The Data Day No. 22: Your Euro 2020 Italy Was Not Your Father’s Italy
Welcome to The Data Day, our daily Euro 2020 stats blog where we try and make sense of what just happened.
A football-mad nation steeped in success learned in November 2017 they would not be playing in the following summer’s World Cup. But Italy’s redemption under Roberto Mancini was quick and definite, and the Azzurri’s unbeaten streak now stands at 34 matches after winning Euro 2020. Champions of Europe despite not appearing in the last World Cup. Rare, but success always is.
In a sense, the historical narrative will be seen as the contemporary narrative. It went to penalties, and the country that tends to have a historically reasonable chance at winning them won them. Yes, Italy became the only team to ever win two shootouts at the same Euros on their way to their second European Championships title. And yes, the country that tends to lose them lost. But in another sense, the narrative as a whole has grown nuanced. The Italian identity has been given a makeover, a reason for celebration beyond a mere trophy, and an authentic one at that. It’s a transformation that feels strong enough to shift a world of neutrals to truly appreciate the Azzurri rather than ask more from a team of true professionals.
Italy, the third nation to win at least two World Cups and Euros for their sixth major tournament title, averaged more touches in the opposition box (38.7) than any team other than Spain or the Netherlands. Marco Verratti’s 14 chances created led the tournament, despite missing the first match – one in which his replacement (Manuel Locatelli) was perhaps the best player on the pitch. Federico Chiesa also wasn’t in the starting XI from the outset, but it became impossible for Mancini to not start him, and he was impossible to not notice when he was on. He was one of five Italians with two goals at the tournament. Only Denmark came close to that with four. He only attempted 16 take-ons in the tournament – Raheem Sterling led with 38 – but Chiesa’s ended in a tournament-leading three shots and one of the tournament’s seven take-ons with a goal.
That’s all without mentioning Jorginho, who after winning Champions League with Chelsea, has got to be a Ballon d’Or contender, despite missing a penalty that could have won the title before Bukayo Saka’s miss. It seemed Jorginho would exit the match with an injury in the first half. Instead, he completed 95 of 99 passes for the match, including 64 of 66 in England’s half, with a match-leading four interceptions. All that involvement, yet his six possessions lost were the fewest among outfield players to go the full 120 minutes.
When Italy lost the ball, they of course had their old duo at the back to lean on, but they also had eight players in front of them actively working to get it back rather than waiting for it to come to them. Mancini’s side led the tournament with 13 shots off of high turnovers, and the tournament’s other 23 teams need to combine their numbers to match Italy’s three goals from the press.
But sometimes the basic data is enough: They matched Spain for the most goals in the tournament (13, one of which was an own goal way back in the tournament’s 53rd minute against Turkey). The Azzurri’s goals came from everywhere but Patrik Schick territory. Italy’s 10 from inside the box ranked third, their three from outside trailed only Denmark, and they were second to Spain in xG (13.2).
Italy outshot England 19-6, they had the ball for 65.6% of the game, and the xG advantage Italy held was the fifth highest among the 15 knockout stage matches:
Italy survived against Spain, and they at times thrived against England, despite being without key parts of a dynamic back four that made them dangerous in earlier stages of the tournament. From England’s early goal, momentum built only in one direction:
The drama of the final came not just in penalties, in which Italian keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma remained unbeaten for club (3) and country (2). Italy conceded in the second minute and trailed for 65. In their previous 33 on the unbeaten run coming into tonight’s final, they trailed for a total of 44 minutes.
For England, the story that played out after their goal was not unlike playing the opposite role from the one Gareth Southgate’s side enacted in their match against Denmark (England outshot Denmark 20-6). Four days before the final, England conceded but then equalised and dominated play to the point where it felt unfathomable for them to lose before the end of extra time. Denmark’s chances never came, and it seemed England’s could at any time in the semi-final.
In the final, England had one shot on target after Luke Shaw’s second-minute goal. It was a Harry Maguire header that no one will remember. Harry Kane finished the match without a touch in Italy’s box after being a key part of England’s goal. Combine that with Sterling’s relative absence (41 touches and two successful take-ons in 120 minutes), and it felt a second goal for England was going to have to come from somewhere extraordinary. This team – few will question – was built on the pragmatic, and Southgate stuck with that until the end. Their goals in the tournament came from areas of the pitch that became unreachable as the game settled in, all from closer than the penalty spot:
If you get one of those against Italy, there’s a strong chance you’ve had your share. Nevertheless, for a few minutes after Shaw’s goal, it still felt like the tactics of Southgate could win Euro 2020. They may have subsisted against your father’s Italy. But this Italy was built to come from behind, even if they weren’t practiced in it.
Italy’s equaliser came in the 67th minute when Leonardo Bonucci followed up a rebound off the post from just off the line. At 34 years, 71 days old, Bonucci is the oldest player ever to score in a Euros final, and he punctuated it by converting when he was called upon for a spot kick.
It was a moment of glaring contrast in which an experienced centre back was called upon from 12 yards, followed by England’s trio of comparatively inexperienced substitutes who all missed. Two were teenagers. Two were subbed on in the 120th minute and managed two touches of the ball before being asked to stare down Donnarumma. Penalties, it seems, aren’t Southgate’s thing whether he’s taking them or assigning them.
Italy’s path to the title ended up being perhaps harder than anticipated. We gave Italy a 7.6% chance to win the tournament before a ball was kicked – sixth highest. That path ended up going through Belgium, Spain (perhaps a match earlier than expected since Spain didn’t win their group) and England – England at Wembley. An unbeaten streak that was questioned for lack of competition is now anything but. Italy rule Europe, England do not.