England and Italy meet once more, this time in the Uefa Nations League after the dramatic penalty shoot-out between the two in last summer’s Euro 2020 final. Then, it was the Azzurri who triumphed – but they failed to build on that success as Roberto Mancini’s side lost in a World Cup qualifying play-off. They will not be at Qatar 2022 as a result, where England will attempt to reach a third successive major tournament semi-final at the very least, having qualified with ease.
Gareth Southgate’s outfit have not had quite as positive a time of matters in the Nations League so far, losing to Hungary and drawing with Germany across two games in the past week. Harry Kane netted his 50th England goal in the latter, from the penalty spot, and is now just three off Wayne Rooney in the all-time scoring list.
Italy are still searching for the right combinations in attack after injuries to the likes of Nicolo Zaniolo, Domenico Berardi and – on a longer-term basis – Federico Chiesa. England will make changes of their own though, with Southgate noting the unsual timing of four quickfire games. “Teams are thinking about player welfare to a degree, freshness, but also they are preparing for a World Cup because they know what’s coming and what they haven’t got in terms of friendlies ahead of the tournament,” he noted. Follow all the build-up, team news and match action for England vs Italy below:
“For this jersey, I’d play even if I was missing a finger. I have to thank the medical staff, it seemed impossible a couple of days ago to play, but with my desire to be here and their help, we did it. I want to wear this jersey for as long as I possibly can,” he told Italian media.
“We knew that we had to do something new, to change, to reboot and the lads all put themselves at the disposal of the coach. They are eager to work and that’s the right attitude, because this shirt is priceless.”
So where are today’s goals coming from? It has to be noted that both nations are not exactly crammed full of regular scorers on the international scene right now, with the obvious exception of Kane.
After him, there is just one player in double figures between the two squads. England’s top scorers at this level in the current squad are Raheem Sterling (19), Harry Maguire (7), Mason Mount (4). Everybody else is between three and yet to net.
For Italy, it’s midfielder Nicolo Barella (8) who is top, with Lorenzo Pellegrini (5) and Matteo Pessina (4) the only others to breach the mighty barrier of three.
A dismal defeat to North Macedonia meant no Italy at the World Cup finals – and immediate pressure on Roberto Mancini, Euros winner just 10 months earlier, to find answers and an immediate response.
Injuries to key players haven’t helped, with the forward line in particular looking very different now to during the Euros, with Chiesa out, Insigne departing Serie A and Immobile having missed the end of the campaign through injury.
Winning the Nations League group would be a good step back towards respectability, with Italy not having to experiment ahead of Qatar in the way Germany and England may.
With the goalkeepers in mind, Jordan Pickford has now moved to 45 caps – he’s certain to pass the 50 milestone at the finals in Qatar, assuming no injuries or dramatic losses of form. Even the latter might not see him removed, given Southgate’s loyalty to him in the past.
The defender has missed both matches so far in this international break due to an injury – but he conquered the domestic game in Italy this season as a title-winner with AC Milan.
Jarrod Bowen will also be hoping for a third cap after a couple of bright showings so far, with Marc Guehi and James Justin – the latter carrying a knock – the outfield squad members on just one cap so far.
There is no great expectation that Gareth Southgate will rotate in goal, though both Nick Pope and Aaron Ramsdale are inexperienced at international level and it could be wise to see them in action again at some point before the World Cup finals.
Andrea Pirlo was underlining why ‘the Yorkshire Pirlo’ wasn’t really the Yorkshire Pirlo. He was complimentary about Kalvin Phillips, and sent the Leeds midfielder a message of good luck, but argued he had no equivalent on these shores.
“In England, there’s never been this kind of player,” he said. “There have been great midfielders over the years with different skills. There’s the boy at Leeds who’s a bit of a regista, but… we’re a bit different. He doesn’t have the same characteristics I had. You’ve always had box-to-box midfielders, like Frank Lampard.”
Pirlo used to specialise in illustrating what England were missing. He was the elegant intellectual who played the game his own way, all technique and no physique as the ball did the running for him. He was a one-man indictment of Roy Hodgson’s England. And years later, when Pirlo had already come and gone as Juventus manager, when England had been transformed into a far more progressive team, his analysis underlined a familiar shortcoming: England’s possession problem.
It was proved by Pirlo’s successors, the twin registas who helped Italy win Euro 2020, in Jorginho and Marco Verratti. Go back to last summer’s final and the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Verratti completed more passes, some 111, than Phillips, Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson, Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka and Kieran Trippier did between them. And if not all are central midfielders, if most did not play 120 minutes, neither did Verratti, who went off with 25 remaining.
England may be grateful that a rematch with Italy on Saturday is not a reunion with old tormentors. Jorginho and Verratti left the Azzurri squad after the Finalissima. Another chastening night may have been averted; but perhaps only postponed.
Jack Grealish has become a connoisseur of dugouts. He can compare the Bernabeu with the Wanda Metropolitano, the Allianz Arena with the Puskas Arena, Wembley with Old Trafford, the Etihad with the Emirates. He has begun on the bench at all this season. He became the first £100m man to win the Premier League on an afternoon when he had a view of Pep Guardiola’s back: he was an unused substitute in the final-day win over Aston Villa.
One of his most famous appearances for England both began and ended on the bench: he was the substitute who was substituted in the Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark, removed so others could protect a lead. Fast forward a year and in Munich Grealish took up his now familiar position behind Gareth Southgate. But when England were behind, he was brought on and he brought them back into the game.
Not directly. It would have been a fairer reflection of his influence had Harry Kane converted an enticing cross; instead Manuel Neuer made a superlative save and the equaliser actually came from the penalty spot when Nico Schlotterbeck tripped the England captain as each chased another Grealish centre.
Kieran Trippier called it a privilege to play alongside “special” skipper Harry Kane as the England full-back vowed to do anything he can to help Gareth Southgate’s side.
After starting the Nations League with a shock 1-0 loss in Hungary, the Three Lions dug deep at the Allianz Arena to secure a 1-1 draw with Germany on Tuesday evening.
Jonas Hofmann’s second-half strike was cancelled out by a late spot-kick from Kane, who fired past Manuel Neuer to become just the second man to reach 50 goals for England.
Wayne Rooney’s record haul of 53 is tantalisingly close and Trippier, a former Tottenham team-mate and long-standing international colleague of Kane, was full of praise for the England captain.
Given the number of football people that are still obsessed with golf, many have naturally been messaging friends on the tour about the LIV controversy. The responses have been as varied as they have been predictable. Some are aghast at golf’s august institutions being ravaged, some think it’s fair enough to take the money. A core of the game’s officials fear something similar again for football, others are sensing more opportunity.
Many are describing it as “golf’s European Super League moment”, and it is why the threat of that project is still so pertinent. Its next steps will dictate the future of the game, and decide whether anything even worse – such as LIV Soccer – is yet possible in football.
As regards to something so overt, everything depends on the court hearing being brought by the ESL to the European Court of Justice over 11-12 July. That will decide whether the rebel clubs have a justifiable case that Uefa is abusing a monopoly position as a competition organiser. If that were to be taken forward, and the ESL were to win, it would open the way for the clubs – or any other interests – to set up their own events. Football would be in a whole new world, which could eventually resemble a “wild west” of different competitions.
Uefa, for their part, are supremely confident that their role as the game’s safeguard will see an institution as “political” as the ECJ rule on their side. The view is that football has too much social value, and the effect would be too great.
Much will depend on whether the case is overseen on a primarily commercial basis or sociopolitical. If the former, and it’s about pure competition, the ESL have a decent chance of winning. That would remove one of the old football world’s few remaining protections.
European football is caught between American capitalism chasing profit and Middle Eastern sportswashing chasing political aims, and its historical powers are struggling to win back control
source: The Independent