BY George Utley

7 Jul

England v Italy Preview - 7 Pub Talking Points

No wonder Neil Diamond is all over the airwaves, the good times never felt so good! In case you hadn’t heard it, Gareth Southgate has taken his brave, brave lads further than any England team have managed in the history of the Euros. Club together and splash out on some lager-proof ceiling paint for your local, because England are in the final!

They Think It’s All Over

I hate to ‘inflate the unicorn’ on this one, but we’ve reached a moment I’ve waited my life for.

The conveyor belt of players-turned-commentators at last have to admit that they don’t have a leg to stand on, or a clue what they’re talking about, because they’ve never done this before.

You won’t have to bore your grandkids with stories about the Once Upon a Time when we had Gary Neville. Nobody has to worry about being the ‘new Gazza,’ let alone the new Shearer.

Even Jordan Pickford beat the late, great Gordon Banks’ record of time played without conceding by one glorious, hilarious, historic minute.

In an unprecedented upset for the superstitious, we’re watching legends in the making on ITV. These are the names that will rattle around school playgrounds for decades to come.

The Castle That Gareth Built

If you count the Nation’s League that’s the third semi-final Southgate’s England have reached, and the first time they’ve passed the test. So what’s been learned since 2018?

Firstly, the gaffer now has a nuclear sub and he knows how to use him. Jack Grealish might spend most of the time off-radar, but when he’s surfaced in England’s moments of need, goals have too.

The marauding Brummie has more tricks up his sleeve than Saka, but could have no complaints being subbed off again for Trippier after he’d done his damage.

The quality of options off the bench has never been better whilst neither has England’s tactical fluidity.

They fell short in 2018 with a one size fits all 3-5-2 designed to maximise England’s strengths. Three years of tinkering later and they have a squad schooled in playing multiple formations per game if required, allowing Southgate the ability to match opponents man for man or target their weaknesses.

The quality of opposition, however, has never been worse. This year there has been no Belgium in England’s group to slap the momentum out of the team. Scotland and Germany brought jeopardy and history, but there hasn’t been a game England weren’t favourites to win.

Momentum, it turns out, is one hell of a drug.

Luck Is Only A Feeling

Denmark were beaten by a combination of a lucky own goal, a lucky penalty award, and a lucky rebound. Why fate smiled kindly on England is a question for the footie gods, but I’m pretty sure it could run out.

That knobhead who shone a laser pen in Kasper Schmeichel’s face has surely put refs off giving penalties England’s way at Wembley for the rest of our lives.

Speaking of Shithouses...

Disregarding Italy’s class for a moment, let’s address the captain Giorgio Chiellini, the Tyson Fury of centre backs, who hides a professorial mastery of his art behind a mask of grinning shithousery.

His gregarious dismantling of Jordi Alba prior to the penalty shoot out against Spain was peak Chiellini and frankly deserves it’s own dissertation.

On the pitch the 36-million year old is not just a defender, but also coach and manager, and he’s probably the only player on either team you’d actually want to be mates with. Refs know this, and as a consequence, he gets away with at least 4 red-card-able fouls per game.

Cheating could play a big part in this final because England like to do it too. Until the technology catches up with the rules of the game to the point we’re attaching snick’o’meters to shinpads, we can expect players from both teams to exaggerate the most negligible contact.

Italian Stallions

Just like Southgate, Roberto Mancini has rebuilt his national team, having to regain confidence brick by brick. Italy didn’t even qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and yet they are 33 games unbeaten, having hurtled through the side of the draw everybody in England wanted to avoid. That’s trophy-winning form and they keep getting better.

England have only conceded the one goal, a Thor-inspired lightning bolt free-kick from Mikkel Damsgaard, but those clean sheets have been kept against lesser opponents.

Stones and Maguire haven’t faced better strikers than Schick, Havertz and, I can’t believe I’m saying, Yaremchuk, but will have to deal with Chiesa, Insigne and Immobile all at once.

Let’s Get Tactical

Although they lost on penalties, Spain gave Italy the game of their lives in the semi-final. Doing everything fast a la Liverpool 2019 seems to be the only way to beat them. So how do England play like Spain?

England won’t enjoy as much of the ball, so Saka and Mount feel like sure starters thanks to their defensive capabilities.

Their ability to swap positions, Bukayo’s solo raids and Mason’s success at smothering his clubmate Jorginho will be the key to the Italians’ door with Chelsea no-mark Emerson the obvious weak link to target at left back.

Elsewhere the scrap between the Yorkshire Pirlo and Marco Verratti should also be delicious. Both are pocket sized magicians who like to dictate the tempo and are no strangers to the referee’s notebook.

Any Previous?

Ahh, I forgot to tell you about this. Italy always, always beat England when it matters. Unless you count a cheeky 2-1 win at Le Tournoi back in 1997 (we’re not), England have never beaten our pasta guzzling brethren at a major tournament. Remind yourself of the most recent ignomy on that front…