Football, it seems, really could be coming home, with England now just one match away from glory at Euro 2020.
A 2-1 extra-time victory over Denmark on Wednesday booked the Three Lions’ place in Sunday’s Wembley showdown with Italy, and there is now plenty of planning and preparation to be done by Gareth Southgate and his squad.
While England were brilliant against Denmark to book their first spot in a major final since 1966, there were still chinks in the armour. Here, Sportsmail takes a look at the few things England must improve if they are to deal with the Italians…
Gareth Southgate looked delighted at full-time after England booked their place in the final
Get the full backs and centre backs in sync
While individual performances have been excellent throughout the tournament, there have been moments – especially on Wednesday night – where Harry Maguire and John Stones haven’t been on the same wavelength as the players either side of them.
Gary Neville described Luke Shaw and Kyle Walker as ‘frantic’ in his half-time analysis at Wembley, detailing how the pair ‘are trying to go too early to engage with their wing-backs’, leaving Maguire and Stones trying to cover space both in the centre of the pitch and out wide.
Against Denmark, they got away with it, but you’d expect the Italians to be far more clinical in front of goal and those little mistakes can’t happen again.
Harry Maguire (left) and John Stones were trying to cover their full-backs’ space vs Denmark
Cut out the silly fouls
Coming back from a goal down is all well and good, but as previously mentioned, the level of opponent in the final is much higher than that of Denmark and Southgate’s side could do without giving themselves a mountain to climb.
Denmark’s opener against England on Wednesday came from a needless foul by Luke Shaw, wrestling Andreas Christensen to the ground to allow Mikkel Damsgaard to fire in his free-kick.
Although it was arguably soft, Shaw’s arms were all over his opponents, giving the referee the chance to give the free-kick. Moments like that can win – and clearly lose – you matches, and England will need to be doubly careful they don’t give Italy any freebies like that on Sunday.
Luke Shaw was holding Andreas Christensen to give away the free-kick which led to the goal
More control in midfield
Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips have performed admirably throughout the tournament, but there have been calls in the last few days to bring Jordan Henderson back into the fold now that he is back to full fitness.
Italy will line up with an impressive midfield three – most likely of Marco Verratti, Jorginho and Nicolo Barella – meaning the midfield two of England are going to have their work cut out.
They will need more control of the ball, and to cover every blade of grass if they are to be successful against the most impressive team of the tournament. In the opening 45 minutes against Denmark, the pair didn’t provide enough protection to the back-line and were ponderous in bringing the ball out from the defence.
Declan Rice (right) and Kalvin Phillips (left) have been instrumental but this is their biggest test
Better use of subs
Heading into the final, and after an extra 30 minutes of football on Wednesday night, there are set to be some tired legs among that England camp. Harry Kane, for example, has played 64 games for club and country in an endlessly long season, and has covered 37 miles at the Euros. He’s by no means top of the charts, either.
Against Denmark, Southgate didn’t make his first substitution until the 69th minute, with the second only coming five minutes into extra time. At that point, their opponents had already made five changes.
That is not to say that Southgate made any wrong decisions – let me be clear on that – but substitutions will be key in the final. Players will be flagging, and it will be the most intense match of their lives, so the management team have to look after them and utilise the incredible squad depth that England are so lucky to have.
Southgate will need to use his substitutes wisely against Italy in Sunday’s huge showdown
Be more clinical in front of goal
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Against Denmark, England had 20 shots… yes, twenty. From that, only two goals were scored, and one of them came from the rebound of a penalty. In the final, the Three Lions will have to take their chances… because you just know that Italy will take theirs.
Kane is the best striker in world football and Southgate is lucky to have him at his disposal… it is the biggest game of his life on Sunday and he will be absolutely desperate to write his name in history by getting on the scoresheet.
He has squandered a fair few opportunities throughout the tournament, not always performing to the level that he – and the rest of the country – would have hoped. But he appears to be coming good at the right time and if he can tuck away a chance or two against Italy, then we could be onto a winner.
England had 20 shots against Denmark but only managed to score two goals in 120 minutes
Pickford and his distribution
England fans all know the qualities of Jordan Pickford, but the limitations and worries are also clear for all to see. He just has a *moment* in him. Against Denmark, he twice gave the ball away needlessly and piled unnecessary pressure onto the team.
In the big occasions, he is prone to a mistake and he must keep his head on Sunday night. His distribution has to be spot on, ensuring his out-ball is helping to create chances for England rather than putting his defenders under pressure.
There is no longer any question marks over whether he is England’s No 1, but now is the time for him to step up and prove that is a world-class keeper. He will be replaying the Denmark free-kick in his mind wondering if he could have done more – but now is the time to look ahead and not back. Sunday will define his career.
Jordan Pickford is an excellent goalkeeper but is at times guilty of a mistake on a big occasion