So close yet so far: where it went wrong for England

England were so close, just 45 minutes from taking the European Championships title. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be this year, and there will now inevitably be questions about what went wrong, and why they couldn’t get over the line and end their wait for a major international title. In this article, we will dissect some of the major talking points from the Euro 2020 final, analysing the reasons for England’s defeat, as well as looking at the England team going forwards. We will also pick out some key analytical points from Italy’s performance, explaining the tactical changes they made that helped them to win the game.

The final pass

The first half was very good for England, as they were on the front foot and dominated the game, and Luke Shaw’s second-minute opener helped to settle their nerves and put the pressure on Italy early on. This is something that we have not always associated with them, as England have often been too passive, making sideways and backwards passes and not breaking down the opposing defence.

However, despite that, one area of concern throughout this tournament with England has been their ability to convert chances, with their final pass or shot lacking quality. There were signs of that yesterday as well, and it comes down to having confidence when in good positions in the final third. There were a few occasions against Italy when England seemed to second-guess themselves, allowing Italy to close them down and increasing the likelihood of them regaining possession and clearing their lines.

This is something England still need to improve on, as they have players who can create and score goals, but they have missed good opportunities due to their occasional indecision. Therefore, if they can have more self-belief and play quicker balls, they may find more space behind opposing defences, leading to them being more productive in the final third.

Sitting back

In the second half, England struggled to press home their advantage. Instead, they sat back much more, allowing Italy to mount the pressure on them. Admittedly, Italy tweaked their tactics during the half-time break to increase their attacking threat, but England needed to be more aggressive and to isolate Italy’s key players in midfield and defence, ending their ability to play through the thirds and starving the forwards of service. It would also have increased the chance of Italian mistakes in posession, so these are two clear reasons why taking time away from Italy would have maintained England’s control of the game after half-time.

The substitutions

One of the bigger talking points among England fans will be the substitutions that Gareth Southgate made. He is a good manager, and has restored national pride in the England team, but the general feeling is that he got his personnel changes wrong yesterday.

We know that he generally doesn’t rush his decisions, instead seeing how the game is panning out before acting. However, he left it too late yesterday, and also didn’t bring the right players on at the right time. It was clear that Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford were introduced specifically for the penalty shoot-out, but neither had a chance to get into the game properly before we reached it. As a result, both took poor penalties and failed to find the net. We will never know if bringing them on earlier would have hoped, but there will certainly be murmurings about it.

As well as that, the game was crying out for Jack Grealish to come on earlier than he did, especially as England were on the back foot. Grealish would have got them playing more forward and forced Italy to rethink their own tactics, but it was Jordan Henderson who came on first. Henderson isn’t an attacking midfielder, and instead slotted into the midfield, failing to have any impact in the way that England were desperate for.

Reasons to be positive

Although it was an ultimately disappointing night for England, we must also look at the bigger picture, finding the reasons to be positive for the future.

Their first half performance was really good, and it is noticeable that they can change their system at will. This comes from their excellent pre-tournament preparation, ensuring they had a squad filled with different types of players who offer different things. The wing-back formation they started with in the final (which was also used at the World Cup in Russia) caused all sorts of problems for Italy, nullifying their attacking threat in the first half. We didn’t see any of wide forwards Lorenzo Insigne or Federico Chiesa in the first half, because England surrounded them and prevented them receiving the ball.

Therefore, if we are looking for a formation that suits the way England want to play, this is the one, as it gives them an extra defender at the back, and allows the two attacking midfielders to find pockets of space and cause problems for their opponents. This tournament has given England the opportunity to try different ways of playing, but this one does seem to be the best.

With the World Cup taking place in under two years, there is a lot for England to be pleased with. We also need to remember that this is still a young team, and will continue to develop each time they play together. Hopefully, by the time they get to Qatar at the back end of next year, they will have learnt a lot more and be in a better position to challenge in big games like this.

What about Italy?

On the balance of play, Italy deserved the win, because they made the changes that turned the game in their favour. As mentioned, we didn’t see any of their key attacking threats before half-time, with Insigne in particular limited to long-range shots that failed to trouble Jordan Pickford, whilst their midfield lacked the same influence in the game that they had in previous rounds.

Roberto Mancini would have spoken to them at half-time and detailed what he wanted to see, and Nicolo Barella and Jorginho were much brighter in the second half, playing more balls forward and trying to unlock the English defence in different ways. Striker Ciro Immobile was also replaced early on in the second period, with Domenico Berardi, a wide attacker, taking his place. As a result, Insigne went into the middle, operating as a false nine, and that tactical change gave Italy more flexibility and creativity in the final third, asking different questions of England’s defenders as a result; questions England struggled to find the answers to.

The Italian defenders also played higher up the field, pinning England back in their own half, and that was another half-time alteration that helped Italy to take more control of the game. Therefore, whilst it is clear that England made some poor decisions, we should praise Italy for their changes, as they also contributed to their win.

Conclusion

England may have lost this final, but we and they have learnt a lot from their performance, and that is just as important as winning would have been. The next few weeks will be painful for everyone, and there will be a lot of discussion around what could have been done differenty. However, this is now a chance for England to wipe the slate clean and go again next year, hopefully going one step further in the World Cup in Qatar.

There is no doubting that this team is capable of winning titles in the future, but they need to have more self-belief and confidence, as well as tidying up the finer details in their performances, because it is that that will make all the differencet to their chances.

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