Euro 2020 Final: Players to Watch and Predictions for Italy vs. England
Before we get into our predictions for the final, we want to remind everyone to tune into the upcoming Euro 2020 Closing Ceremony presented by vivo, the official smartphone of the tournament. It takes place on Sunday and will be filled with beautiful moments as fans from around the world who shared their #vivoSuperTime cheers will be broadcast as part of the celebration! Now, on to the game!
The Euro 2020 final between Italy and England should be one of the most anticipated championship matches in the tournament's history.
Roberto Mancini's Azzurri enter Sunday's final on a 33-match unbeaten streak that dates back to 2018.
Gareth Southgate's Three Lions have all the pressure on them to break a decades-long quest for silverware on the international stage. With home-crowd advantage at Wembley Stadium, the English have a chance to win their first international trophy since 1966.
Sunday marks the first time the two sides will play at an international tournament since Euro 2012, when Italy eliminated England on penalties in the quarterfinals.
However, there isn't much we can take away from that game since Leonardo Bonucci is the only holdover from either starting lineup.
In fact, the Italians and English have only played once in the last six years, and that was an international friendly in 2018.
Some of the players in both squads have played against each other at club level, but for most of the men on the field on Sunday, this will be their first competitive taste of a matchup between two European giants.
Player to Watch: Federico Chiesa
Federico Chiesa has been one of Italy's best players in the knockout round.
The Juventus forward did not see the field much in the group stage, but he has become one of the Azzurri's top difference-makers in the decisive matches.
Chiesa scored one of Italy's two extra-time goals against Austria in the round of 16 and bagged the team's only tally in 120 minutes versus Spain.
The 23-year-old has not been shy in front of goal since his first start in Italy's group-stage finale against Wales. He put six of his 13 attempts on target over his last 322 minutes of action.
Chiesa has been more effective in the final third than starting forward Ciro Immobile, who has not put a shot on frame in each of the last three games.
Italy needs Chiesa's ability to weave in between defenders and deliver a moment or two of brilliance against an organized English defense.
England has just conceded once in its six matches, with the lone goal coming from Denmark's Mikkel Damsgaard after a spectacular free-kick.
Chiesa has proved capable of producing a similar type of shot in open play, which makes him the danger man in the Italian attack over Immobile, who will have to deal with John Stones and Harry Maguire for however long he lasts Sunday.
Player to Watch: Luke Shaw
Luke Shaw's two-way ability down the left flank makes him one of the most dangerous players in the England lineup.
If Harry Kane has trouble dealing with Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, Shaw's crossing ability will be vital for the England striker to create a difference-making chance or two.
Shaw's crossing has been on point throughout the knockout round, as he delivered three assists in the two games against Germany and Ukraine.
The Manchester United defender carries an important role on defense as well, with Chiesa expected to line up across from him on the flank.
If Shaw keeps Chiesa at bay, he will take away a key part of Italy's attack and force the Azzurri to play through the middle or by way of a single flank.
If Shaw is unable to deal with Chiesa in stretches, it could affect how England look to build up its attack.
No matter which way you break down the game, Shaw is crucial to the success of either team, and he will make an impact in some capacity.
Player to Watch: Marco Verratti
Marco Verratti carries a similar importance to Italy's setup as Shaw does for England.
The midfielder can dictate the pace of play in both aspects of the game and can disrupt the best midfielders in the sport on his best day.
Verratti is typically on the ball a ton when the Azzurri build through midfield. He had over 85 touches in each of his first three appearances at Euro 2020, a run that started with 130 touches in the final Group A game versus Wales.
The 28-year-old was taken off the ball in the semifinal against Spain, who had 69 percent possession. He had just 37 touches in 73 minutes on Tuesday.
With Italy expected to be on the ball more on Sunday, Verratti's totals should go back to normal. Even when he loses the ball, he can put the Azzurri back in possession right away.
The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder applied on-ball pressure on 15 or more occasions in each of the last three contests.
Verratti's passing percentage was over 93 percent versus Wales, Austria and Belgium, so if he is on the ball, he should find a pocket of space for Italy to move forward and generate chances. He has 22 shot-creating actions in the tournament, which ranks second on the team.
Verratti's ability to initiate Italy's buildup play as well as produce the final pass in scoring chances will be vital as the team looks to break down the England back line.
The Spirit of the Beautiful Game
The UEFA Euro 2020 Closing Ceremony, presented by vivo, will be filled with beautiful moments. Tune in on Sunday to celebrate the spirit of the beautiful game as we head into the much-anticipated final.
Player to Watch: Jack Grealish
England fans have rightfully clamored for Jack Grealish's inclusion in Southgate's setup.
England's manager has utilized a practical approach for most of the tournament, but he needs to find the right combination of players behind Harry Kane to create a handful of key chances.
When Grealish was inserted into the XI for the final Group E game versus Czech Republic, he produced an assist and helped the Three Lions win the group.
The Aston Villa man turned in another assist on one of the two goals netted in the round of 16 versus Germany.
In 37 minutes Wednesday, Grealish managed to put his lone shot on frame before he was taken off late in extra time for tactical reasons.
Southgate may prefer to start Mason Mount over Grealish, but the 25-year-old has to be included in some capacity because of the impact he has made in the final third.
With the tournament's top two defenses on the pitch, it might take a single moment of creative brilliance to decide the contest in 90 or 120 minutes.
Chiesa is the clear answer for Italy. Even if Grealish comes off the bench, he could provide a similar boost in the final third.
Matchup to Watch: Harry Kane vs. Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci
Three of the six most experienced players in both squads will do battle in a head-to-head matchup for 90 or 120 minutes on Sunday.
Italy's center-back centurions Chiellini and Bonucci helped it reach the final without facing a ton of defensive questions.
The Azzurri conceded on three occasions and own a plus-3.4 expected goals difference through six matches.
Neither Juventus center-back will be fazed by the moment. Both players started in the Euro 2012 final that capped Spain's Golden Generation period. The Azzurri fell 4-0 to La Roja in Kyiv, Ukraine, in that match.
Chiellini and Bonucci possess one of the closest defensive bonds of any pair of international teammates, as they've played together at either Juventus or Italy for over a decade.
The understanding between them and their abilities to read the game so well make them difficult to play against.
Kane is one of four English players with 60 or more international caps. Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker and Jordan Henderson are the others.
The Tottenham Hotspur forward discovered his continental scoring form in the knockout round by placing four goals past Germany, Ukraine and Denmark.
Kane can tie the Czech Republic's Patrik Schick and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo for the Golden Boot with one goal. He can win the scoring title outright with a brace.
Even getting one clear-cut chance on net could be hard for Kane versus a defensive unit that allowed four of Spain's 16 shots to reach the target.
If Kane masters his matchup with the Italian stalwarts, that could give England the advantage it needs.
On the other hand, an Italian silencing of England's top scorer could prove to be a catastrophic development to bringing a trophy home.
With two of the tournament's best defenses on the field, it is hard to see Sunday's final turning into a high-scoring affair.
Both of the semifinal matches at Wembley had two goals each in regulation. The championship match should follow that trend, and it would not be a surprise to see extra time.
The play of both defenses suggests that the low-scoring trend of European Championship finals will continue. Three of the last four finals were 1-0 results. Portugal defeated France 1-0 in extra time in 2016.
In fact, the trend of previous Euro finals suggests the losing team will not find the back of the net. The last four runners-up, including Italy in 2012, failed to score a goal.
Since the tournament's inception in 1960, eight of the 15 runners-up failed to get on the scoresheet in the championship.
England carries the better statistical defense of the two sides with a 3.4 expected goals allowed, but Italy has been more dynamic in front of goal with 8.8 expected goals compared to England's 7.6.
England's pragmatic approach that has kept some of its attacking stars out of the starting lineup could hurt it if Chiellini and Bonucci neutralize Kane in the final third and Verratti dictates the pace in midfield.
Italy also carries the edge of playing tougher competition throughout the knockout round. Belgium and Spain both could have won the tournament. England's toughest foe with a title-contending chance was Denmark, and it needed extra time to win that match.
Italy's defense, experience and difference-making playmaker in Chiesa give it the slightest of edges over England in what should be a close contest for 90 or 120 minutes.
Prediction: Italy 1, England 0
Bleacher Report is proud to have vivo as a partner in bringing you all the beautiful moments of Euro 2020. Vivo is proud to unite football fans everywhere, and wherever you're watching and whichever team you're behind, we hope you enjoy celebrating the beautiful game together.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
Statistics obtained from FBRef.com.