England vs Italy: Who should Gareth Southgate pick in starting XI and will Three Lions win Euro 2020 final? – Sky Sports

The clock is ticking down to Italy vs England in the final of Euro 2020, and to Gareth Southgate naming the most important starting XI of his managerial career.

Southgate has got everything right so far, guiding England to their first major tournament final since 1966, but one giant hurdle remains, and it is without question the biggest challenge the Three Lions boss has ever faced.

The inclusion of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling are not up for debate, but the same cannot be said for key areas of England’s team, or the formation and tactics Southgate will deploy in a bid to overcome Italy.

Ahead of Sunday’s final at Wembley, Sky Sports’ team of writers offer their verdict on Southgate’s team selection and the final itself. Agree or disagree with our selections? Have you say with the team selector at the bottom of the page…

Peter Smith: Speed and set-pieces the keys to success for England

Italy’s defensive play has been as impressive as England’s at this tournament and when these two mean sides meet at Wembley it will be intriguing to see who has come up with the better plan to expose the other. For England and Gareth Southgate, speed and set-pieces will surely be the focus.

Italy conceded their first goal of the Euros – and their first in 12 matches – in extra-time against Austria from a corner. A near-post flick which caught Gianluigi Donnarumma out at the near-post, after Jorginho, who had been guarding that spot, attempted to meet the cross. The Austrians had the ball in the net earlier in the match, too, when a cross from the right was nodded back across goal and Marko Arnautovic headed home from an offside position.

Those two moments will offer encouragement to the hosts ahead of Sunday, with England having looked threatening throughout their semi-final clash with Denmark from corners, crosses and free-kicks. John Stones and Harry Maguire – who scored a thumping header against Ukraine – had five efforts at goal between them and will be the main threats.

Kyle Walker 2:42
Kyle Walker says England expect a tough night against Italy but will relish the pressure of bidding for a major title. See more England content on the FA YouTube Channel

With the ball at their feet, England can cause problems too – but they’ll have to be quick and sharp to pick a way through this experienced, committed Italian defence. Alvaro Morata’s goal against Italy in the semi-finals is a template to follow, with the striker playing a swift one-two around Giorgio Chiellini before finishing past the goalkeeper.

Depending on who plays, it’s a move you can see Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, or Jadon Sancho pulling off in tandem with Harry Kane or Mason Mount providing the return pass. Sterling, in particular, has taken that route to goal on several occasions already in this tournament and England supporters will hope he’s too hot to handle this weekend.

England (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice, Phillips; Sancho, Mount, Sterling; Kane.

Prediction: England to win 2-0

From their impressive defence through to their talented midfield and up to their slick attack, Italy are strong right through their side and have strength in depth, too – as I noted when I picked them as tournament winners before the tournament. They’ve also shown in their battles with Austria, Belgium, and Spain that they can find a way to win any type of match. But England have the assets required to undo them – and end that 33-game unbeaten streak.

England’s defence will stand firm, Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice, supported by the tireless work of Mason Mount, will hassle and harry the Italian playmakers in midfield, and Sterling will provide the speed and skill to unpick their backline before Marcus Rashford wraps it up off the bench.

Ben Grounds: Southgate must win midfield battleground

Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice continue to blossom
Image: Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice continue to blossom

A lot of the starting places are now set in stone, barring injury. Gareth Southgate will be closely assessing his players after 120 energy-sapping minutes, both emotionally and physically.

He and his coaching staff have come up with a conservative game plan based around a defensive platform, and I don’t see him moving away from that now.

His side haven’t been too ambitious going forward in the early stages of matches but can they dominate possession and dictate play against the Italians? The midfield is where it will be won and lost on Sunday.

Kalvin Phillips returned to the form he showed in the opener against Croatia as Denmark were eventually worn down, but Jorginho and Marco Verratti are a step-up in class.

Kalvin Phillips slides in to regain possession
Image: Kalvin Phillips slides in to regain possession

Southgate refrained from overloading the midfield against Germany, retaining faith in Phillips and Declan Rice but he will consider their energy levels ahead of one final push with Jordan Henderson a more than able deputy in this department.

Jadon Sancho has been the most talked about England player on Twitter during the tournament despite only featuring in 96 minutes so far, but I expect that to change. Southgate has been vindicated with all of his selections so far, the criticism against Scotland aside.

Bukayo Saka’s stock continues to rise but now would be the right time for him to be taken out and for Sancho to return. He was outstanding against Ukraine and can get in behind Emerson Palmieri, Italy’s perceived weak link in the absence of Leonardo Spinazzola.

England (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice, Phillips; Sancho, Mount, Sterling; Kane.

Prediction: England to win 1-0

I tipped Italy to win the tournament before a ball was kicked, so why should I change that opinion now? Roberto Mancini’s side have been a breath of fresh air and would be worthy winners.

But I didn’t count on an England side backed vociferously at Wembley standing between them and the trophy. I’m not expecting the open game some foresee. It will come down to fine margins, perhaps even a set piece, and which side handles the occasion best. This is England’s time.

Nick Wright: Saka can hurt Italy

Jack Grealish replaced Bukayo Saka for England
Image: Bukayo Saka has impressed at the tournament so far

I’d stick with the same team – and formation – that saw England past Denmark in the semi-finals. It was of course an energy-sapping contest but I was impressed by the players’ stamina and fitness in extra time and I expect them to recover in time for the final.

Italy’s shape – a fluid 4-3-3 – means there is no need to switch to three at the back and the only real question mark in terms of selection is who joins Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane in the forward line.

I think Saka is the right choice for this game. He has played a lot of football for a 19-year-old this season but he should still be fresh having made way for Jack Grealish during the second half on Wednesday evening.

He emphatically justified his starting spot in that game, most notably with the run and cross to set up England’s equaliser from the right, and I believe he could hurt Italy in the same area.

Saka’s intelligent positioning and perceptive movement kept the dangerous Joakim Maehle occupied on Wednesday and also caused problems for Denmark’s left-sided centre-back Jannik Vestergaard, whose lack of pace he exposed on numerous occasions.

England players celebrate with Raheem Sterling after he opened the scoring against Czech Republic 0:46
Sir Geoff Hurst says he understands more than anyone the importance of a successful national team for the country and anything less than his full support for them would be ‘nonsense’

I believe he could fulfil a similar job up against Emerson, who will be performing the role of the injured Leonardo Spinazzola, and Giorgio Chiellini, an outstanding centre-back but one whose limited mobility makes him vulnerable to runs in behind.

Saka is the best of England’s wide options when it comes to making those runs. Grealish and Phil Foden prefer the ball to their feet and the same is true of Jadon Sancho, who possesses searing pace but often prefers to pick out others with through balls.

But Saka is brilliant at getting to the opposition byline and as Gareth Southgate pointed out on Sunday, he also offers balance.

He is as competent defensively as he is going forward and it is worth noting that he has won possession in the defensive third more frequently than any of England’s other forward players at this tournament (2.84 times per 90 minutes played).

Even without the injured Spinazzola, Italy are likely to direct a high percentage of their attacks down their left side. Saka can help to nullify that threat while exploiting potential weaknesses at the other end.

England (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice, Phillips; Saka, Mount, Sterling; Kane.

Prediction: 1-1 after extra time – Italy to win on penalties.

My heart tells me England will do it but in my head there is the nagging feeling that they will fall agonisingly short. I think this one will go the distance – and I fear Italy will be mentally stronger when it comes to the penalty shootout. Brace yourselves.

Jack Wilkinson: Henderson can hit Italy where it hurts

Image: Could Jordan Henderson’s experience help England’s youthful midfield?

In Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, England possess two forwards who have proven throughout this tournament they are a threat to any defence in Europe. Even with two stalwarts in Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci at the back, Italy should be no exception on Sunday at Wembley.

Make no mistake about it, if England see enough of the ball, the Italian defence is going to have its hands full, that’s why Gareth Southgate has to ensure his team disrupt Italy’s engine room and dominate the midfield battle.

In Marco Verratti, Jorginho and Nicolo Barella, Italy have three elite-level midfielders who will relish shielding the back four and disrupting England’s rhythm. It is therefore vital that England have enough muscle in there to combat, and that is why Jordan Henderson should come in for his first start of the tournament.

Where do you make room for Henderson? Well, with Leonardo Spinazzola cruelly ruled out of the final through injury, there is perhaps less need for the defensive qualities of Bukayo Saka, which helped contain Denmark’s dangerman Joakim Maehle in the semi-finals.

Italy midfielder Marco Verratti (AP) 0:25
Italy’s Marco Verratti says England were fortunate to be awarded the penalty against Denmark – and he wouldn’t have given it if he was the referee!

The promotion of Mason Mount, alongside Kane and Sterling, is the answer. Between Mount and Kyle Walker, who was flawless in the semi-finals, England should be able to keep tabs on Emerson Palmieri whenever he ventures forward, while creating an opening for Henderson.

The Liverpool captain’s experience could prove vital in guiding Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips into battle with Italy’s midfield trio, while he has all the attributes to assume Mount’s role of linking midfield and attack.

England (4-3-3): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice, Phillips, Henderson; Mount, Sterling, Kane.

Prediction: 0-0 – Italy on penalties.

For as good as England’s run to the final has been, they have yet to come up against a team as well-knitted as Italy. Both teams have made a habit of not conceding, and I expect a cagey final that will only increase in tension as we enter extra time, and penalties loom. This England group have proven time and again their ability to deal with pressure, but a penalty shootout, at Wembley, for a first trophy in 55 years? That’s pressure on a completely different scale.

Lewis Jones: There’s only one way to beat them, get round the back

Gareth Southgate has made an art form out of nullifying opposition strengths this tournament. And for the biggest game of his managerial career he has a job on to try and shut down the vibrant Italian attack. It’s full of pace that is seen to best effect when given space to explode their silky transitions.

England should be able to cope with that, though. This team don’t get counter attacked. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips have done a manful job of protecting their defence but even when an attacker roams on England’s goal, Harry Maguire – who is playing at a level that has catapulted him to one of the world’s best – has been in the right place. That’s why I’d stick with four at the back. There’s enough protection there from the midfield to be able to shoehorn an extra forward thinking player into the mix.

England's Harry Kane, bottom, celebrates with his teammates after scoring his side's second goal during the Euro 2020 soccer semifinal match between England and Denmark at Wembley 2:21
Rob Dorsett talks us through England’s long plan, which took them from heavy defeats at the World Cup in 2014, to the final of Euro 2020

Dani Olmo ran Italy ragged for Spain in the pocket of space in front of the back four. That should prove a fertile ground for England who have an array of talent that like to drop into the area. Mason Mount should enjoy himself with Phil Foden a deadly option from the bench.

So, the team picks itself really, bar that final place in the forward line. It’s been horses for courses for Southgate in that regard. Bukayo Saka’s tactical awareness and intelligent movement has been preferred against tight defences but pace and power looks the order of the day vs the Italians, who do lack a change of gear across their backline. Jeremy Doku worried them in the quarter-final win over Belgium and Alvaro Morata’s quick shift of pace opened them up at Wembley on Tuesday.

With his ability to make things happen centrally, out wide and in behind, the stage is therefore set for Jadon Sancho to make his mark.

England (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice, Phillips; Sancho, Mount, Sterling; Kane.

Prediction: 1-1 after extra time – England on penalties.

It will be cagey. It will be tense. Both teams will be playing not to lose. It’s going all the way. Then it will come home.

Oliver Yew: Saka has earned his chance to take on Italy

Tyrone Mings carries Bukayo Saka as they celebrate winning the Euro 2020 semi-final
Image: Tyrone Mings carries Bukayo Saka as they celebrate winning the Euro 2020 semi-final

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it! That’s the message to Gareth Southgate as he prepares England for their biggest game in a generation.

There will be tired legs in the England camp after a physical and emotionally draining 120 minutes against Denmark on Wednesday evening, but those celebrations with the Wembley crowd and the thought of a major final is a quick fix to that.

But Southgate gets the details right and he will have to check the fitness levels of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips before naming his final starting line-up of the tournament. The pair have been colossal for England and a key part of the success, and they will be needed to put in one final big effort in the middle of the park. Jordan Henderson waits in the wings and will figure at some point on what is set to be another tense evening.

A mention also goes to Mason Mount. We haven’t quite seen him in full flow going forward but his energy is key to this England side, and his role against Italy could be vital as he looks to use his brilliant work rate to get in and around his Chelsea team-mate Jorginho. The Italian midfielder is a key cog in Roberto Mancini’s side as they look to play out from the back and stopping him dictate the play will be crucial to England’s chances.

England midfielder Mason Mount (AP)
Image: England midfielder Mason Mount could have a key role against Italy

The only big decision Southgate has to make is who will start in attacking alongside Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. There will be plenty of calls to revert to the side that demolished Ukraine with Jadon Sancho getting another opportunity. There will also be the usual clamours for Jack Grealish and also Phil Foden, but Bukayo Saka has earned his place in the final.

He produced another fabulous performance against Denmark and was a key figure in England’s equaliser. He ran himself into the ground and he should be given the opportunity to do it one final time in what would be the biggest game of his career.

He’s already proven he has the temperament to do it and his pace and trickery could be key against what is a stubborn Italy defence. With his pace and energy, his job will be to run the legs out of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci before the likes of Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho take over for the closing stages of the game.

The substitutes bench is a crucial weapon for Southgate. He has talent all around him and options aplenty and as has been proved during the tournament so far, that could prove crucial if this game goes long into the night.

England (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice, Phillips; Saka, Mount, Sterling; Kane.

Prediction: 1-1 after extra time – Italy to win on penalties

I also put up Italy to win the tournament before a ball was kicked, and they have lived up to that pre-tournament expectation. They have had a couple of bumps in the road, notably against Austria and in the semi-final against Spain, but coming through the tougher side of the draw, they have been exceptional.

One thing I didn’t expect for Italy was a final against England at Wembley. England have also been fantastic at this tournament and alongside Italy are the best team at the competition. It’s certainly a worthy final. How does it play out? I can’t see anything but a tight, tense affair that goes the distance. Nerves will be frayed across the country and while the hearts says England will bring it home, but the head says, despite a valiant effort, Gareth Southgate’s men will be foiled by Gianluigi Donnarumma in a penalty shootout.

Pick your England XI

The Sky Sports journalists have had their say, now chose your England starting XI for the Euro 2020 final against Italy…

Podcast: It’s nearly home… How the ‘new England’ could go all the way

Drink it in… England are in a major tournament final for the first time since 1966 after their extra-time win over Denmark at Wembley in semi-final of Euro 2020.

Kate Burlaga is joined by Rob Dorsett, Pete Smith and Nick Wright to discuss an historic night, and whether this ‘new England’ side can go all the way against Italy on Sunday.

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