Italy went for a different approach, struggled against the ball-dominant Spain but Donnarumma saved the day.
We expected to watch a battle between two teams that enjoy having the ball and to create chances against an organised defence. After all, that is what we had seen from them until now. However, Italy struggled to hold the ball (31% possession), made a lot of passing mistakes (76% passing accuracy), and opted for long balls to initiate counter-attacks instead of building possession from the back (only 321 passes completed).
Italians lost possession between defence and midfield, as the midfield trio failed to provide good passing options (556 total touches) and struggled against Spain’s pressure on the ball (219 pressures). Instead, they tried long balls behind the defenders back (42/86 long balls) without much success.
Compare these against Spain’s numbers and you got the picture of Spain’s ball dominance.
Spain utilised Busquets and Pedri, each to their unique roles as we have known them until now. Busquets was the anchor enabling the build-up from the defence, while Pedri was a constant threat in the attacking midfield positions. Pedri’s influence in Spain’s playing style is enormous. Just look at his extraordinary passing accuracy and you get an idea of how easy he makes it seem (61/62 passes, 98.4%, 1 key pass, 7 passes in the final third, 2 passes in the 18yard box)
Italy’s best chances and the goal came when they moved the ball fast, playing direct football. We can also attribute this to their inability to control the middle of the pitch and to complete more than just a few passes in each of their possessions. They were forced to stay behind the ball for the biggest part of the game. They also had to defend really deep and launch counter-attacks when possible, and that is exactly how they scored. In the 60th minute, Spain is outside the opponent’s area, Laporte is in the final third of the field and makes a forward pass, Italians intercept and launch the counter-attack, he then has to run a 60 meters sprint to catch Chiesa, Immobile, and Insigne. But it’s too late, Chiesa has scored another amazing goal for Italy.
Spaniards on the other hand, moved a lot with or without the ball, and compared to previous games, opted for a fast tempo with direct football rather than their trademark low tempo tiki taka. They often utilised the small spaces between Jorginho and the central defenders, forcing Bonucci and Chiellini to leave their position to mark them, creating even more open spaces for Oyarzabal and Olmo to exploit. However, until Morata‘s substitution, they lacked options in the 18yard box as it was painfully empty in many occasions.
Spain’s goal was a testament to their passing superiority and their need of a striker. Morata and Olmo played the 1-2, Olmo made a magnificent pass and Morata scored an easy goal as if it was taken directly from a PlayStation game.
Spain won the battle of the midfield, controlled the ball and rhythm of the game with ease, and forced Italians to make plenty of mistakes. For example, Donnarumma made some bad passing decisions in the course of the game that could have been detrimental. Their high pressure and fast transition was key to be in control of the game, and they missed plenty of chances to seal the win (1.7 xG).
We saw Italians being extra tired after chasing the ball for 120 minutes, their midfielders had a bad game and moreover, couldn’t compete until the end, while Spain displayed an amazing level of fitness throughout this high tempo game. It was obvious at the end that Italy aimed the penalty shoot-outs, as they dropped behind half pitch and time-wasted in a Catenaccio sort of way.
The rest is history, Donnarumma did his part, Morata’s low confidence showed once again and Italy won their place to the Final.
England was the better team, missed plenty of chances but needed some extra help to qualify to the Final.
The game started with a high tempo that both teams deployed. Both England and Denmark tried to play fast and direct football, fighting for the control of the midfield and pushing forward to open the score.
Denmark as time passed seemed less capable to hold the ball (42% possession), and we saw some possible signs of tiredness in their midfielders early in the game (448 passes, 80% accuracy). England looked fresh and had the upper hand in terms of possession (680 passes, 87%). Kane, Sterling, and Mount made constant runs to receive the ball in wide positions and even deep some times. Denmark tried to utilise a possible gap in England’s left side with Stryg Larsen. However, he wasn’t good during the game and wasted some good opportunities to fast breaks in the transition.
We saw Danish pressure (199 pressures) early in the game pay off, as Pickford made a couple of silly mistakes that could have costed. But as the game progressed Danish players looked more tired and even more nervous, as they failed to capitalise on their opponent’s mistakes. Nevertheless, they did push forward, especially in the first half, made a lot of passes during their ball possession and tried to break the well-organised English defence with their movement of the ball and their dead balls (47).
Denmark scored a possibly deserved goal in the 30th minute but then dropped back, defended deeper and quickly after they conceded a cheap goal when they wrongly tried to play the offside trap. For the rest of the first half they seemed impacted by the goal and gave the ball to England trying to see it through.
The second half of the game started exactly like the first one on a frantic rhythm, with both teams fighting for possession and trying to create goal-scoring opportunities. Their coaches advice to push for an early goal was evident but it didn’t pay out for any of them. As time progressed, England controlled the ball better (916 touches) and started to create constant problems to the Danish defence (9 shots on target, 2.6 xG, 1 xA).
Denmark tried to launch some counter-attacks without any success though, and their constant threat was the scorer, Damsgaard. Kyle Walker had a lot of problems defending against him due to his constant movement and pace. But then Kasper Hjulmand made one of his biggest mistakes in this tournament and substituted him so early in the game. I am sure that he has already analysed this mistake and how it further diminished his teams chances to score a second goal.
As we have seen in previous games, Danish players looked tired by the minute. Substitutions had to be made to refresh the team but the newcomers failed to gain more control in the middle of the pitch where they were dominated for quite some time.
Southgate had to capitalise on Wembley’s roars to push forward and brought in Grealish to replace Saka, who didn’t impress as a starter. This change made them even more active on the final third, as they dominated the game for the last 20-30 minutes. They certainly enjoyed the high tempo they maintained even through the extra-time more than their opponents did. They also had their crowd’s support as they pushed them forward to spend that extra energy they had left in the tank.
As the game progressed it was obvious that the only way England could lose was the penalty shoot-outs, and as they were the clear favourite they certainly could have done it without the extra help from their friends. However, it was an appalling effort from the referee and VAR that gave them the extra push to the win, and I cannot but feel frustrated that Denmark was robbed their, arguably slight, chances to compete for a place in the Final.
What to expect for Sunday’s game
EURO 2020 Final, England vs Italy, will be an exciting game to watch for football fans all over the world. I don’t believe that there is a clear favourite, both teams have impressed this year, and I expect a last stand battle. In terms of their formations not much will change, although we might seem a change in England’s wings and attacking midfielders, and possibly a re-arrangement in Italy’s midfielders. Tactically it would be interesting to see if Italy will follow the same game-plan they deployed against Spain. The way Italy approaches the Final will make a huge impact on the game itself, as England is expected to not give a lot of space to their opponents and also to keep the ball significantly less than Spain did.
I won’t risk making a prediction as everything is possible when two great teams face each other in a do-or-die battle. I hope you enjoyed the semi-finals as much as I did and let’s hope for an even more exciting Final. Let the best team win!
BONUS: Probabilities and Betting Odds
Below is a comparison of the odds and the implied probabilities of 20 UK bookmakers and the bivariate poisson model. As expected, there aren’t any great opportunities value-wise.
The price of Italy has gone down and is lower than the model’s prediction. This means that the public as well as the books believe that Italy has more chances to win in regular time than the model predicts. The model gives Italy 25% chances to win while the books give 29% chances.
The price of an England win has gone up and is higher than the model’s prediction. This means that the public as well as the books believe that England has less chances to win in regular time than the model predicts. The model give England 42% chances to win while the books give 37% chances.
There is some value in betting for England here. However, a draw seems like the most likely outcome.
Another thing we can look at is betting on over/under goals. The model estimates that the three most likely scores are 0-0 (21%) followed by 1-0 in favor of England (20%), 1-0 in favor of Italy (13%). This means that the model gives 54% chances of under 1.5 goals. This implies that odds above 1.85 have value.
The only thing left to do is wait and see! Good luck!