Absent stars, key battles & question marks in first Euro 2020 semi-final

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Euro 2020 has reached the last-four stage and we have just three matches remaining. It has been a hugely enjoyable few weeks – and it’ll get a whole lot better for one nation.

First up on the semi-final stage is Italy against Spain.

The Azzurri might have been the most impressive of all 24 nations to have reached these finals, in terms of tactical balance, bench options and attacking style.

But Spain have perhaps grown into the tournament as it has gone on, have a manager who knows how to win and a younger, more rotated squad – this should prove an intriguing spectacle, even if one side is a clear favourite at kick-off.

 

Italy and Spain tournament talking points

  • Leonardo Spinazzola has been one of the players of the tournament from left-back, but he’s out with a long-term injury and Roberto Mancini has a big call for who replaces him
  • Aymeric Laporte ‘became’ Spanish right before the tournament and has had a tough run so far, with the centre-back partnerships error-strewn and far from having gelled as yet
  • Ciro Immobile drew the ire of some in the quarter-finals, but he has been part of a fully-functioning attack – five goals and two assists between the four players who have featured most
  • Luis Enrique has chopped and changed his wide attackers – Sarabia and Ferran came in last time but Dani Olmo is pushing for a start. Mikel Oyarzabal has come on as sub in all five games

 

Today’s fixtures

  • Italy vs Spain, semi-final, BBC One at 8pm
  • Colombia vs Argentina, Copa America semi-final, BBC iPlayer at 2am (Tues)

 

Expectations on…

MUNICH, GERMANY - JULY 02: Players of Italy pose for a team photograph prior to the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Belgium and Italy at Football Arena Munich on July 02, 2021 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm - UEFA)

Italy. As noted, they have been the best team at the tournament so far, but that counts for nothing if they fail to turn up just once.

This might be the first game of the tournament where they don’t dominate huge stretches of possession, and the expectation would be that for those moments, their defence is good enough, organised enough and familiar enough to withstand the Spanish onslaught…except at left-back, now.

Roberto Mancini hasn’t lost a game with the national team since September 2018 – has only even drawn five times since then! – and he is closing in on a deserved and incredible success, but there’s simply no room for error at this stage.

 

Key battle to watch

Sergio Busquets vs Nicolo Barella.

The greatest defensive midfielder in modern history, now past his prime and bypassed by pace, but still capable of raising his game and protecting the defence by his reading of the match and positional play, and more than the odd sly foul.

Spain, simply put, need him to be at his very best against the blue swarm in the centre of the park, because the defence isn’t good enough.

Barella, on the other hand, is the most energetic and attack-minded component of the trio for the Azzurri, always looking to get into the box, brilliant in carrying the ball and full of confidence after a title win, a starting spot with Italy and a brilliant quarter-final goal.

 

Selection dilemmas

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 02: Luis Enrique, Head Coach of Spain reacts during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Switzerland and Spain at Saint Petersburg Stadium on July 02, 2021 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo - UEFA)

Emerson Palmieri is the other left-back for Italy, but if they want to replicate Spinazzola’s driving runs and right-footed approach to cutting in around the box, perhaps the original starting right-back of the tournament – Alessandro Florenzi – will come in instead.

Andre Belotti could come in for Immobile but it seems unlikely – no other changes are expected unless there are injuries.

For Spain, Luis Enrique could well replace Sarabia with Olmo once more. Ferran Torres probably remains in, but Gerardo Moreno or finally starting Oyarzabal are other options.

Pau Torres or Eric Garcia? That’s the big question at centre-back – neither have overly impressed alongside Laporte and it’s just the three central midfielders – and Alvaro Morata – who seem fixed points.

 

Reds in action

Thiago in the Spain squad again, but he’s almost certain to be sub once more.

 

Predictions

Italy to continue their rampage and make the final.

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