Jorginho is dreaming of winning the Ballon d'Or as Azzurri head coach Roberto Mancini insisted no one is more "deserving" than the Chelsea and Italy star.

Having won Euro 2020 with Italy after helping Chelsea to Champions League glory last season, Jorginho is among the nominees for this year's Ballon d'Or, alongside the likes of Paris Saint-Germain superstar and Copa America winner Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski.

Jorginho already received the UEFA Men's Player of the Year prize following his exploits for club and country.

"Ballon d'Or? That's the dream of every child in the world," Jorginho told reporters ahead of Sunday's Nations League third-place play-off against Belgium.

"I learnt that dreaming little things and big things is exactly the same. So, I prefer to dream big things."

"It would be incredible," the 29-year-old midfielder continued. "I can't find words to explain it. I could never imagine it when I start my career. But now I'm so close and that's really incredible, I feel so good."

Jorginho added: "Things are changing fast. I worked very hard with Chelsea and Italy, then this perfect season happened.

"Everyone helped me. I do not feel pressure, to be honest. I'm calm because everyone believes in me. I'm happy."

Italy boss Mancini also endorsed Jorginho for the prized individual honour, telling a news conference: "They were nominated because they are good players and not because of me.

"If I have to choose one, I'd give it to Jorginho because he won Champions League, Euro Cup and FA Cup. He deserves it, I do not see anyone deserving it more than him."

After not being awarded in 2020, the Ballon d'Or – football's most prestigious individual award – is back up for grabs this year.

Argentina superstar Lionel Messi is the overwhelming favourite with the bookmakers to win a record-extending seventh trophy.

Messi was, of course, among a shortlist of 30 players nominated on Friday, with that number to be whittled down to just three players next month.

Here, Stats Perform looks at five candidates for the prize… starting with the obvious.

Lionel Messi

Barcelona may be in turmoil, but Lionel Messi was still at his extraordinary best before departing for Paris Saint-Germain amid financial strife for the LaLiga heavyweights – albeit on the trophy front he won only the Copa del Rey last term. In 2021, Messi has 29 goals, nine assists and 76 chances created domestically for Barca and PSG. But it is Messi's triumph with Argentina at the Copa America that make him the favourite for a seventh Ballon d'Or, with the achievement finally marking his first title on the international stage. Messi had four goals and five assists as Lionel Scaloni's men celebrated success in Brazil.

Jorginho

It has been a year to remember for Jorginho, who has been one of the biggest beneficiaries following Thomas Tuchel's appointment as Chelsea boss in January. The deep-lying playmaker was influential as the Blues were crowned Champions League winners for the second time, securing the trophy thanks to a 1-0 win over Manchester City. Fast forward two months and Jorginho was celebrating Euro 2020 success with Italy, playing in every match for the Azzurri, who defeated England in the final via a penalty shoot-out at Wembley. His achievements have already been acknowledged after he was named UEFA's Men Player of the Year.

N'Golo Kante

Much like team-mate Jorginho, N'Golo Kante has been superb under the tutelage of Tuchel. Kante was a top performer as Chelsea defeated Real Madrid in the semi-finals and was named man of the match following an all-action display against City in the final. France's shock last-16 exit to Switzerland at Euro 2020 is likely to count against Kante, but he remains one the finest midfielders in the game.

Robert Lewandowski

Really the only thing that denied Robert Lewandowski winning a Ballon d'Or in 2020 was France Football's decision not to present the award amid the coronavirus pandemic. While there was no repeat of the treble-winning heroics of that disrupted 2019-20 campaign, Lewandowski has still been in astounding form for Bayern Munich and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 as Die Roten were crowned champions for a ninth straight campaign. So far in 2021 across Europe's top-five leagues, Lewandowski leads the way for goals scored (41) and big chances (as defined by Opta) scored (34).

Cristiano Ronaldo

Much like Messi, five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo did not necessarily enjoy his finest year in terms of domestic trophies won. Juventus ended up in a disappointing fourth position in Serie A, while they were knocked out of the Champions League last 16 by Porto. But he did finish as top scorer in the league with 29 goals and helped the Bianconeri win the Coppa Italia before he left to re-join Manchester United in a late transfer window move. Internationally, Ronaldo – at the age of 36 – finished top scorer at Euro 2020, where Portugal's defence of the European Championship was ended at the last-16 stage. In September, he became the record goalscorer in men's international football, as a brace against the Republic of Ireland took him to 111.

 

Ballon d'Or 2021 shortlist in full:  Cesar Azpilicueta, Nicolo Barella, Karim Benzema, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Kevin De Bruyne, Ruben Dias, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Bruno Fernandes, Phil Foden, Erling Haaland, Jorginho, Harry Kane, N'Golo Kante, Simon Kjaer, Robert Lewandowski, Romelu Lukaku, Riyad Mahrez, Lautaro Martinez, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric, Gerard Moreno, Mason Mount, Neymar, Pedri, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah, Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez.

The winner of the prestigious prize will be announced at a ceremony in Paris on November 29.

 

 

The contenders for the Kopa Trophy – awarded to the world's best male under-21 footballer – was also published by France Football on Friday.

Barcelona's teen sensation Pedri, Bayern Munich talent Jamal Musiala and England trio Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Mason Greenwood have all been nominated.

Jeremy Doku, Ryan Gravenberch, Nuno Mendes, Gio Reyna and Florian Wirtz complete the 10-man shortlist.

Meanwhile, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Ederson, Edouard Mendy, Thibaut Courtois, Kasper Schmeichel, Manuel Neuer, Emiliano Martinez, Jan Oblak, Keylor Navas and Samir Handanovic are in the running for the Yachine Trophy, which is awarded to the best goalkeeper of the year. 

Giorgio Chiellini is urging Juventus not to focus all of their attention on Romelu Lukaku when they face Chelsea on Wednesday, also highlighting the qualities of Jorginho, who he is backing to win this year's Ballon d'Or.

Juve made a winning start to their Champions League campaign two weeks ago with a 3-0 victory over Malmo, though they will expect a rather trickier challenge as Chelsea visit Turin on matchday two.

The contest will see Chiellini renew hostilities with Lukaku, their pair having enjoyed some bruising tussles during the Belgian's time in Serie A with Inter.

But the Chelsea player Chiellini seems to hold in the highest regard is Jorginho, a player he featured alongside as Italy won Euro 2020 earlier this year.

That success coupled with Chelsea's Champions League win in 2020-21 saw Jorginho win the UEFA Men's Player of the Year award in August, and Chiellini believes he deserves to add the Ballon d'Or to his collection as well.

Asked about the prospect of going up against Lukaku again, Chiellini said: "Lukaku is a great player, we will have to be careful.

"It will be important not to allow the qualities of champions like Lukaku to come out. He's a great player, whom they paid a lot for. He's not there by chance, but maybe it's a bit diminishing to talk about just the meeting of me and Lukaku – it's not just Lukaku.

"Chelsea have many champions: let's think of our great friend Jorginho, who is the 'lighthouse' of this team.

"I truly hope he can win the Ballon d'or because he's a good friend of mine and it's also an award that would feel like it's mine as an Italian and a player who was involved in the [Euro 2020] win."

Jorginho has not always had it easy at Chelsea, with many critics sceptical of his suitability to the club and English football in general, but Chiellini believes the fact he has outlasted both Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge is telling.

"I always thought he was a good player but after two or three sessions in the national team under [Roberto] Mancini, I realised just how good he is," Chiellini continued.

"What a top player he is. He maybe doesn't have great physical qualities, but the real difference is in his head, his mentality, and I was really happy because many said he could only play with Sarri.

"Instead, two other coaches arrived at Chelsea and then in the national team. Wherever he goes he plays as a regular, so I'm happy for him and he definitely deserves an award, so I truly hope he wins the Ballon d'Or."

Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri was questioned on the form of his own midfielders, specifically Adrien Rabiot.

The Frenchman has only impressed in spells since joining from Paris Saint-Germain two years ago and Allegri clearly wants more – though he is adamant Rabiot has the capacity to improve.

"It's similar to [Federico] Bernardeschi," Allegri said. "The difference among players is when they come to Juve – if a big club chooses them, there's obviously a reason, but the difference in their career depends on mentality, their specific objective in helping the team and the capacity to improve, being determined in training sessions, scoring, defending.

"These are the elements that make the difference. How many good, technical players haven't been able to explode in their careers because maybe there was something missing?

"Rabiot is a player, if I was him, I'd be very angry with myself because he's a player who's been here two years, how many goals he scored? Ten [six] in two seasons? That's not acceptable. He needs to improve in order to get much better and I'm pretty sure he'll be able to do that this year."

Italy were held to a goalless draw by Switzerland at St. Jakob-Park in Sunday's World Cup qualifier as they extended their unbeaten run to 36 games and matched the all-time record.

The Azzurri equalled Spain's European mark with a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria earlier this week and are now level with Brazil's global record, set between 1993 and 1996.

But the point will be considered a disappointment by Roberto Mancini as Jorginho missed a penalty and the wasteful visitors squandered a number of other presentable opportunities.

The draw leaves Italy, who had scored in each of their previous 17 matches, top of Group C and four points better off than a Switzerland side with two games in hand to play.

Domenico Berardi was reinstated in Italy's starting line-up and wasted the best of the first-half chances when failing to beat Yann Sommer after being played clean through.

Lorenzo Insigne was denied from a free-kick by Sommer, who was also equal to a weak shot from Ciro Immobile after Manuel Akanji had glanced just over at the other end.

An annoyed Mancini's mood did not improve eight minutes into the second half as Jorginho's tame penalty, awarded for Ricardo Rodriguez's foul on Berardi, was easily saved by Sommer.

That was the first penalty Jorginho has missed for Italy at the sixth time of taking one, excluding shoot-outs, having missed one in the Euro 2020 final against England.

Mancini instantly turned to substitutes Federico Chiesa and Nicolo Zaniolo but Italy struggled to create many more openings, with Insigne not getting enough power behind his shot to beat Sommer from the best of those.

Jorginho has not yet received a contract offer to extend his stay at Chelsea as he targets playing for as long as possible.

The midfielder won the Champions League with Thomas Tuchel's side last term and then Euro 2020 with Italy, leading him to be named UEFA Men's Player of the Year.

His club and country double saw him become just the 10th player to achieve the feat of winning both competitions in the same year, though his long-term future at Chelsea remains unclear with two years left on his current deal.

"One thing at a time and in the end they come to terms," Jorginho told reporters on Tuesday, as he prepares to face Bulgaria, when asked if he could possibly see out his career at Stamford Bridge.

"On the contract, I say that I didn't have any offer and now I don't even think about it, honestly.

"But at 29 you already talk to me about finishing my career, but I want to play until 40. If they make me a ten-year contract, then yes."

Jorginho insisted his focus was on one game at a time, with Bulgaria, Switzerland and Lithuania all to come in World Cup qualifiers.

The 29-year-old was a standout performer for Italy at Euro 2020, leading the charts for recoveries (48) and interceptions (25) after carrying his Champions League form into June and July.

Jorginho's 484 successful passes were bettered only by Spain's Aymeric Laporte (644), as he created seven chances for his team-mates. Only international colleague Lorenzo Insigne (40) was involved in more shot-ending sequences than his 38.

With one individual award already under his belt, the former Napoli midfielder refused to be drawn on the Ballon d'Or race while also insisting Italy will now face a different challenge in the aftermath of their European Championship success.

"Now [it] becomes difficult, Italy is no longer a surprise," he continued. "It is in the place it deserves to be and all those who come to play against us will do it in a different way.

"After what we have done we are happy, but we must always remain humble.

"On the Ballon d'Or, I let you speak, I try to live in the moment. There are still a few months left for that decision and I think about the present, I want to enjoy this moment with those around me. We'll see what happens."

Jorginho has been crowned UEFA Men's Player of the Year for the 2020-21 campaign following a stellar year for club and country.

The 29-year-old helped Chelsea to Champions League success in May and followed that up by winning Euro 2020 with Italy six weeks later.

He started every game for Italy and missed just one match for the Blues in their run to continental glory as he became the 10th player to win both competitions in the same year.

Former Napoli midfielder Jorginho edged out Chelsea team-mate N'Golo Kante and Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne for the award at Thursday's ceremony in Istanbul.

It is the first time in the award's 11-year history that the top three was comprised exclusively of midfielders.

Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo and Erling Haaland were notable absentees from the three-man shortlist.

The award, which is based on performances at club and international level over the course of a season, was last year won by Lewandowski.

Jorginho's memorable campaign

The role Jorginho played in Italy's triumphant Euro 2020 campaign likely cemented the award, the deep-lying playmaker leading the way in a number of areas.

Jorginho topped the list for interceptions (25), recoveries (48) and fouls won (19), rightly earning himself a spot in the official Team of the Tournament.

He was just as important to Chelsea's second ever Champions League triumph, with no midfielder intercepting the ball more times (26), while only four players in his position completed more than his 662 passes.

Despite an underwhelming Premier League campaign on the whole for the Blues last time out, Jorginho topped the scoring charts with seven goals in total, each of those coming from the penalty spot.

Edouard Mendy, Ruben Dias, N'Golo Kante and Erling Haaland won the positional awards for the 2020-21 Champions League.

Chelsea goalkeeper Mendy kept nine clean sheets in last season's competition as the Blues won the trophy for the second time, beating Manchester City 1-0 in the final.

City defender Dias was named the best defender, while Chelsea's Kante – UEFA's man of the match in each leg of the semi-final and the final – won the prize for midfielders.

Borussia Dortmund striker Haaland was chosen as the best forward in 2020-21.

The players were chosen from a shortlist of 12, who had each received the most points in each positional category following a jury vote. The jury comprised coaches from the 32 clubs that entered into the group stage last season, as well as 55 journalists representing UEFA's 55 member associations. Coaches could not vote for players from their own teams.

Five of the 12 nominees were from Chelsea: Mendy, Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, Kante and Jorginho.

City had three representatives – Ederson, Dias and Kevin De Bruyne – while beaten semi-finalists Real Madrid and PSG provided one each: Thibaut Courtois, and Kylian Mbappe.

Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Haaland, who finished as top scorer last season with 10, were the other nominees.

Romelu Lukaku can turn Timo Werner into the goal machine Chelsea always thought the German would become, according to Thomas Tuchel.

The Blues' £97.5million investment in Lukaku, a player they offloaded to Everton for £28m seven years ago, has been one of the most eye-catching transfers of the window.

After starring with Inter and Belgium, Lukaku looks to be in the prime years of his career, ready to transfer his own scoring form from Serie A to the Premier League.

He could make his second Chelsea debut at Arsenal on Sunday, and head coach Tuchel sees Lukaku bringing his influence to bear across the Chelsea frontline, including spurring on Werner to improve on his ho-hum first year in English football.

"This can be a big upgrade for him, to have Romelu, who likes to be in the centre of the pitch and to fight physically with defenders," Tuchel said.

"He can create spaces for Timo, first of all from a position a bit wider than he used to play for us in the last season, to play around Romelu who is like the reference as a number nine, a reference for the attack.

"Hopefully, it gives Timo the space to play around him, to feel a bit more freedom, make it a bit easier to find the dangerous spaces and start scoring again."

Werner scored just 12 goals for Chelsea last season, failing to get close to an expected goals (xG) total of 21.07 that reflected the quality of his chances.

Those goals came at a rate of one every 318.83 minutes, and his shot conversion rate of 10.17 per cent fell well short of expectations.

At the same time, however, his assists total of 11 far exceeded an expected assists (xA) total of 4.48, and he finished the campaign as a Champions League winner, meaning it was not all bad for the former RB Leipzig forward.

The only player from Europe's top five leagues to score at least 10 goals in all competitions but have a worse conversion rate than Werner was, perhaps surprisingly, Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne (9.43 per cent).

Lukaku's 30 goals for Inter came from a healthy 24 per cent conversion rate, while higher up the list Erling Haaland of Borussia Dortmund netted 41 goals with a 31.54 per cent strike rate. Haaland was one of the strikers linked with Chelsea before the club moved for Lukaku.

Behind the forwards, Chelsea have a Ballon d'Or contender in midfielder Jorginho, who followed Champions League glory by helping Italy win Euro 2020.

Jorginho and Liverpool's Fabinho were the only players in the Premier League last season to have a passing accuracy of at least 89 per cent, while winning 50-plus tackles and making 40-plus interceptions.

Seven penalties from Jorginho also came in handy for Chelsea, and Tuchel, who arrived after a spell in charge of Paris Saint-Germain in mid-season, has been highly impressed.

"I think Jorgi is a strategic player," Tuchel said. "He can play advanced, he knows what to do in ball possession, he can imagine what's going to happen one or two passes ahead.

"He knows where to help out in short and longer distances, when to switch the play and when not to. He has a good sense of rhythm and, if you watch him separately, in isolation, he lacks maybe the pure physical ability that makes him the number one candidate to be the number six in the Premier League, you'd think, but once you have him in a structure he is very well organised in his game, organises all the environment around him, which helps him, then he can show his true abilities in controlling the rhythm of a game.

"On top of that too, he is a top guy. He is funny, he has a big smile on his face every single day. You can have chats with him, have a laugh every single day with him, because he's up for it. He is in love with this game."

Tuchel said Chelsea found "momentum" last season, which carried them to their season-ending success, describing them as "a real team with exceptional spirit".

Now a Premier League title is the obvious target, and Tuchel says continuing success will only come through "consistency and the daily process".

"We will not lose focus by putting expectations on people's shoulders. We have high expectations ourselves; we need to live up to those," said the former PSG boss. "Once we lower our levels, we could lose every single game in the Premier League. That is the reality."

Jorginho and Roberto Mancini could cap a golden year for Italy by landing UEFA honours after both were shortlisted for top awards on Thursday, though Manchester City duo Kevin De Bruyne and Pep Guardiola could spoil the Azzurri's party.

Azzurri midfielder Jorginho won the Champions League with Chelsea and followed that by helping his country to Euro 2020 glory, under the leadership of coach Mancini.

Jorginho, 29, is joined on the three-man shortlist for UEFA Men's Player of the Year by Chelsea team-mate N'Golo Kante, a standout in the Champions League final, and by City playmaker De Bruyne.

Kante played for France at Euro 2020 and De Bruyne featured for Belgium, but neither side made the progress many anticipated, with Les Bleus eliminated in the last 16 and the Red Devils bowing out to Italy in the quarter-finals.

The three players received the most votes from a panel consisting of the 24 head coaches at Euro 2020, the 80 coaches from the Champions League and Europa League group stages, and journalists from each of UEFA's 55 member associations.

The Men's Coach of the Year shortlist consists of the two coaches from the Champions League final, Chelsea's Thomas Tuchel and City's Guardiola, plus Italy boss Mancini.

It means there is no place for Gareth Southgate, who guided England to their first major men's final since the 1966 World Cup. He finished seventh in voting, UEFA announced, behind Villarreal's Europa League winning boss Unai Emery, Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone and former Inter coach Antonio Conte.

Like Guardiola, both Simeone and Conte led their club sides to domestic league title success.

The winner of each award will be announced at UEFA's Champions League group stage draw on August 26 in Istanbul.

Barcelona had a clean sweep of the players shortlisted for the Women's Player of the Year prize, following their Spanish league and cup and Champions League treble.

The Spanish duo of Jennifer Hermoso and Alexia Putellas were joined on the list by Dutch club-mate Lieke Martens.

UEFA's women's awards stem from votes from each of the coaches in the Champions League last 16 and the leading 12 coaches according to UEFA's national team rankings, plus a pool of 20 journalists.

Former Barcelona boss Lluis Cortes is joined on that list by Chelsea's Emma Hayes and Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are not among the final nominees for the 2020-21 Champions League positional awards.

On Friday, UEFA announced the 12 players, three per position, who could win the individual prizes on August 26.

The 12 players each received the most points in each positional category following a jury vote. The jury comprised coaches from the 32 clubs that entered into the group stage last season, as well as 55 journalists representing UEFA's 55 member associations. Coaches could not vote for players from their own teams.

Messi came fourth in the poll for the best forwards, while Ronaldo did not make the top 10. Each player was eliminated at the last-16 stage, Barcelona losing to Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus to Porto.

Five of the 12 nominees are from Chelsea, who won their second Champions League by beating Manchester City in the final. Edouard Mendy, Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, N'Golo Kante and Jorginho are all nominated.

City have three representatives – Ederson, Ruben Dias and Kevin De Bruyne – while beaten semi-finalists Real Madrid and PSG provide one each: Thibaut Courtois, and Kylian Mbappe.

Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland, who finished as top scorer last season with 10, are the other nominees.

The winners of the best goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward prizes will be announced at the group-stage draw in Istanbul in two weeks' time.

Gianfranco Zola believes midfielder Jorginho would be a deserving winner of the Ballon d'Or despite Lionel Messi's claims on the award.

Jorginho finished the 2020-21 campaign as Chelsea's leading Premier League scorer with seven goals, albeit each of those came from the penalty spot.

He carried that form into Euro 2020, playing every game for Italy in their successful campaign that ended with a penalty shoot-out win over England at Wembley.

Jorginho actually missed from the spot in the final, but he otherwise enjoyed an impeccable tournament for the Azzurri.

The Brazilian-born player led the way in terms of interceptions at Euro 2020 with 25, substantially more than Chelsea team-mate N'Golo Kante (14), who was next best.

Meanwhile, Jorginho's 484 successful passes were bettered only by Spain's Aymeric Laporte (644), leading to seven chances being created for his team-mates. Only Azzurri colleague Lorenzo Insigne (40) was involved in more shot-ending sequences than his 38.

 

Barcelona's Messi, a six-time Ballon d'Or winner, finished as LaLiga's top scorer last season with 38 goals and 12 assists across all competitions before inspiring Argentina to glory in the Copa America.

Despite Messi's pedigree former Chelsea forward Zola – who earned 35 caps for Italy and scored 10 goals between 1991 and 1997 – backed Jorginho as a worthy challenger. 

"The Ballon d'Or is usually awarded to a striker or an offensive player who can score a lot," Zola told Stats Perform. 

"Now we are talking about a fantastic player like [Lionel] Messi who did extraordinary things for the first time with his national team – and this won’t go unnoticed. 

"Should they give it to Jorginho, it would be deserved. He gives concrete balance and pace to his teams. I was lucky to have him at Chelsea and I know what he does on the pitch.

"It would be deserved because not only were his performances at a high level, but the teams he played for have been outstanding. This must be taken into account."

Fifty-four passes. In two minutes and 41 seconds of unbroken possession during the closing stages of their Euro 2020 semi-final win over Denmark, England moved to the brink of a 2-1 win in beautifully assured fashion with a 54-pass move. Over the course of the entire additional half hour, they completed 198 passes – more than the Three Lions managed in the entirety of the 1-0 Euro 2000 win over Germany.

Thirty-eight passes. Five days later in the final, Gareth Southgate's team could only manage 38 successful passes in the entire first half of extra time against Italy. That ticked up to 47 during the final 15 minutes of the 1-1 draw but still stood in stark contrast to the supreme example of modern, pro-active game management from the preceding midweek.

Southgate has overseen a period of unprecedented progress during his time in charge of international football's most maligned underachievers. A final for the first time since 1966, back-to-back semi-finals for the first time since 1968. As a major tournament force, England are stronger than they have been at any time over the past half a century by some distance.

But large chunks of Sunday's final defeat to Roberto Mancini's brilliant side felt like they had been transplanted from the bad old days, long before a penalty shoot-out concluded a tale of heartbreak. The lack of control and accompanying slow, sinking feeling could have belonged to any era.

By the final whistle, Italy had completed 820 passes to England's 426. As well as being common to England setbacks of yesteryear, there was also a repeated pattern from two of Southgate's previously most notable defeats in charge. Dictating the terms against elite opponents and being able to wrestle back control during moments of high stress represents something of a final frontier with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar a little over 16 months away.

Verratti and Jorginho torment England like pass masters Modric and De Jong

Leonardo Bonucci scrambled in Italy's equaliser after 67 minutes at Wembley, Luke Shaw having given England a second-minute lead.

When Southgate's team went down to a 2-1 semi-final defeat against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup, Kieran Trippier's free-kick put them ahead in the fifth minute before Ivan Perisic equalised in the 68th and Mario Mandzukic won it in extra time.

In between those two games, England faced the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the inaugural Nations League. Marcus Rashford put them ahead from the penalty spot – yes, he's normally excellent at those – before Matthijs de Ligt equalised in the 73rd minute and the Dutch pulled clear in the first additional period.

First-half leads cancelled out by 67th, 68th and 73rd-minute goals can, of course, just be a coincidence. But England gradually ceded control in each match, conceded and never truly reasserted themselves.

 

On Sunday, Italy had deep-lying playmaker Jorginho and the masterful Marco Verratti calling the tune, while two years earlier the Netherlands had Frenkie de Jong and in Moscow, Luka Modric was at the peak of his powers. Each time, there was a level of midfield expertise to which England had no sufficient answer.

Raw passing statistics can sometimes be misleading. If a central defender racks up more passes than his team-mates – as Bonucci did at Wembley – it does not mean they are the best passer on the field, more that they have a higher frequency of simple passes to make due to their position.

But in the heat of a midfield battle, a player being able to compile pass after pass suggests they might be dictating terms.

At the Luzhniki Stadium, Modric made 71 passes, slightly fewer than his colleagues in the Croatia engine room Marcelo Brozovic (87) and Ivan Rakitic (84). England's starting midfield three – admittedly not a trio who matched up entirely with Croatia in a positional sense – of Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard managed 48, 47 and 38 respectively.

If Modric led an ensemble performance, De Jong conducted England all by himself in Guimaraes a year later. The Barcelona midfielder made 104 passes over the course of 120 minutes, with England's starting midfielders Declan Rice, Fabian Delph and Ross Barkley managing 54, 24 and 56. Only Barkley saw the final whistle, while De Jong's passing accuracy of 96.2 per cent was almost identical to Rice (96.3) at nearly twice the output.

Paired with Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips, Rice had another tall task when taking on Jorginho and Verratti. Once again, it was a case of England chasing around after accomplished technicians.

Paris Saint-Germain's Verratti was in majestic form as he turned the contest in the Azzurri's favour. Of his 118 passes, 111 were successful and 72 came in the England half. Chelsea's Jorginho was similarly efficient with 94 out of 98 completed. Even allowing for Rice's 74th-minute substitution, the Opta statistics for himself (33 passes, 25 completed) and Phillips (39 passes, 30 completed) tell the story of their and England's night.

 

No passing, please, we're English

Despite the weekend sense of déjà vu, it is only fair to credit England with progress when coming up against technically superior midfields.

They gained a measure of revenge against Croatia, who they also beat en route to their Nations League date with the Netherlands, during the group stage and similarly shackled Germany – Toni Kroos, Leon Goretzka, Kai Havertz and all – in a 2-0 last-16 win.

As he did against Die Mannschaft, Southgate switched to a 3-4-3 for Italy and the formation initially overwhelmed Mancini's men, who were attacked repeatedly down their flanks.

This served to remove Italy's midfield superiority as a major factor in the contest until after half-time. Some have criticised Southgate for not being pro-active when the tide began to turn, failing to send on attacking threats such as Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish to give the Azzurri new and different problems.

While those suggestions are valid, it is also fair to ponder whether England would simply have had fresh-legged spectators to the Verratti-Jorginho show. Studying data from the Premier League and across Europe's major divisions this season, it can be concluded that changing formation, funnelling play out wide and pressing judiciously are all work-arounds Southgate and his coaching team have developed for a problem to which they don't have a direct remedy.

 

In England's top flight in 2020-21, Manchester City's Rodri averaged the most passes per 90 minutes of midfielders to have made 20 or more appearances with 91.24. Next on the list were Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic (87.23), Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara (83.32) and Manchester United's Nemanja Matic (83.05), with Jorginho rounding out the top five on 79.68.

Considering players who featured at least 25 times in all competitions across the big five leagues, Verratti comes in second with a fairly absurd 96.86, from Sergio Busquets (94.63), Rodri and Kroos (88.37).

Miralem Pjanic's debut season at Barcelona was an utterly forgettable affair and one that could not be saved by him tiki-takaing himself to a standstill with 104.29 passes every 90 minutes. High passing numbers do not always mean a stand-out performer but illustrate a certain type of player – a type not readily available to Southgate.

Discounting Henderson's 92.85 per 90, given he played so often in 2020-21 at centre-back (meaning he was also ruled out of the Premier League rankings, having finished top at 95.69 from 21 outings), you have to scroll a decent way down this Europe-wide list to find some English representation.

The Premier League supplied three of last season's four European finalists and all of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United boasted brilliant English players who were pivotal to their success. But in each case, overseas players were entrusted with the midfield duties that generally undo England.

Yet, in some respects, Qatar 2022 is further away than it might seem. If Euro 2020 had actually taken place in 2020, it is more likely Shaw, Kyle Walker and John Stones would have missed out on the squad rather than made up three-quarters of Southgate's first-choice defence. Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Reece James, Conor Coady, Jude Bellingham, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Phillips and Grealish had not made their international debuts this time last year.

A lot can change between then and now, so who might emerge as a king of control for Southgate?

 

A nudge from Winks? Skipp to it?

The highest ranked English midfielder on the top-five leagues list is Tottenham's Harry Winks, who averaged 71.47 passes every 90 minutes over the course of 28 appearances.

Only 15 of those were in the Premier League and nine were starts. Getting regular football, largely due to a succession of injury problems, has been a problem for the 25-year-old, who is now being linked with a move away from Spurs.

However, Southgate is a fan and is responsible for giving Winks all 10 of his England caps to date. A Shaw-style renaissance is certainly possible.

One factor that might cause him to seek pastures new is Oliver Skipp's return to Tottenham from a successful loan spell at Norwich City.

While helping the Canaries to promotion from the Championship, the 20-year-old averaged 58.52 passes per 90. Nowhere near the towering numbers posted by Europe's best but the third highest among midfielders to have played 30 or more times in a competition of a very different nature.

Skipp has represented England at under-21 level and the pathway from there to the seniors is clear in the Southgate era.

Winks was the only English midfielder to average above 70 passes per 90 on our European list, although Curtis Jones (68.04) – hoping for a more prominent role at Liverpool this season – and provisional Euros squad member James Ward-Prowse (64.75) are other options who might treat the ball with a little more TLC.

 

Can the men in possession be better in possession?

It might seem perverse to say England need to vastly improve their control in midfield, while claiming Rice and Phillips each had fine tournaments, but both statements are true.

Southgate is not averse to hard-nosed selection decisions but whatever the formation or opponent, the West Ham and Leeds favourites started each match in central midfield. Rice's 12 interceptions were only bettered by Jorginho (25) and N'Golo Kante (14), while the Italy lynchpin recovered possession 48 times – shading Phillips (45) and lying behind Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (51).

With the ball, they did not perform their deep-lying roles like Jorginho or De Jong – even allowing for some of Rice's ravishing first-half dribbles in the final – because they were not asked to. Which leads to the obvious question: could they do it?

Plenty of good judges certainly seem to hold Rice in that regard, as evidenced by persistent links to Chelsea and Manchester United. He averaged 47.7 passes per 90 minutes last season and, for all that they enjoyed a brilliant season under David Moyes, West Ham's average possession figure of 42.53 was the sixth lowest in the division.

To understand the full range of Rice's prowess and potential to be England's metronome, it might be necessary to view him on a weekly basis in a different setting.

The same need not be said for Phillips, who did not pick up his "Yorkshire Pirlo" nickname on account of interceptions or recoveries. Control is not always the primary aim of Marcelo Bielsa's high-intensity and ravenous pressing style, all whirring parts and thrills, but Phillips averaged 52.02 passes per 90 last term in the Premier League.

Again, this is not up there with the elite distributors in Europe, but it is a useful return at odds with his 39 passes over the course of 120 minutes versus Italy.

 

Bridging the gr-8 divide

At Leeds, Phillips will generally have more forward passing in closer proximity than those that were granted to him at Wembley on Sunday. This is where the configuration of Southgate's midfield is worth consideration.

It will be intriguing to see whether he returns to a 4-3-3 with two number eights as opposed to a 4-2-3-1 with two holders and a 10 when England resume World Cup qualifying in September.

The defeat to a De Jong-inspired Netherlands and a wild 5-3 Euros qualifying win over Kosovo later in 2019 were influential in the England boss choosing a more cautious approach for Euro 2020, shelving an expansive 4-3-3.

A run to the final without conceding a goal from open play means that decision cannot really be disputed. But perhaps this newfound defensive solidity means the shackles can be loosened once more, allowing more attack-minded players to operate centrally.

The control that eluded England in the matches discussed above was not simply as a result of metronomic passing. De Jong (16) was second only to Raheem Sterling (20) for dribbles completed at Euro 2020, while Verratti had three carries resulting in a chance. Five from Hojbjerg, Lorenzo Insigne and Gareth Bale topped the list in the competition.

Ability to carry the ball, both to ease pressure through linking the play along with creating chances, sounds like quite a good description of Foden. The Manchester City youngster's injury absence felt more regrettable as the final pressed on.

In pre-recorded introductions for ITV's Euro 2020 coverage, Foden described himself as a central midfielder. It is where he played the vast majority of his youth football for City and during most of his early first-team outings.

But in a 2020-21 campaign when it was hoped he would step forward as David Silva's playmaking replacement, he in fact filled the void left by Leroy Sane and turned in electrifying performances on the left wing.

 

"Phil just needs time to improve playing inside," Pep Guardiola said when discussing Foden's positional change earlier this year.

"When you play as a winger you have to play at one tempo and when you play inside you have to play in another one. When he gets this balance he will be 10 times more extraordinary as a player. It’s just a question of time."

Southgate will have an eye on that ticking clock and also how Mason Mount is used by another esteemed tactician. The Chelsea youngster has played as an eight for club and country but was used almost exclusively in the front three after Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge and plotted a path to Champions League glory.

There are few English players more elegant and effective when it comes to running with the ball at his feet than Grealish. In 2020-21, international team-mate Harry Maguire and Leeds full-back Luke Ayling were the only English players to have more than his 172 instances of carrying the ball towards goal for 10 metres or more. Mount (138) came seventh on that progressive carries list.

But, like Foden and Mount, most of Grealish's best recent work has come in the forward line. The likes of Verratti and De Jong are masters of their craft because they play in their position every week.

Still, dropping one of his twinkle-toed playmakers a touch deeper might become an irresistible work-around, especially if paired with a Henderson back to his talismanic best in central midfield for Liverpool. In 2019-20 he was the heartbeat of the side that won the Premier League, averaging 74.44 passes per 90 into the bargain. Suffering against Modric and Croatia before failing to stem the tide when short of match fitness versus Italy should not cloud perceptions of the 31-year-old's supreme qualities.

Then there is the tantalising prospect of Bellingham's next stage of development under the highly regarded Marco Rose at Borussia Dortmund. The 18-year-old could be frighteningly good by the time the 2022 World Cup rolls around. If Southgate can hit upon a formula for midfield that can both dictate and create, we could be able to say the same for England.

Leonardo Bonucci claimed the booing of the Italian national anthem by England fans helped to inspire the Azzurri to Euro 2020 glory.

Italy beat England 3-2 on penalties in Sunday's final at Wembley after the match had finished 1-1 following extra time.

Bonucci, who equalised to cancel out Luke Shaw's opener – the quickest goal ever scored in a European Championship final – and then converted his spot-kick in the shoot-out, was a rock at the heart of Italy's defence throughout the tournament.

No defender made more interceptions at Euro 2020 than Bonucci, whose tally of 12 tied him with Ukraine's Mykola Matvienko.

Several incidents occurred outside the ground on Sunday, with groups of supporters without tickets managing to force entry into Wembley.

With an already tense atmosphere perhaps not aided by these scenes, boos rang around the stadium during the Italian anthem.

Bonucci, though, said the jeers only helped lift Roberto Mancini's team and, in particular, his defensive partner Giorgio Chiellini.

"They whistled the anthem. They thought they had brought it home," Bonucci told Radio RAI 1.

"This, to me and the old man there [Chiellini] did nothing but increase our motivation. It was a personal satisfaction for me and Giorgio, who have not always been getting the praise we deserved."

 

Italy paraded the trophy in an open-top bus tour on Monday and Bonucci dedicated the win to those who had lost loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic, with Italy one of the worst-hit nations in Europe.

He also paid tribute to Azzurri legend Paolo Rossi, who died from lung cancer in December last year.

"The dedication goes to those who left us in this year and a half," he added.

"Among so many champions, as done for Davide Astori, I want to make a special dedication to Paolo Rossi, a great man.

"The cup is for him and the Italians who have suffered."

Gianluigi Donnarumma ultimately proved Italy's hero in London, as he kept out Bukayo Saka's penalty to seal victory.

Had the England youngster scored, the shoot-out would have gone to sudden death, with Jordan Pickford having previously denied Jorginho.

However, the midfielder joked that his miss was a deliberate ploy to enable Donnarumma – named UEFA's Player of the Tournament – would get the glory.

"It was all planned. I knew that Donnarumma would have saved it," Jorginho quipped in an interview with SportTV. 

"I always give everything I have for the team, but unfortunately, sometimes it's not enough.

"I ended up missing the penalty, and in that moment the world collapsed around me, because I wanted to hand Italy the win. Luckily, we have this phenomenon in goal that saved me."

The 719 minutes racked up by Donnarumma was the most by any player at Euro 2020; he missed only the closing stages of Italy's win against Wales in the group stage and also helped the Azzurri to a penalty shoot-out win over Spain in the semi-finals.

In fact, of the five shoot-outs he has been involved in so far in his career for club and country, Donnarumma – who is set to join Paris Saint-Germain – has always finished on the winning side.

Cristiano Ronaldo was the biggest omission as UEFA named the Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament.

Five players from competition winners Italy made the best XI announced on Tuesday, though there was no place for Golden Boot winner Ronaldo.

The Portugal forward scored five times, as did the Czech Republic's Patrik Schick, but Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku got the nod in a front three with Federico Chiesa and Raheem Sterling.

Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire were the other England representatives in the team.

But there was no place for fellow defender Luke Shaw, who scored in the final to cap a fine tournament, or his Manchester United team-mate Paul Pogba, one of the tournament's stars before France's elimination in the last 16.

Player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma was joined by Italy quartet Leonardo Bonucci, Leonardo Spinazzola, Jorginho and Chiesa.

However, midfield star Marco Verratti missed out despite some influential performances in the knockout stages.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Pedri were the sole representatives for Denmark and Spain respectively, both teams having gone out in the semi-finals.

Lukaku also edged out Harry Kane, Karim Benzema and Emil Forsberg, who all ended up with the same goal tally (four) as the Inter forward.

 

The best players to miss out

Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer enjoyed an incredible tournament, saving a Kylian Mbappe penalty in his side's shoot-out win against France in the last 16.

He made a tournament-high 21 saves in total, 10 of those coming in the eventual defeat to Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals.

Denzel Dumfries saw his reputation enhanced during Euro 2020, even if the Netherlands were sent packing by the Czech Republic at the last-16 stage.

He became just the second ever Netherlands player, after Ruud van Nistelrooy, to score in his first two European Championship appearances, while also helping his side to a couple of clean sheets in his four outings.

Bonucci and Maguire earning selection meant their centre-back colleagues Giorgio Chiellini and John Stones narrowly missed out despite playing crucial roles.

England conceded just two goals all tournament, with only one of those coming in open play. A large part of that was down to ever-present defender Stones, who won 20 aerial challenges – the joint-second most of any defender in the competition, one behind Maguire.

Shaw was left out for England's opening game against Croatia, but the full-back soon made himself a consistent presence. He was even compared to the great Roberto Carlos after starring with two assists against Ukraine in the quarter-finals.

The Manchester United defender provided three assists in total and netted the fastest-ever goal in a European Championship final with his volley against Italy. Those four goal involvements were bettered only by Schick (five) and Ronaldo (six).

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Verratti was a major fitness doubt for the tournament and sat out Italy's first two matches, but made an emormous impact in the following five games.

Since his first game against Wales on June 20, all-rounder Verratti ranked first among all midfielders at Euro 2020 for chances created (14), passes completed (388), progressive carries (59), tackles (18) and recoveries of possession (37).

 

Pogba likely paid the price for his team's exit rather than his own displays. 

He scored a stunning goal against Switzerland after getting two assists in the 2-2 group-stage draw with Portugal, and his supreme link-up play with Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Benzema was among the highlights of the early weeks of the tournament.

Schick not only scored the joint-most goals, but he was responsible for surely the most memorable one of the lot - a 49.7-yard lob against Scotland, the furthest ever distance a goal has been scored at a European Championships.

The Bayer Leverkusen forward found the net in all but one of his side's games, with three of his goals coming from open play, compared to just two for Ronaldo.

Even though it was far from a vintage tournament for Ronaldo and dethroned champions Portugal, the Juventus superstar still claimed the Golden Boot accolade thanks to having one assist more than fellow five-goal forward Schick.

Ronaldo's 72 minutes per goal was the best return of any player to have played at least three times in the tournament. 

His haul also moved him level with Iran great Ali Daei as the all-time leading goalscorer in men's international football with 109, a record that he will get a chance to break later this year.

 

UEFA's Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy); Kyle Walker (England), Leonardo Bonucci (Italy), Harry Maguire (England), Leonardo Spinazzola (Italy); Jorginho (Italy), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Denmark), Pedri (Spain); Federico Chiesa (Italy), Romelu Lukaku (Belgium), Raheem Sterling (England).

Roberto Mancini has overseen arguably one of the all-time great transformations in international football, not only turning Italy into a team that has a clear and fresh identity, but also a side that is successful.

When they lost 1-0 to Portugal on September 10, 2018 in the Nations League, who'd have thought that by the next time they suffered defeat they'd have won the European Championship? The fact that's the case despite Euro 2020 being delayed for 12 months is all the more impressive.

While the Azzurri required a penalty shoot-out against England in Sunday's final at Wembley, it's fair to say Italy were worthy victors in the end, with their hosts' caution only taking them so far.

In fact, England's pragmatism was arguably akin to the philosophy historically associated with Italy, but under Mancini they've truly embraced a tactical fluidity that has seemingly altered the perception many have of them.

Press smart, work smart

Intense off-the-ball work and a high press have almost become mainstream in modern football. While they aren't necessarily prevalent aspects of every team, not even every great team, many of the world's finest coaches try to implement them to a certain degree.

At Euro 2020, it's been a core strength of Italy – but it's not just a case of chasing down opponents like headless chickens. They've proven themselves to be smart.

 

The average amount of passes Italy allow their opponents to have in their own defensive third before initiating a defensive action is 13 (PPDA). Seven teams at the tournament pressed with greater intensity, but none were as effective as Italy.

Their 56 high turnovers were matched by Denmark but Italy boasted a tournament-high 13 that led to a shot, while three resulted in a goal – that too was bettered by no other team.

It suggests that, while other sides such as Spain (8.1 PPDA) pressed higher, Italy were better at picking their moments and knowing when to up the intensity.

Italy still managed to remain well balanced, too. Their average starting position of 42.9 metres from their own goal was deeper than six other teams, an important factor considering Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci aren't the quickest.

Yet they still pressed to greater effect that any of the others.

Establishing control

If there was one area of the pitch that you might point out as most crucial in Italy's Euro 2020 success (if we ignore Gianluigi Donnarumma's shoot-out saves), it would be their midfield.

Nicolo Barella, Marco Verratti and Jorginho were largely excellent as a trio, though the latter pair have attracted most of the acclaim.

In Verratti, Mancini seems to have a player who truly embodies their style of play – an excellent creator, he also does more than his fair share off the ball as one of the most complete central midfielders in the game today. He puts the fun in functional.

Verratti played the most key passes (14) of anyone at the tournament and ranked fourth for successful passes (87.1) and fifth for tackle attempts (4.0) per 90 minutes (at least 90 mins played).

 

The Paris Saint-Germain star also provided drive from the centre, with his 23 ball carries per 90 minutes bettered by just five midfielders, though only Pedri moved the ball between five and 10 metres upfield more often than Verratti (47), highlighting his progressive mentality.

Yet he didn't do it all on his own – after all, Verratti missed the first two games through injury. No, Jorginho had a similarly important function as the chief deep-lying playmaker, playing 484 successful passes, trailing only Aymeric Laporte.

On top of that, Jorginho showed his innate ability to sniff out danger and get Italy back on the move, with his 48 recoveries the second-highest among outfield players.

Given the presence of these two, it's no wonder Italy strung together the third-most sequences of 10 of more passes (123), yet at no point did you feel they got in each other's way, which again is testament to Mancini's setup.

 

Turning a weakness into a strength

The fact Italy were successful despite not having a particularly convincing striker highlighted the effectiveness of other areas of the team.

Ciro Immobile was Mancini's pick to lead the line. He wasn't necessarily bad, as his goal involvement output of four (two goals, two assists) was only trumped by Patrik Schick and Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, the Lazio man was by no means deadly in front of goal, hitting the target with just three of 18 shots. Among players with at least 10 attempts, just four were accurate with a smaller percentage than Immobile (16.7 per cent).

 

But so fluid were Italy that it didn't really matter. Immobile was one of five Italy players to net two goals, something no team has achieved at the Euros since France did in 2000.

At Italy's Coverciano coach training facility, there is said to have been a growing focus on the development of what are essentially formation-less tactics, and the fact Italy carried a threat from so many different positions suggests such a future actually isn't that far away.

Further to this, Italy showed real flexibility in attack. Sure, they scored 10 times inside the box, a figure third only to Spain and England, but the difference is the Azzurri also netted three from outside the area – no team managed more.

While you might expect that to reflect significantly in their expected goals (xG), Italy still pretty much scored exactly the number of goals one would ordinarily expect from the quality of their chances (13 goals, 13.2 xG), albeit one of those was an own goal.

 

Whether Italy have enough talent coming through to sustain this level and establish the first international 'dynasty' since the Spain side that won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 is another debate.

But there's little doubt Mancini has the know-how to make them the team to beat if the production line doesn't dry up.

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