Why Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips is England's key player in Euro 2020 final against Italy at Wembley
Ahead of tonight's Euro 2020 final between England and Italy, Sam Tighe from the Ranks FC podcast explains why Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips is key to who becomes European champions at Wembley.
Kalvin Phillips versus Marco Verratti in midfield might be the most pivotal individual battle in the final.
Whoever wins it can set a platform for victory for their team.
It sounds dramatic, but here's how I see it:
Verratti has been sensational since returning from injury and entering the team.
His comeback game against Wales genuinely sparkled; they couldn't get near him and he ran the game; dancing round challenges, dictating a high tempo.
The thing is, Wales were dreadful this tournament (despite progression to the knockouts) and were particularly soft and sieve-like in midfield, so perhaps it's no surprise they couldn't contain him.
Spain versus Italy showed us that Verratti can actually be shackled, though.
Koke did an absolute job on him, man-marking him for the best part of 70 minutes, and stopped him from receiving, dictating, finding space to play.
That, plus Busquets and Pedri's magic in midfield, set the tone for an entirely dominant Spain performance in midfield. They battered them.
Normally, this wouldn't be that much of an issue because Italy's number one way of progressing the ball is via the left flank anyway.
Their 4-3-3 formation tilts into a kind of 3-2-5, with Spinazzola carrying the ball, surging forward and linking with Insigne, Barella joining the centre-forward and Chiesa becoming the third man in that front line.
It leaves Jorginho plus Verratti/Locatelli as the two holding the middle, then Di Lorenzo tucks in as a narrow centre-back to form a three.
There's a huge emphasis on Spinazzola/left-sided buildup with or without Verratti, but now Spina has gone down they're a distinctly lesser threat on that flank.
Emerson is okay, but he's not the dual-footed threat Spina is.
So no Spina equals unable to rely on the left side to progress the ball.
And add that to the fact Verratti was barely in the game because of Koke, and it explains why Italy were run over and cut through in the middle over and over.
They had no way of moving the ball forward and just...succumbed.
Spina's done for the tournament, so England know they probably don't have to switch to a three-man back line (a la Germany) to bottle up that flank.
They can trust Walker/Stones plus the right winger (Saka?) to do their typical jobs on that flank vesus Emerson and Insigne.
I hope they also realise that England's 4-2-3-1 matches Mount up as a pressing no 10 versus Jorginho (club mates!), Rice will naturally sink and match up with Barella, leaving Phillips to handle Verratti.
Verratti will drift around, but Phillips can follow him.
He can stick himself to Verratti and dedicate himself to stopping him. We know he has the stamina, the tactical awareness and the duelling strength to do this role, and if England can take Verratti out of this game, Italy will run into the same problems they did versus Spain - who they had to drag to penalties to beat.
Important not to get lost in all of this is:
1. Verratti is amazing. This is no simple job.
2. Koke's been playing against Modric, Kroos, Iniesta and co all his career.
This man knows how to chase a talented playmaker around and stymie them.
Phillips, with respect, has no such track record. I personally have the faith that he can pull it off, but it's important not to fall into a trap of thinking Phillips can simply do whatever Koke can; Koke is an elite-level footballer.
But the blueprint for success is there. As a result of Spina's injury and Koke's illuminating performance on Tuesday, it's there. Phillips is at the centre of it; he's the key man I think.
Sam Tighe and the Ranks FC podcast can be listened to HERE
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Thank you Laura Collins