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Italy-England, Euro 2020 final: Why Marco Verratti’s supreme talent merits success for the Azzurri

Back in April, Paris Saint-Germain were knocking Bayern Munich out of the UEFA Champions League as the beaten 2020 finalists looked capable of going one better after disposing of their Lisbon conquerors on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate draw.

Mauricio Pochettino saw his players drop like flies over the two legs against the Germans and star man Marco Verratti was unable to play a single minute and could only watch on from the touchline as an unused substitute at Parc des Princes.

Bayern won 1-0 on the night, but PSG advanced and went on to lose 4-1 across both semifinal legs to eventual runners-up Manchester City with the 28-year-old involved in all 180 minutes of play against Pep Guardiola’s men.

The 2-0 second leg loss at Etihad Stadium would be Verratti’s final involvement of the club season as injury, as is often the case, plagued him and threatened his participation at UEFA Euro 2020 before a ball had even been kicked. Sunday’s referee Bjorn Kuipers also left a bad taste in his mouth.

A knee injury ended Verratti’s campaign early, but it was a term that had also seen him test positive for COVID-19 twice — the reason why he missed both Bayern legs — and suffer from a variety of muscular issues as well as the customary bans that come with generous sprinklings of bookings.

When fit, Verratti is undoubtedly the man who makes PSG and Italy tick, but Pochettino had to do without his makeshift No. 10 for large swathes of his first half-season in charge while Roberto Mancini had to plan for Euro 2020 knowing that he would miss almost all of the group stage.

While Les Parisiens struggled to replicate his creativity and finished the campaign with just Coupe de France and Trophee des Champions titles, the Italians were fortunate enough to be able to call upon Sassuolo’s Manuel Locatelli who enjoyed a fast start to this summer’s tournament.

However, once Verratti was ready to feature again, Mancini did not hesitate to rotate his already qualified squad for the 1-0 win over Wales at the end of Group A and the man from Pescara duly provided the assist for Matteo Pessina to score the only goal of the game at Stadio Olimpico.

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Since then, the PSG man has started against Austria, Belgium and Spain without playing more than 75 minutes each time and provided the opener for Nicolo Barella against the Belgians in Munich, with Mancini managing his minutes extremely prudently in a reflection of the schemer’s importance.

“He has done very well wherever he has coached,” said Verratti of the Azzurri boss ahead of Sunday’s Wembley date. “He has been criticized, sure, but again, that is part of the picture. If you do not win, you will get criticized. It goes for everyone, and it is absolutely normal in football.

“Results are paramount, and when you do not win, it is easier to criticize the coach than the whole team. He has done a great job with us; everyone can see it. He is a very special boss for us, and he boosted our confidence when we lost it because of the negative results of the past.

“I think he was the perfect man for the job. He restarted our enthusiasm with his style, and we actually have fun. We have not lost in 33 matches. These are important statistics, and it tells you he is doing a great job. For us, he truly adds value at a time when some question coaching importance.”

Verrratti’s influence on this Italian side has been limited by the unfortunate loss of Leonardo Spinazzola with a desperately unfortunate ruptured left Achilles tendon against Belgium and the team is suffering from that as a whole, but the midfield remained as important as ever against Sergio Busquets’ Spain.

The middle of the park will again be a key battle area against England this weekend and Verratti has the opportunity to stamp his mark on this tournament by combining with the likes of Chelsea’s Jorginho to set the tempo for an Italian success.

Should the diminutive maestro play a key role in winning that battle and inspire his country to Euro 2020, it will bring the sort of recognition that a player of his immense talent deserves after years of injury frustration and coming close but not close enough with PSG in Europe.

Verratti is a fragile, yet world-class, player worthy of winning the biggest titles for club and country and as he reaches the peak of his technical powers edging towards 30, hopefully a strong spell of form and fitness will enable him to show that with the sort of consistency we have not yet seen from him.


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