England – Italy: Individual Quality Shines At Wembley (3-1)
Both sides looked to impose themselves here with an aggressive pressing game. Italy were able to make the first breakthrough with an early goal, but England’s talented attackers were what ultimately decided the game, with Jude Bellingham, Marcus Rashford, and Harry Kane all showing their quality.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
We decided to make this article free to read. If you want to support our work, consider taking a subscription.
England struggled in their most recent EURO 2024 Qualifying game as they were held to a draw by Ukraine. After putting out a rotated side in last week’s narrow 1-0 win over Australia, Gareth Southgate returned to more familiar names to face Italy. England started in a 4-2-3-1 shape with a back four of Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, and Kieran Trippier. Kalvin Phillips was given a start in midfield alongside Declan Rice, with Jude Bellingham at number ten. The front trio consisted of Phil Foden, Harry Kane, and Marcus Rashford.
Italy suffered defeat on home soil last time they faced England. Since then there has been a change in management though, with Luciano Spalletti taking charge and earning his first win last month against Ukraine. They lined up in a 4-3-3 formation here, with Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Giorgio Scalvini, Francesco Acerbi, and Destiny Udogie at the back. Nicolò Barella, Bryan Cristante, and Davide Frattesi were in midfield, while Domenico Berardi and Stephan El Shaarawy flanked Gianluca Scamacca up front.
England press, Italy lead
Both teams showed a willingness to pressure the opponent’s buildup intensely, especially in the first half of this game. It turned out that both teams had somewhat more success in pressing than in putting together long possession phases of their own.
England’s 4-2-3-1 pressing shape against Italy’s 4-3-3 formation allowed them to easily gain access to their direct opponents in buildup. Bellingham would mark Cristante in Italy’s number six position, while England’s wingers had an active role in stepping up to pressure Italy’s back four, trusting that Walker and Trippier would be aggressive in closing the spaces behind them.
England looked to press high early in the game.
The pressing was not strictly man-oriented, with Phillips and Rice covering a mixture of man and zone to cover the spaces left behind as England’s front four pressed aggressively. This prevented England from losing compactness when Italy’s central midfielders drifted into wider areas to try and find space.
England’s pressing was mostly successful. The standout exception to this was Italy’s opening goal though, as Udogie was able to escape Foden and England’s other right-sided players with some enterprising play, before transferring the ball to the right side of pitch where Italy finalized the attack.
This was also a theme that occurred on a few occasions, where Italy would buildup on the left before transferring the ball to the right, where the dynamic of Berardi cutting inside and Di Lorenzo overlapping caused England some problems.
England’s talents shine
Engand’s own possession phase started from a 4-2-3-1 shape, slightly different from the flexible 4-3-3 system that Southgate has been using throughout the qualifying campaign. Within this system, England played in a more direct manner, getting the ball into the feet of their talented front four as quickly as possible.
Walker often plays quite a reserved role as fullback for club and country, but in this system he was often the width provider on the right for England. This allowed Foden to indent from the right side. Trippier and Rashford shared similar duties on the left, allowing both wingers the freedom to cut inside.
Bellingham also had a lot of freedom from the number ten role, either to stay between the lines or drop into a midfield three with Rice and Phillips, often through the left halfspace. Rice was usually the deepest midfielder, sometimes also dropping alongside the center-backs. Phillips often was positioned slightly higher than Rice, and would assume the sole number six role when Rice dropped into the backline.
Italy’s pressing, with Frattesi moving out of the midfield line.
Against this, Italy pressed in a 4-3-3 shape which often transformed into 4-4-2 or 4-3-1-2 arrangements due to their man-oriented system. Frattesi would often end up alongside Scamacca up front as he pursued Rice into deeper areas, while Barella also often took up quite advanced positions in his marking of Phillips.
This left Cristante to mark Bellingham, while Italy’s wingers often ended up in quite deep positions when tracking England’s fullbacks. Either Scalvini or Acerbi would also follow Kane’s dropping movements from the frontline, meaning they were often dragged into midfield.
Despite going behind early on, England were able to turn things around within an hour. In the first half, a brilliant combination between Bellingham and Kane led to an England penalty which Kane scored. In the second half, England were able to hit Italy on the counter-attack, with Rashford driving at the Italian defense and finding a pinpoint finish from the edge of the box to make it 2-1.
England secure the win
Both sides made substitutes after England’s second goal. England brought on Marc Guehi for Stones, while Italy made a triple substitute as Alessandro Bastoni, Federico Dimarco, and Moise Kean replaced Acerbi, Udogie, and Scamacca.
England were quite comfortable in the final half an hour of the game. They dropped into deeper defending at times, with Bellingham sometimes dropping into the midfield to form a 4-5-1 shape and make it difficult for Italy to find gaps.
With Italy pressing forward, there were opportunities for transitional attacks, which England thrived on. England still had their fair share of stable possession too, and were overall in control. Kane was able to exploit the space left behind the Italy defense in the final ten minutes to add a third goal, putting the result beyond doubt.
The high level of talent England possess in attack is partly why they will probably go to next summer’s tournament as favourites to win, assuming everyone stays fit. Bellingham was on fine form in this game, as were the front trio. England played a very stable system, much as they have in tournament football under Southgate, and this gave their attackers the platform to make the difference.
This result leaves Italy with some work to do in order to qualify for EURO 2024. Ukraine currently sit three points ahead of them in the group with an extra game played, and things may be decided by the head-to-head clash between the two sides next month. Italy showed some decent attacking sequences in the first half of this game, but faded in the second half. Defensively, they tried to take the game to England with a man-oriented pressing system that was moderately effective, but England’s frontline proved too much to contain for the full match.
Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.
Check the match plots page for plots of other matches.