“If our three play well we dominate that midfield battle.”
Former England defender Danny Mills has predicted that England will ‘dominate’ the midfield battle against Italy on Sunday in the final of Euro 2020. Mills is wrong, his assertions were grossly incorrect, his confidence misplaced and his reasoning non-existent.
Yet, against our better judgement, we have tried to get to the root of Danny’s comments and make sense of them. After coming out on the other side, the only conclusion one can draw is that this is why many non-England supporters will be wishing Italy well on Sunday.
Danny Mills: England have a better midfield than Italy.
Italy have had the best midfield at the tournament. Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella have been the best balanced, most tactically astute and most consistent midfield trio at Euro 2020. Manuel Locatelli, who started the opening two games of the tournament as Verratti regained fitness, has also impressed.
Jorginho anchors the midfield and the Chelsea midfielder has been one of the best players in the tournament. He regularly receives the ball from Italy’s defence and starts moves, playing the ball through the lines and into the team’s dangerous attacking players. Jorginho has had a 93 per cent pass completion rate at the tournament, the most of any midfielder who will be involved in Sunday’s final.
Yet, Mills reckons that Jorginho, 29, is only as good as England midfielder Declan Rice. In fact, the only advantage Jorginho has on Rice is his superior experience, according to Mills. So, really, in Danny’s eyes, the former Republic of Ireland midfielder is the better player.
“If you match them up player for player, Rice and Jorginho, I don’t think there’s much between them,” Mills said on talkSPORT.
“Obviously, Jorginho is a lot more experienced. I think Declan Rice has been fantastic the way he just sits in front. Jorginho has maybe got a better range of passing, but he doesn’t play forward passes.”
In the 2018/19 Premier League season, Jorginho played more forward passes than any other footballer in the Premier League, (1613). In fact, it wasn’t even close. Eden Hazard was second with 1376 and Aymeric Laporte third with 1352. David Silva was fourth with 1295.
In short, Danny Mills is laughably incorrect about Jorginho not playing forward passes. So much so, it would be wise to stop watching the talkSPORT video at this point and move on with our lives. But Mills manages to keep digging.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 24, 2021
Marco Veratti v Kalvin Phillips.
“And then I’m looking at Phillips versus Verratti,” Danny continues, safe in the knowledge that his lack of knowledge about Jorginho won’t be questioned.
“They’re both very good on the ball. Phillips is very good on the ball and takes all the set-pieces for Leeds, don’t forget. That’s a big responsibility.”
Mills didn’t exactly unfavourably compare Kalvin Phillips to Marco Verratti but rather rambled on about Phillips, who is a talented player and a key midfielder for Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United.
But, let’s not kid ourselves and even attempt to say he is a better player than Veratti, who is Italy and Paris Saint-Germain’s key midfielder. He may not take set-pieces for Leeds, but Verratti’s job at club and international level is quite high-profile and demanding, Danny.
Verratti is one of the best midfielders in the world. At Euro 2020 so far, in four games, he has averaged three key passes per game – only Kevin de Bruyne (3.3) averaged more key passes per game.
He breaks lines with his passes into the final third and could be the one to unlock England’s defence on Sunday. If England’s midfield do not get close to him, Verratti has the talent to cut through Gareth Southgate’s side.
Nicolo Barella v Mason Mount.
Finally, Mills moved onto Nicolo Barella, the third player in Italy’s midfield. “Then you go Mason Mount up against Barella, I think Mount is better than him,” the former Leeds United and Manchester City full-back said.
“It’s quite balanced in there, but if our three play well we dominate that midfield battle.”
Again, Mills didn’t really go into too much detail about this Italian midfielder who doesn’t play in the Premier League. But Mount is ‘better’ – although he didn’t specify exactly what Mount is ‘better’ at than Barella.
Barella is Italy’s most attacking midfielder. He carries the ball from midfield, commits opposition defenders and works extremely hard for his team. The Inter Milan midfielder is a box-to-box player capable of bursting from midfield to get on the end of shots or set up his teammates. An all-action midfielder, Barella also often drifts out wide to create overloads.
So far at Euro 2020, he has one goal and two assists. Last season for Inter in Serie A, he scored three times and registered 10 assists. Mount, a very talented and reliable footballer, scored six times and registered six assists for Chelsea in the 2020/21 campaign.
So, it is difficult to say with any certainty what Mills means when he says that Mount is ‘better’ than Barella. There is little between the two, so Mills’ confidence is misplaced at best.
Danny Mills on Italy’s midfield.
Mills wasn’t the only one on talkSPORT talking down the quality of Italy’s midfield. Darren Lewis, a sports journalist, was alongside the former England defender on the show and he claimed that Jorginho isn’t as good without Chelsea teammate N’Golo Kante alongside him – which evidently isn’t true because Jorginho has been excellent at Euro 2020 without Kante beside him.
Lewis also made a strange claim that Verratti “tends to go missing at club level” and that he does not “turn up” in “big games.” Again, no examples were provided to back up these assertions.
If England supporters are wondering why Luka Modric referred to the ‘arrogance’ of commentators around the England team, look no further than these remarks about the Italian midfield. This is also why so many non-England supporters find it difficult to get behind this team. The players are excellent, Southgate is a decent person and an intelligent manager and the team warrants praise.
But just imagine the smugness if England actually won a trophy if this is how some football pundits speak before England’s first final in 55 years.
Ironically, Southgate’s team have performed so well over the last few years because they have been humble and not underestimated their opponents – having a talented team, kind draws and home advantage has also played a part.
Regardless of the result on Sunday, many English commentators and pundits, including Mills and Rio Ferdinand, need to take a leaf from Southgate’s book and practice humility. Or maybe just take a look at Italy’s midfield before writing off their chances.
❌ Darren: “Jorginho isn’t the same player without Kanté alongside him.”
👀 Danny: “Rice & Jorginho? I don’t think there’s much between them.”
🤔 Darren: “When was the last time Verratti had a good game in a big game?”
— talkSPORT 🏴 (@talkSPORT) July 8, 2021