly more so than on the other side now that Leonardo Spinazzola is out injured. He has been Italy’s chief creator in the final third, making him a huge loss to Roberto Mancini. However, despite a mild advantage to Spain on the flanks there is very little between the teams and neither have been free-scoring in this competition.
Italy’s midfield three of Marco Verratti, Jorginho, and Nicolo Barella – who got a goal and an assist against Belgium – is just as good at retaining the ball as their Spanish counter-parts, which should create a game of long bouts of possession, from one side to the other, and sadly little goalmouth action. Extra time is definitely on the cards.
Italy’s counters to edge it against weak Spanish centre-backs
However, Italy perhaps have an advantage in their ability to counter-attack, and if there are brief moments to transition into the final third immediately after winning the ball back then it will be the Italians, and in particular Barella, making those movements. By contrast Spain don’t have enough pace in the team to really hurt Italy – and that’s before we think about the respective centre-back partnerships.
Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci have a brilliant relationship, and one unlikely to be tested by nimble Spanish playmakers without the speed to trouble them on the break. Spain, meanwhile, leave plenty of gaps between Eric Garcia and Aymeric Laporte, as seen in the Switzerland equaliser in the quarter-final.
They just don’t seem to be able to play together consistently, and after the exhaustion of successive extra times in the last two rounds Italy have the more assured platform to victory. Watch out for Federico Chiesa‘s growing influence on this tournament, because the Juventus winger has the trickery to cause danger behind Alba.
England v Denmark
Live on ITV
Maehle threat could see Southgate go 3-4-3
Denmark are the strongest and most attacking team England have faced so far: they rank among the top five at Euro 2020 for ball progressions, evidencing their directness and aggression in a high-line 3-4-3, and have recorded the second highest xG of 9.2. The player that most defines their style is left wing-back Joakim Maehle, who collects the ball from deep and powers forward: he ranks second in the tournament for dribbles attempted, behind Kylian Mbappe, and third overall for ball progressions.
Consequently Gareth Southgate is likely to play cautious football, reinstating the 3-4-3 in order to mirror Denmark’s formation and look to nullify the threat; by sitting off Denmark, England may be able to stump a team relying on high energy and space to break through the lines. What’s more, by deploying wing-backs Southgate will have Kieran Trippier looking after Maehle and Kyle Walker supporting behind him.
Although it risks inviting pressure and giving Denmark the initiative, England may feel confident in keeping a clean sheet and drawing their opponents on before hitting on the counter-attack through Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka. Whether or not Southgate goes 3-4-3, a calm and assured defensive performance will surely be the plan – and that means a low-scoring game at Wembley.
Sterling’s movement can expose Denmark midfield
There is one particular tactical issue that England can look to exploit, albeit it is a weak spot that manager Kasper Hjulman knows how to patch up. Their 3-4-3 can look too light on numbers in midfield when in its most expansive form, and indeed Czech Republic found joy here on Saturday once they evaded the first wave of the Denmark press.
However, Hjulman is a flexible and reactive tactician who knows how to shut this space down: by switching to a 4-3-3 with Andreas Christensen moving to the base of midfield. Assuming they start in a 3-4-3, England will have early chances to dominate in this territory so long as they break quickly through Saka’s weaving dribbles.
The most important player is Raheem Sterling, whose movement off the left wing gave England’s central midfielders a line-splitting pass against Germany following a difficult first ten minutes. His intelligent positional play could help England find gaps around Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Thomas Delaney, giving England the platform for a narrow win.