UEFA Euro 2020 semifinals: Keys for all four teams – Sportsnet.ca - Techy Hunters


Monday, July 5, 2021

UEFA Euro 2020 semifinals: Keys for all four teams – Sportsnet.ca

In less than a week’s time, the champion of UEFA Euro 2020 will be crowned.

The question now is which combination of Italy, Spain, England and Denmark will contest the final on July 11 at Wembley Stadium.

With four elite sides duking it out, the barest of margins will determine these semifinals. But there are some burning questions left unanswered.

Here is one key for each semifinalist at Euro 2020.

Italy: Replacing Spinazzola

The Achilles injury to left-back Leonardo Spinazzola is a devastating blow for Italy. He’s arguably been the Azzurri‘s most crucial player at the tournament, and his performance against Belgium in the quarterfinals emphasized that argument.

Now the question is how Italy coach Roberto Mancini will adjust without Spinazzola.

It appears that Emerson will fill in at left-back, which makes sense. The Chelsea full-back is a comparable player with Spinazzola when analyzing their underlying attacking numbers. Their progressive carries and progressive passes per 90 minutes are nearly identical, so that left-sided trio with Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne should remain potent.

Considering how many issues Cesar Azpilicueta was having containing Switzerland’s counters down his flank in the quarterfinals, dealing with Emerson, Verratti and Insigne might be a tougher task.

Spain: Converting chances

This sounds simple, but it’s tougher to execute. Spain has the best attack at Euro 2020 when accounting for expected goals (xG), shots and other metrics that Opta have provided.

The big obstacle has been finishing off those chances. An even larger hurdle awaits the Spanish as well, because Italy have conceded the lowest number of shots on target with seven. Plus, when glancing at passes per defensive actions (PPDA), Italy and Spain are two of the most intense sides when it comes to pressing their opponents.

We saw the Italians sit back against Belgium in the second half and they managed quite well. In order to unlock Italy’s defence, Spain might need the verticality and width of Ferran Torres on the right wing. Having a winger who’ll stretch the game and drag Italy’s defensive shape out of its compact block could be crucial to opening spaces to exploit. It worked against Croatia in the round of 16 and it might pay off with the attack-minded Emerson at left-back.

England: Back three vs. Back four

England coach Gareth Southgate has rotated between a 4-3-3 and a 3-4-3 throughout Euro 2020. He opted for the former against Ukraine in the quarterfinals, although this semi versus Denmark might be the time to revert to the latter.

The primary reason for that is the threat of Denmark’s wingbacks. He might not have registered 100 touches against the Czech Republic, but whenever Danish left-back Tim Maehle bombed forward on the counter, he was unstoppable. The Czechs didn’t have adequate cover on that side and it led to Maehle assisting Kasper Dolberg for the eventual winner.

Germany presented similar complications in the round of 16, yet Robin Gosens and Joshua Kimmich weren’t effective. That was thanks in large part to the 3-4-3, which had Harry Maguire (No. 6), Luke Shaw (No. 3) and Declan Rice (No. 4) protecting England’s left side with Kyle Walker (No. 2), Kieran Trippier (No. 12) and Kalvin Phillips (No. 14) covering the right. Even when Trippier was caught high up the pitch, the third centre-back – John Stones (No. 5) – was able to shuffle across in his place as shown in the heat map below.

All the more reason to revert to the 3-4-3 for this semifinal. Contain Denmark’s wingbacks, stay defensively compact, then introduce flair attackers like Jack Grealish in the second half if they need a goal.

Denmark: Set pieces

If all else fails, Denmark can always lean on set pieces for goals. Only Scotland, Ukraine and Spain have registered a higher xG per 90 minutes via set pieces than the Danes at Euro 2020 thus far.

In what could be a match where Denmark and England cancel each other out in open play with their mirroring 3-4-3 formations, set pieces could be the determining factor in this game. Gareth Southgate has heavily emphasized dead-ball situations since he took the England coaching job, yet the Three Lions haven’t been as potent off corners or free kicks at the tournament compared to the World Cup.

That could change, especially with Harry Maguire starting regularly again, but they need to be on high alert as the Danes are as lethal as they come in the air.

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