All roads lead to Rome London.
The first of the two semi-finals of an incredible European Championship gets underway at Wembley on Tuesday evening, as Italy and Spain go head-to-head for the right to face Denmark or England in the final.
For many of an ‘It’s Coming Home’ persuasion this is the precursor to the main event, but the reality is that this tie could be the best of the tournament so far.
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No side has scored more goals or created more big chances at the tournament than Spain, whilst no side has allowed fewer shots on target than the Italians.
These two are familiar foes too – having faced each other in each of the previous three editions of this competition – including Spain’s 4-0 victory in the Euro 2012 final. That was a different era though, and things are completely different this time.
Roberto Mancini’s Italy have been a juggernaut throughout the tournament, sweeping aside all before them without ever really looking in danger of losing. They were almost stunned by Austria in the Last 16, but it would have been undeserved based on their performance and their victory over Belgium in the quarter-finals was The Azzurri personified.
They were the better side in all phases of the game with veteran centre-backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci doing enough to keep Romelu Lukaku at bay for the most part, and utilising every trick in the book to do so.
It was in midfield, though, that they were truly phenomenal, and they were able to exploit the deficiencies in their opponents. Led by the tenacious Marco Verratti, they hunted together and made The Red Devils look spectacularly ordinary. They were able to exploit their man advantage in the centre to virtually bypass Belgium’s press and expose their centre-backs, giving Jorginho all the time in the world to find his passes – which he did with a 99% accuracy.
It was Nico Barella that stole the show though, opening the scoring with a sublime solo goal before putting on a clinic in midfield. It was a joy to watch, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that trio fares against the Spaniards.
Their trio of Koke-Busquets-Pedri has been dominating sides for the last couple of weeks, creating a plethora of chances and embarrassing international footballers in the process. Pedri, in particular, has been a joy to watch and, at just 18-years-old, should become the youngest player ever to start a European Championship semi-final.
The boy from Las Palmas has played 508 minutes of football already though, after featuring 52 times for Barcelona last season, and there’s a worry he could burnout – especially against that Italian midfield. Luis Enrique has shown great faith in him though, and it’s been repaid tenfold in his performances.
Two players who haven’t necessarily repaid the faith shown in them though are strikers Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno. No side to participate in the tournament has missed as many ‘Big Chances’ (11) as the pair of them combined, whose tally of two goals has been nowhere near enough.
It is one of Spain’s major weaknesses and is part of the reason that both of their knockout games have gone beyond 90 minutes, with two of their three group games also being level at full-time.
Leonardo Spinazzola’s fantastic tournament came to an abrupt end on Friday evening, departing the game on a stretcher after 79 minutes with an achilles injury that could keep him out for months. It means Chelsea’s Emerson Palmieri should deputise at left-back, and the expectation will be for him to bring as much attacking intensity as the man he’s replacing. On the other side, Alessandro Florenzi could be in contention to return to the line-up at the expense of Giovanni Di Lorenzo, who has provided ample cover since the Roma full-back was injured in the opening game.
Elsewhere, Ciro Immobile has recovered from the *crippling* injury that he suffered in the build-up to Nico Barella’s opener against Belgium and should be fit enough to lead the line.
As far as Spain are concerned, there is only one real injury worry for Luis Enrique to deal with. Pablo Sarabia was forced off at half-time of their quarter-final with Switzerland with an apparent muscle strain, and now faces a race against time to be fit for this game. Dani Olmo should replace him in the starting XI if he doesn’t recover in time.
The Man in the Middle
It’s a short turnaround for German official Dr. Felix Brych, who oversaw England’s 4-0 demolition of Ukraine at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. It was his fourth game at the tournament, the second time he hasn’t shown a single card, and the third time he didn’t go above two bookings.
There is hope for card backers though, after he showed five yellows in Belgium’s feisty Last 16 victory over Portugal in Seville. He also showed 36 yellows and three reds in his eight continental club (Champions League/Europa League) games last season.
First things first, both of these sides are more than capable of putting in the performance that sends them directly into the Euro 2020 final. As far as the underlying metrics are concerned they’ve been more than enough value for their berths in the final four, and I’m extremely excited to watch them go head-to-head.
Given that these two are the most fouled sides at the tournament so far, I’ll be taking Over 27.5 Fre-Kicks at 10/11 with bet365. Spain have suffered more fouls (82) than any other side, whilst committing 54 and seeing 22 offsides in their games. Assuming a free-kick is given for each one, it equates to an average of 27.9 per game. Italy, meanwhile, have suffered 70 fouls, conceded 55 and seen 25 offsides; giving a free-kick average of 28.2 per game.
Now given this is a semi-final, and the stakes are higher than ever, I’ll also be taking a chance on Over 34.5 Free-Kicks at 6/1 with bet365. As good as both of these sides are, this game has the propensity to descend quickly into chaos if given the chance and I like the look of this line if it does.
Given I’m expecting a plethora of fouls, I’ll also be trying my luck with a cards play – even if the referee doesn’t always play along. If he gets the nod over Florenzi, Giovanni Di Lorenzo has as good a chance as anyone of picking up a booking – especially up against Spain’s left-hand side.
Right-sided defenders have had a torrid time against La Roja, with each of Sweden’s Mikael Lustig, Poland’s Kamil Jozwiak, and Switzerland’s Silvan Widmer finding themselves in deep trouble with the referee. The trio were all booked in their games against Spain, and Di Lorenzo is no stranger to a foul. It’s why I’ll be taking him to be carded at 4/1 with bet365.
The Napoli full-back committed 52 fouls in his last 28 Serie A games last season, and has given six free-kicks away in his two knockout stage appearances so far. He picked up a deserved booking in the game against Austria to add to the 11 he earned in those 28 Serie A games last season.
For an added bit of spice, I’ll be doubling him with Sergio Busquets to be carded for a 14/1 BetBuilder at bet365. The Barcelona midfielder was booked in nine of his 32 La Liga starts last season, and now faces up to a Italian midfield that has drawn 28 fouls at the tournament so far.
My final play of this tie revolves around two players that have certainly found their shooting boots at the tournament. I’m taking Federico Chiesa and Dani Olmo to have 2+ shots each at 7/5 with bet365’s BetBuilder function. Neither of them are guaranteed to start this game but, if they do, they’re good value for money to try their luck.
Chiesa has taken nine shots in his two starts at the tournament so far, and has hit this line in 11 of his last 12 starts for club and country. Olmo has had 11 shots in his two appearances in the knockout stages despite starting neither game, and has had two or more in nine of his last 10 competitive international games for Spain. It’s no surprise the same bet is well below Evens elsewhere.
Over 27.5 Free-Kicks at 10/11 with bet365
Over 34.5 Free-Kicks at 6/1 with bet365
Giovanni Di Lorenzo to be carded at 4/1 with bet365
Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Sergio Busquets to be carded at 14/1 with bet365
Federico Chiesa and Dani Olmo 2+ Shots Each at 7/5 with bet365
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