Italy vs Spain | Tuesday 6th July 2020, 20:00 | BBC
Two of Europe’s footballing heavyweights descend on Wembley in a repeat of the one-sided European Championships final of 2012 with the winner progressing to the showpiece event of the 2020 vintage.
Since that 4-0 win for a Vicente del Bosque led Spain, these two have met on six occasions, with an interesting pattern of Draw-Spain-Draw-Italy-Draw-Spain, will that sequence continue here – I’m going to take you through the key stats that convinced me to nail my colours to one particular team’s mast.
La Roja are the top scorers in the tournament with 12 goals to their name and although the underlying stats back up their attacking threat with an xGF of an impressive 17.58, it has to be said 10 of those 12 goals came in two games, and with no disrespect meant to Sweden, Poland, Slovakia, Croatia and Switzerland this is a step up in class, most definitely defensively.
Their goals to chances ratio will most certainly have to improve as to be similarly wasteful against the Italians is likely to prove costly.
A reminder Italy have now stretched their national team record unbeaten run to an incredible 32 matches and arguably more impressively haven’t conceded a goal from open play in 13 outings – with an extra time Sasa Kalajdzic header from a corner and a Romelu Lukaku penalty at the weekend not enough to halt their progress to this mouthwatering semi-final.
The Spanish media are unconvinced by the partnership of two left footed central defenders but it is expected Luis Enrique will once again pair Pau Torres with Aymeric Laporte, equally feeling the overall performance against the Swiss was a little flat pointing to the fact that seems to be the case whenever they lose an edge, physically or mentally.
The Azzurri will certainly look to test both those attributes and after arguably being the highlight act of the Group stages have illustrated the other side of their game with two resolute performances, packed full of tireless teamwork, relying more on the collective than that of individuals, a sentiment echoed by Roberto Mancini in summing up the victory over the number 1 ranked side, by saying “to beat a team like Belgium, you need a great performance from everybody and that is exactly what happened today.”
He will be expecting more of the same in London and a match of anywhere near the quality will suit the neutral just fine.
But I mentioned I had nailed my colours to a mast and I am siding with Italy, albeit I am taking them to qualify as this one could go the full distance, so at odds a little shorter than we like to put forward I am adding under 4 goals via Bet 365’s Bet Builder to give a much more palatable 11/10.
An added confidence coming from the fact we have a direct form line to draw with both sides having played Switzerland in this tournament and although Italy had home advantage for their impressive 3-0 win, we can point to Spain playing 10 men from the 77th minute against a side who were already missing one of their best players through suspension and really should have put the game to bed without the need for penalties.
I have had a lot of success this tournament in playing what many would consider obscure markets and I am taking another dip in to one of them at what looks a very attractive play – Italy over 16.5 throw ins.
A key element to this exciting Italian team is the width with which they play, with 43% of attacks at Euro 2020 coming down the left-hand side and the 32% going down the right still eclipsing those coming centrally.
This has seen them amass 107 throw ins to date with no other side left in the competition hitting three figures yet – the nature of their dominant wing play over Turkey illustrated by the huge total of 32, whilst having over 20 in the games against Wales and Austria.
Mancini’s men have had more of the ball in all bar the Swiss game so it would be reasonable to be concerned that against a possession heavy side like the Spanish – with an average of 67.5% – that their opportunities and as a consequence their number of throw ins would reduce.
However, a look at the stats for Spain’s opponents eases those fears.
Only Switzerland fell below the line required with just 9 throw ins, however, Croatia (17), Slovakia (20), Poland (18) and even Sweden who only had 25% of the ball took 16.
Italy’s average over the last 10 competitive internationals is an encouraging 21.8 crossing the line we require on seven occasions, whereas Spain have conceded an average of 16.3 and more than the necessary line in half of those last ten competitive fixtures.
With Enrique wanting his team to also get into wide areas to play their final ball – it may surprise some to find that Spain have attempted 140 crosses at this tournament with Denmark back in second on 116 – this helps add to what I think is a great price of 10/11 for 17 or more Italy throw ins.
One massive blow for the Italians is the absence of Leonardo Spinazzola who suffered a subcutaneous rupture of the left Achilles tendon in the victory over the Red Devils and up to that point was one of the stand out performers in the whole tournament.
As already mentioned, Italy have seen the majority of their play come down their left-hand side and this was also the case when Spinazzola was rested for the final group game against Wales, with the left flank accounting for 39% of their attacks.
Deputising that day was Emerson and he is expected once again to replace the Roma man with no better incentive to put on a good display than to book himself a place in the starting eleven for the Euro 2020 final should his side make it.
The Chelsea man fired in two shots with one on target against the Welsh as well as creating a good chance – his battle with César Azpilicueta, will most definitely be an intriguing one, but it could also be a crucial one.
Odds of 3/1 (Sky Bet) for another shot on target from the 27-year-old aren’t to be sniffed at and I certainly wouldn’t put you off however – for my final selection I have gone for the 33/1 on offer for Emerson to collect the Man of the Match award – something Spinazzola achieved in two of his appearances this competition.
It’s clearly a key area, expect no drastic switch in tactics with full confidence that Emerson can step in – if he manages to come close to those performances his stricken teammate put out then that price could well look massive come Felix Brych’s final whistle.