Welcome to a very special edition of hi, tech.
I’ll warn you now: It’s heavy on the stats. The word “if” also does a lot of heavy lifting.
Oh sure, I’ve peppered in the odd jokette here, a tired stereotype there, but it’s mainly a hard-hitting soccer-based analysis.
More traditional fare is on the way this Sunday, when I’ll be reviewing Github Copilot.
Now if you recall our Euro 2020 tournament preview edition, we suggested Italy as potential winners and I do hope you placed that tidy bet. We made no other predictions in that edition. Nope, none at all whatsoever and let’s just leave it at that. 😉
The final is on Sunday and we have 🇮🇹 Italy up against 🏴 England. I live in England and I can assure you, it is hard to ignore that fact. I have lived in England for many years, but I remain as English as a taco.
The analysis from high-paid pundits in this country can be distilled down to:
“We’ll do ‘em, easy - ‘cause we’re England, innit”
And I’m not even exaggerating much there.
So I’m hoping there’s room for a more reasoned take. This will be the fair, balanced assessment you’ve come to expect round these parts. 🤨
📈 The data below is taken from:
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This remains a very free newsletter and some research goes into it, believe it or not. 😲
(with WhoScored ratings out of 10 for tournament performance so far):
👶 Average age: 25
💀 Average age: 28
Those ratings out of 10 are calculated like this, by the way:
There are over 200 raw statistics included in the calculation of a player's/team’s rating, weighted according to their influence within the game. Every event of importance is taken into account, with a positive or negative effect on ratings weighted in relation to its area on the pitch and its outcome.
An example: An attempted dribble (event) in the opposition’s final third (area of pitch) that is successful (outcome) will have a positive effect on a player's rating.
So there you have it. England look steady across the board, while Italy have notable under- and over-performers.
🧐 What to look out for on Sunday
Possession vs aggression
Italy tired against a ball-hogging Spain side and England will want to adopt a similar game plan here. By the end of that semi-final, Italy were desperate for penalties.
England have had the second-highest number of 10+ pass sequences in the tournament (110), after Spain (176!). England also average 54% possession, the fourth-highest average at Euro 2020. If they can marry Spain's game plan with clinical finishing, they'll be onto a winner.
Italy will press high. They have won 51 high turnovers (4th highest at the tournament) and 12 of these have ended in a shot (highest in tournament), with 3 (also a high) ending in a goal. A high turnover just means pressing and winning the ball in the attacking third.
Jordan Pickford looked shaky in the semi-final with the ball at his feet and you know Italy will look to exploit his kicking. Expect them to block off his short passing routes, force errors through intense pressing, and attack immediately once the ball is won. Denmark squandered opportunities that Italy would take.
Were I Italy (and one day, I might be), I’d try to cut off Pickford’s route to John Stones in particular. Stones has a pass completion rate of 94% - the highest of any player on the pitch for more than 300 minutes at the whole tournament.
Pickford’s not a tall goalkeeper (1.85m) either, so the accurate shooting of Federico Chiesa could reap rewards if they can get it to him quickly. Italy have 3 goals from outside the box so far; England have 0.
On the other hand (and maybe you won’t find this as intriguing as I did), England have taken 11% of their shots from within the opposition’s 6 yard box. In comparison, 2% of Italy’s shots have been taken from this area.
Here’s the kicker: 7% of the shots against Italy so far have been from within the 6 yard box. They sit a little deeper and give the opposition that chance. Bear in mind that these opportunities have come against much weaker teams than England.
And as if this couldn’t get more amazing, England are yet to be on the receiving end of a shot within their own 6 yard box in Euro 2020. Mamma mia!
Both teams will therefore be able to implement the same attacking plans that have served them so well up to this point.
I think Italy will go for a few very intense pressures early on to unsettle Pickford. England will go for a couple of fast, direct attacks to try and score a nerve-settling goal. If both fail, we’ll settle into a more familiar pattern with Italy choosing their moments to press.
🏎 Feed the speed
But, if England can beat that high press (and they will know it’s coming), they have the speed to cut through the Italian defence. If Italy gamble and commit to the aggressive press, they will be light in numbers at the back. Expect “tactical” fouls as England try to break. (2 of Italy’s 7 yellow cards are classified as “Other” and they really could be for anything.)
Bukayo Saka is expected to start and Kane will look to find him with through balls behind Italy’s back line, as he did so successfully against Denmark. Chiellini and Bonucci have been excellent again though, so England will have to be crafty to outwit them.
Bonucci has the third-highest number of interceptions in the tournament (12), and Italy have faced no successful through balls so far. England will want to test that peculiar statistic, but it is surely a result of Italy’s defensive setup.
Fast, short passing might be a more effective route to goal for England than direct passing and Foden/Grealish would offer this option. Expect long diagonals from Phillips out to the wings, then shorter passing to work into the box.
England have 10 fewer offsides than Italy so far (13 to 23), which seems unexceptional but is quite striking. With VAR ready to pounce on the slightest transgression, I wouldn’t be surprised if England have worked on this. Or at least talked about it briefly.
🤕 Heading for glory?
England have 5 headed goals at the tournament - 2 more than anyone else. England will therefore try to win set pieces and look to exploit their height advantage. Actually, they’ll just aim for Harry Maguire. He wins an average of 4.3 aerial duels per game; Chiellini wins 1.5.
This is where Saka, Sterling, Grealish, and/or Foden can be very useful. Their fancy footwork and slick passing will move the Italian defence out of position, and that’s not where they like to be.
England goals at Euro 2020
Gareth Southgate may prefer to use Grealish/Foden as subs again, once the opposition starts to tire both physically and mentally.
Italy will turn to Domenico Berardi off the bench. He has a tournament high of 7 shot-ending carries (he has dribbled and then shot 7 times, basically) and has only played 309 minutes. Admittedly, none of those 7 has been on target so far.
This is a theme with Italy. They have hit twice as many shots off target as England (50 vs 25).
👊 Key duels
Phillips vs Verratti
Verratti is a sublime passer, but he won’t get much time on the ball with Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips around.
Those are pretty astonishing numbers, right? Kalvin ran over 15km in the semi-final, too.
Note that Harry Kane drops into midfield to press the other team. This is where Italy really build their attacks, so England will prioritise the middle third again. They move the ball much more quickly than past Italy teams, however.
Sterling moves into prime goalscoring positions, waiting for the turnover. He has only applied one pressure in the attacking third at the whole tournament. Phillips literally does the work of multiple players in this regard.
There’s more to Verratti’s game than passing, though. He has made more tackles (21) than anyone else in the tournament - and he missed the first couple of games. He has created 10 chances, second only to Jordi Alba. If England can cut off his service (easier said than done), they will sever the most important link between Italy’s midfield and attack.
Locatelli (14) is second on the list for tackles made at Euro 2020, while Jorginho has the third-highest number of ball recoveries (40) in the tournament. Jorginho also has 21 interceptions, 7 more than any other player. England would be well advised to skip this part of the pitch, using longer passes to the wings.
I’d expect Italy to start with Barella over Locatelli though, especially as the former brings much-needed speed to the Italian midfield. He hasn’t shown his Inter form yet, but Barella is a real threat in the opposition box and I could see him popping up with a goal here. Especially if Phillips is preoccupied with Verratti.
Chiellini vs Sterling
Speaking of speed… Chiellini as not as slow as you think. He has reached a handy 29 km/h in the tournament, but Sterling (33.1km/h) is one of the 10 fastest players at Euro 2020.
Acceleration is the key though and Sterling will want to vary the pace, as he did to great effect against Denmark.
Sterling also has the highest Expected Goals (xG) of any player at Euro 2020 with 3.92. That just means that based on the quality of chances he has had, he’d be expected to score 3.92 goals on average. He has scored 3, so he is underperforming a little based on that metric. England will forgive him, I’m sure.
Kane is third on the list (Morata is second…), but Kane has 4 goals from an xG of 3.57. This total does not include penalties. It includes penalty rebounds, though.
🤯 And get this: Ciro Immobile (2.24 xG) is the only Italian player in the top 30 at Euro 2020, based on expected goals. He has taken 17 shots, the third highest total in the competition. He must just be shooting from the halfway line.
Spinazzola (1.14) is Italy’s next entrant at 34th on the xG list, and he’s injured.
Italy shoot from further out, so statistically they are less likely to score from these positions. Yet they have scored more goals than England. Statistically, that trend can’t go on forever - but maybe just one more match before we regress to the mean?
Chiesa vs Shaw
Italy should put Chiesa up against Luke Shaw, rather than Kyle Walker. Shaw has 2 assists and an Expected Assist (xA) total of 1.64, meaning he has passed to players in strong shooting positions. While he’s doing all that attacking, he is leaving space in defence.
Kyle Walker has been left in defence to cover, due to his exceptional pace. He has an xA of just 0.14, but has 33 ball recoveries - second only to Kalvin Phillips (37) in the England team. Walker has been superb at stifling counter-attacks and he’ll have a job on this Sunday.
So, Italy will get more joy by pitting Chiesa against Shaw rather than Walker. At the other end, Shaw will fancy his chances against Di Lorenzo, who has committed 11 fouls (second-highest at Euro 2020). With Spinazzola replaced by the weaker Emerson on the left of Italy’s defence, England should see Italy’s wings as areas to exploit.
Spinazzola was such an important player for Italy and I fear his absence could make the difference. He averaged 1.8 successful dribbles per game, twice as many as any other Italian player. 28% of Italy’s shots have come from the left and, while Emerson picked up that mantle in the semi-final, he was much less accurate than Spinazzola.
And look, if I can’t engage in tired national stereotypes I just won’t do this newsletter any more.
Again we see that England shoot from the centre of goal, and they do so from close to the goal.
This is very much the Pep Guardiola approach that has worked so well at Man City. Why bother shooting from places where you’re unlikely to score? (That’s rhetorical: The real reason is because it’s fun to shoot from miles out.)
But Italy will crowd that part of the pitch, so England could use Kane to occupy the centre-backs and work Sterling into the gap between Emerson and Chiellini.
What I’d bet on, were I of the gambling community
Federico Chiesa to have 1+ shots from outside the box.
Marco Verratti to receive a yellow card. And then do this: 🤌
Raheem Sterling to have 2+ shots on target.
Harry Maguire to have 1+ shots on target.
Kalvin Phillips to make 4+ tackles.
Harry Kane to score.
Under 8.5 corners. (Italy have conceded an average of 3.83 corners per match compared to England’s 3.5.)
Both teams to score.
I would NOT put all of these into an accumulator, you lunatic.
(You just skipped to this bit, didn’t you?)
🇮🇹 1-1: Italy to win on penalties.
I have to stick with Italy, don’t I? If the game is tense, it will suit them very well. They will grind out the win however they need to.
Wherever and however you are watching, do enjoy the game. And if England win, please don’t set off fireworks near my house.