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Tactical Preview: Spain – Italy

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Courtesy of Flickr/James FJ Rooney 

Spain and Italy may have met in the two previous European Championships, but this year’s round of 16 clash offers a rejuvenated tactical clash following poor World Cup campaigns.

The current holders and finalists feature in the tie of the round, with both sides making slight modifications since the former’s convincing 4-0 win in the 2012 final.

Spain have transitioned from the patient possession based football orchestrated by Xavi and Xabi Alonso, and now aim to transfer the ball into advanced zones at a quicker rate, while injuries to Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti, combined with the lack of a top-class forward will see Italy play destroyers, here.

In the 2012 final, Spain utilized Cesc Fabregas upfront, and while many assumed the Spaniard operated as a no.10, his runs in the final third were similar to a natural centre-forward. The two teams met earlier in the tournament, where Fabregas dropped deeper into midfield to create an overload, but they were outplayed by a proactive Italian side that afternoon.

One of the main differences in Vincent Del Bosque’s current side witnessed the emergence of Alvaro Morata at the international level. With that being said, Morata offers a different dimension to Spain’s attack. Capable of equally running the channels and coming short to link play, the striker’s willingness to make quick darts beyond the defence forces the opposition deeper, and creates more space for the Spanish midfielders.

The other notable change involves the inclusion of Nolito. David Silva roams into central areas and around the final third from the right flank, whereas Nolito hugs the touchline, constantly aiming to cut onto his stronger foot to trouble the goalkeeper. This essentially makes Spain more direct from an offensive perspective, and has seen Del Bosque’s men serve as the tournament’s standout performers thus far.

This could explain Del Bosque’s decision to field the same XI for all three group games, but following a loss to eventual group-winners Croatia, a hint of caution may be implemented for the knockout stages of the competition. Spain have yet to concede a knockout round goal during Del Bosque’s tenure, and with teams aiming to break into space in wide areas on the counter, he may seek further control in midfield as the holders increase their emphasis on control.

The current midfield of Andres Iniesta and Fabregas offer a combination of direct passing and dribbling, but Del Bosque could turn to Koke’s passing and combative presence in central areas against a reactive Italian side that will aim to fluster the Spanish midfield. It’s unlikely Del Bosque will field another dribbler in Thiago from the start of the match, but he could turn to Bruno alongside Busquets if really wants to neutralize the Italians on the counter – Italy adopting a deep block wouldn’t require Bruno, however.

It’s difficult to see Antonio Conte straying away from his 3-5-2, with the only concern involving Antonio Candreva’s absence. Candreva has played a crucial role in terms of creativity as Italy transition into a 3-3-4 going forward, and his injury could see Matia De Sciglio operate as a right wing-back.

In comparison to the Spain XI, this Italian side is slightly underwhelming, but they understand their roles and will be focused on executing Conte’s game plan. Daniele De Rossi is expected to roam around the back four for protection, while Emanuele Giaccherini and Marco Parolo disrupt play in midfield and wide areas.

Both managers encourage their full-backs/wing-backs to surge into advanced areas in possession, so the battle out wide will be interesting. Likewise, Alvaro Morata will likely be instructed to close down Juventus teammate, Leonardo Bonucci, when he carries the ball forward.

But where Morata will likely be outnumbered in Italy’s third, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos will be tasked with monitoring Eder and Graziano Pelle. The Italian duo have both scored key goals in Italy’s group-stage victories and attempt to combine upfront, and possibly encourage the midfielder’s to make runs into the box.

Nevertheless, while many hailed Italy’s defensive display against Belgium, Conte’s men have to be better against a side that will prefer to be patient in possession and penetration. More so, the Italians conceded several legitimate goal-scoring chances against the Belgians that night, often resorting to cynical fouls to halt potential counter-attacks.

Spain’s individual talent could be decisive, but they face possibly their biggest test of the tournament in breaking down an Italy back-line that offers experience and grit. Essentially, Conte requires need a valiant team effort throughout, but Spain’s overload in midfield and the new direct options available could prove an insurmountable task for the tenacious Italians.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

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AS Roma 2-1 Juventus

Xinhua News Agency Aug. 31, 2015-- AS Roma's Pjanic (2nd R) celebrates his goal with teammates during their Italian Serie A soccer match against Juventus on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy. Rome won 2-1.

Xinhua News Agency
Aug. 31, 2015– AS Roma’s Pjanic (2nd R) celebrates his goal with teammates during their Italian Serie A soccer match against Juventus on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy. Rome won 2-1.

Roma relied on two goals from Bosnian duo Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko to defeat title rivals Juventus.

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Iago Falque joined Dzeko and Mohammed Salah upfront in Rudi Garcia’s 4-3-3. Daniele De Rossi moved to centre-back alongside Kosta Manolas, whereas Seydou Keita formed a midfield trio with Radja Nainggolan and Pjanic.

Max Allegri reverted to a 3-5-2 with Mario Mandzukic and Pablo Dybala leading the line. With Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira unavailable for selection, Simone Padoin and Marco Sturaro joined Paul Pogba in midfield.

Roma dominated possession over extensive periods of the match, and with Juventus unable to pose a threat on the counter, Allegri’s men succumbed to two moments of brilliance.

Roma press

While Roma’s dominance may have been down to Juve’s caution, Allegri’s side have displayed their ability to decrease their route to goal by instantly lobbing balls into the strikers. Juve’s only way to maintain a decent spell of possession was to build from the back, but here, Garcia instructed his men to press from the front, with all three attackers handed a distinct role.

Falque and Salah pressed the exterior centre-backs, while Dzeko possessed a dual role. If Dzeko pushed towards Bonucci – a very good passer of the ball – he instructed a midfielder to close down Padoin, but for the most part, the Bosnian striker stuck goal-side to the Juventus midfielder to negate his influence from deep.

Roma didn’t always press in this manner, as they were keen on dropping into a 4-5-1 when necessary to clog spaces in midfield, yet both methods effectively contained Juve’s threat in open play. The wide players maintained their discipline, keeping the adventurous wingbacks quiet, and Dybala rarely received passes between the lines.

Juventus shape

Where Roma pressed higher up the pitch in various spells, Allegri instructed his side to drop deeper into their half and pressed aggressively in midfield. This allowed De Rossi time on the ball, and Nainggolan, in particular was free to retain possession, stringing passes from flank to flank.

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Essentially, Roma overloaded central areas with several passers, and it could explain several reckless tackles and eventual bookings in midfield. The transition to a 5-3-2 negated Dzeko’s aerial threat, as he was always outnumbered around the box, but in general their approach was too conservative, allowing the home-side too much space to dominate.

Roma’s balanced attack

Ultimately, there were two ways to describe Roma’s dominance over the current champions. First, Enrique placed Gervinho to the bench for Falque, who in fairness offered the hosts genuine width. With Falque stretching the pitch, Salah operated in narrow mixed positions, before charging into half space to create chances.

Gervinho and Salah are similar players – both thrive when there’s space to break into on the counter attack – but here, both the latter and Falque created chances in their respected positions. Salah’s first half pull-back resulted in Pjanic directing a shot off the post, whereas Falque delivered a devastating ball across the six-yard box that went amidst.

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The hosts’ attack would improve with a trequartista in the XI, but the cohesion between the front six was an improvement from last year. There was balance in wide areas, and each midfielder was able to fulfill their role due to Juve’s setup. Keita sat deep to protect the back four, Nainggolan retained possession a few yards ahead, and Pjanic scurried between the lines to receive possession and force Chiellini and Pogba into first half bookings.

Lack of familiarity upfront

Juve’s deep defensive line limited the possibility of creating chances from deep, but the away side still appeared perplexed during the rare occasions when they sustained possession in Roma’s third. One of the keys to Juve’s success last season involved Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata understanding their roles – the former dropped deep to receive the ball, while the latter sprinted behind the defence.

Tevez’s departure deprives Juve of a creative threat between the lines that can score goals and effectively link play with his teammates, which resulted in flat possession in the final third. Dybala’s lateral movement in these areas was positive, but a sole individual slalom sufficed from his presence upfront.

Likewise, Mario Mandzukic doesn’t offer a threat behind the last defender, and with Juve maintaining a low block, the Croatian was isolated for long spells. This, nevertheless, is also related to a lack of familiarity between the pair, along with one of the downfalls that comes with Mandzukic.

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The Croatian’s denies his team of natural pace upfront, but he was equally reluctant to drop deep to link play with his teammates. There was one moment towards the conclusion of the first half where Pogba was clearly frustrated with his attackers’ movement upfront, as neither attacker aimed to drop deep to receive the ball.

More so, Juve’s deep line, combined with a new strike partnership lacking Allegri’s basic attacking concepts is partially responsible for the away side’s blunt productivity in the final third.

Allegri adapts

Pjanic’s superb free-kick put Roma ahead at the hour mark, but Roma’s threat from wide areas decreased significantly. Majority of the hosts’ buildup play was narrow, and with Pogba offering improved protection for Evra, Garcia’s men relied on distant Nainggolan efforts on goal that forced Buffon to make a few saves.

Allegri instantly reacted to Pjanic’s opener, introducing Morata for the subdued Mandzukic, but the away side’s best chances stemmed from corner kicks. Then the Juve manager altered to a midfield diamond, sacrificing Lichtsteiner for Roberto Pereyra.

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Pereyra represented the ideal player suited for Allegri’s approach as his pace offers a genuine threat on the counter, and it was odd to see the Argentinian reduced to a bit-part role considering the circumstances. The Argentine forced Dzeko into a booking, while his pace and clever combination with Morata led to Dybala’s consolation goal – Morata dispossessed Keita in midfield to ignite the swift break.

Evra’s second dismissal proved costly in the final stages of the match, but a change of shape and additional space from Morata and Pereyra nearly inspired a comeback.

2-0

Roma, though, quickly pounced on the champions’ mistakes. Subsequent to Evra’s dismissal, Pjanic played a lovely diagonal behind Juan Cuadrado for Falque, and his cross into the box witnessed Dzeko tower over Chiellini to notch his first goal for the hosts.

The significance of the goal may be overlooked, but it distinctly highlights two areas that Garcia seeked to improve this summer. Put simply, it was another dangerous delivery from Falque in a wide area that was converted by a legitimate centre-forward.

There’s a chance that the signings may not elevate Roma into potential champions, but the goal provides evidence that Garcia has made it priority to offer variety to an attack that was mightily predictable last season.

Conclusion

Juve’s apathetic display enabled Roma to dominate the match, as a moment of brilliance and a defensive lapse punished the champions in the second half.

This was an improved display for Garcia’s side, following a poor draw to Verona, with the most intriguing theme involving the balance within his attacking trio. In the past, the attacking options at Garcia’s disposal represent a team suited to play on the counter, and natural width combined with an aerial threat can improve Roma’s difficulty breaking down organized back-lines.

Miralem Pjanic (15) of AS Roma competes for the ball with Paul Pogba (10) of Juventus FC during the Serie A soccer match between AS Roma and Juventus FC at Stadio Olimpico on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy. CREDIT: ANADOLU AGENCY

Miralem Pjanic (15) of AS Roma competes for the ball with Paul Pogba (10) of Juventus FC during the Serie A soccer match between AS Roma and Juventus FC at Stadio Olimpico on August 30, 2015 in Rome, Italy.
CREDIT: ANADOLU AGENCY

Allegri’s approach was logical considering the scheduling of the fixture and limited time to integrate his philosophy, but here, his personnel selection was incorrect. Perhaps match fitness prevented Morata from starting, but Pereyra’s pace in midfield proved crucial in transition, and was the missing piece to a disjointed attempt to break on the counter.

Still, it would be harsh to prematurely criticize Juventus as the club lost a leader in Andrea Pirlo, and the league’s best attacker and midfielder in Tevez and Arturo Vidal, last summer, leading to several new additions in Turin. Allegri will be assessed attentively in the upcoming weeks, as the Juventus manager rightly requires time to find the correct balance, and welcome back injured players on his quest to retain the Scudetto.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Brazil 4-2 Italy

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Courtesy of Ranzag

 

Brazil win Group A after producing their best performance of the tournament thus far.

Luiz Felipe Scolari made one change to his starting line up introducing Hernanes for the injured Paulinho. Brazil stuck with a 4-2-3-1 that saw Fred lead the line ahead of Hulk, Oscar and Neymar.

Italy were without Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo, so Cesare Prandelli was forced to make personnel changes, but he also changed Italy’s shape. The Italians also lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Mario Balotelli leading the line ahead of Alessandro Diamanti, Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva. Alberto Aquilani partnered Riccardo Montolivo in the double pivot, while Ignazio Abate and Leonardo Bonucci were included in the back four.

Brazil was the better side – they defended and attacked as a unit, got into better positions across the pitch and dictated the tempo of the match.

Brazil press

Throughout the group stage, Brazil has started games brightly – they would press high, overload wide areas and the fluidity in their intricate passing was mesmerizing. In the opening two games, Neymar scored within 10 minutes, giving Brazil the lead, but their intensity levels dropped severely after. This not only allowed the opposition back into the match, but it left many uncertain as to whether Brazil were reacting to their opposition or content with keeping a compact shape.

Surprisingly, Scolari’s men stepped away from that approach and pressed admirably as a unit. Fred and Neymar pressed Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini on goal kicks and when Italy tried to play out of the back, while the other nine Brazilian players moved forward as a unit to minimize the space between midfield and attack. Brazil’s approach was identical to the Japanese – close down Italy’s deep-lying playmakers and press higher up the pitch when Italy attempts to play from the back.

Brazil maintained their pressing for majority of the match, and it prevented the Italians from gaining a rhythm in midfield – ultimately they struggled to dictate the tempo of the match.

Italy without the ball

Prandelli’s men took a cautious approach to the match – they chose to sit back in two banks of four or a 4-5-1, but they kept a relatively high line. It must be said that wingers on both sides were disciplined over the course of the match – Candreva and Diamanti kept Marcelo and Dani Alves from surging forward in the opening 20 minutes, which is vital considering both fullbacks contributed to three of Brazil’s 5 goals prior to kickoff.

Italy’s shape was effective, and Abate played a key role to their success. Abate kept Neymar quiet during his time on the pitch – he stayed close to the Barcelona winger when he received the ball, often preventing him from turning and causing havoc with his dazzling runs. Unfortunately for Italy, Neymar’s late challenge on Abate forced the AC Milan fullback to leave the match with an apparent dislocated shoulder.

Brazil’s midfield

Despite Italy’s organized shape, Brazil was able to create chances due to the intelligence of Oscar and the lack of pressure on Luiz Gustavo. It was a surprise to see Prandelli’s men avoid replicating Mexico’s nearly successful defensive approach – Mexico closed down Gustavo to prevent Brazil from playing out of the back and Scolari’s men were unable to dictate the tempo of the match. Nevertheless, the Bayern Munich midfielder dropped between the centre back to receive the ball and set the tempo of Brazil’s attack.

The inclusion of Hernanes also benefitted Scolari’s men because now he possessed two proficient passers in his double pivot. When the Lazio midfielder received the ball, he displayed a wide array of forward and diagonal balls. Brazil was better in possession compared to their first two matches and Hernanes’ inclusion was pivotal.

The final key element to Brazil’s superiority in midfield was Oscar. For a 21-year-old that’s played 70+ games for club and country over the last 12 months, it’s quite impressive to see a player play at this level. Oscar completed his defensive duties on both flanks, but when Brazil had possession of the ball, the Chelsea midfielder became a key asset to their attack. Oscar dropped into midfield to help Brazil retain possession, along with finding pockets of space in deeper positions to give Gustavo an additional passing outlet. His positional sense and tactical awareness is rarely praised, but the young Brazilian has played a key role in Brazil’s success thus far.

Maggio

Both managers were forced to make first half substitutions – Prandelli was the unlucky one out of the two, as Montolivo and Abate were unable to continue. Scolari had the luxury of introducing Dante for David Luiz – Luiz was key when Italy occasionally pressed the Brazilian defenders, as he pushed forward to play balls into the midfield. Surprisingly, Dante and Emanuele Giaccherini both scored the opening goals for the respected sides, yet Maggio’s introduction had the biggest impact on the match.

It’s peculiar to see a player thrive in a wingback role, yet be so dire as a fullback, but that would be the perfect way to define Maggio. The Napoli wingback isn’t the greatest defender when attackers run at him, and the balance of the match favoured Brazil once the Italian was introduced. Maggio was often dragged out of position, and Neymar was beginning to find space behind the Italian to create. Neymar began to terrorize Maggio down the left flank, and it encouraged Marcelo to be risky and attempt to overload the Italian defender. Neymar scored his third goal of the tournament off a free-kick that was awarded to the Barcelona winger, when Marcelo surged forward and gave the ball to Neymar to run at Maggio.

Prior to Maggio’s introduction, Neymar was quiet and Brazil were slightly on top – Abate’s marking on Neymar was pivotal and once he departed, Brazil had more freedom to express themselves down the left flank against a vulnerable Maggio.

Giaccherini goal

Italy struggled to move up the pitch as a unit, and Balotelli was isolated for large portions of the match, yet Italy found a way to grab an equalizer. This goal was an interesting feat because of the way Brazil defended Balotelli. Throughout the tournament Balotelli has displayed his ability to hold up the ball and turn his defender on either side. Brazil countered that by sticking tight to the Italian, which always led to a foul.

Scolari’s men have been fortunate not to receive more bookings throughout the tournament, as they have committed several cynical fouls. Brazil has made a habit of halting play, seeing as majority of the fouls have been committed when teams are about to break past their first line of press, or when forwards drop deep to receive the ball.

Italy’s opener came off a Buffon goal kick, which led to Dante allowing Balotelli to back heel a ball onto the path of Giaccherini and the Juventus midfielder slotted his shot past Julio Cesar. After the goal, Dante was instructed to stick tighter on the Italian forward, which is why Balotelli failed to have a significant impact on the match.

Brazil’s pressing has been effective, and they have thrived when dropping off and keeping their shape – but that can be down to their last-ditch tackles that keep teams from attacking open space when Brazil is caught out of position.

Second half

Neymar’s free kick and a Fred goal courtesy of another direct ball from a Brazilian fullback, gave Scolari’s men a two-goal lead. Brazil suddenly dropped into a narrow 4-1-4-1, which allowed Italy to take control of the game, as Brazil aimed to break on the counter.

Aquilani and Marchisio, who once again had ineffective matches, were now able to drop deep to receive the ball and play it wide. Unfortunately, Italy weren’t playing any penetrating passes through the middle – instead they distributed balls to Maggio because he was given license to roam forward. Prandelli’s men were getting into dangerous positions across the pitch, and Maggio was delivering crosses into the box, but the Italian’s rarely tested Julio Cesar

Chiellini’s controversial goal saw the two managers make their final changes – Stephan El Shaarawy was introduced to attack space behind Dani Alves and prevent the fullback from pushing forward, while Fernando’s introduction meant Brazil became a 4-3-3. Neither substitution had a significant effect on the match and Fred’s 88th minute goal destroyed the possibility of an Italian come back.

Conclusion

Brazil produced their best performance of the tournament thus far – they pressed high as a unit to prevent Italy from building plays, the midfield’s movement and ability to find space to receive the ball was superb, while Neymar and Marcelo continue to dazzle on the left flank.

Prandelli’s tactical experiments haven’t been a success and his team now faces a semi-final date with Spain. Over the past two matches the Azzuri have struggled severely when teams close down their deep-lying playmaker, which has limited the service Balotelli has received. Defensively the Italians have been poor, conceding eight goals in three games, compared to the seven conceded throughout Euro 2012 – the midfield has been stifled once teams close them down, and Balotelli has often been an isolated figure. With Balotelli and Abate unavailable due to injury, there may be a good chance Italy line up in a 3-5-2 against Spain – reason being they reacted to Spain’s threat magnificently last summer, and it’ll turn Maggio into a threat opposed to a liability at the back.

Scolari’s men produced their best performance of the tournament thus far and now await Uruguay in the semi-finals. Brazil’s pressing was delightful, and the intelligence of Oscar also played a key factor. Once again Neymar steals the headlines, scoring another remarkable goal, pushing his tally to three goals in three games. Scolari also benefitted from the inclusion of Hernanes, who helped Brazil retain the ball and dictate possession. Scolari’s men look to be getting it together at the right time, but it’ll be interesting to see whether Hernanes will keep his spot in the line up if Paulinho recovers. Nevertheless, Brazil stuck to the basics and nullified Italy’s strengths, making them worthy winners on the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Italy 4-3 Japan

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Italy were fortunate to steal all three points from a highly impressive Japanese side, courtesy of a late Sebastian Giovinco winner.

Cesare Prandelli made two changes to his side that defeated Mexico a few days ago. Cristian Maggio slotted in at right back for Ignazio Abate, while Alberto Aquilani started as a floater with Emanuele Giaccherini behind Mario Balotelli, pushing Claudio Marchisio to the bench.

Alberto Zaccheroni made one change to his 4-2-3-1, as he decided to start with a legitimate centre forward upfront. Ryoichi Maeda led the line, meaning that Shinji Okazaki joined Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda to form an attacking three.

This was an entertaining open match that saw several lead changes and horrendous defending – Mexico took a two goal lead, Italy responded, Japan equalized and looked certain to win the match, but Prandelli’s initial substitution paid off at the end.

Playing balls from the back/Japan press

There was a specific theme that occurred in Italy’s opening match against Mexico – both sides were comfortable with their opponent playing out of the back.

Initially, Italy pressed higher up the pitch, but Japan was able to easily pass through that pressure. Prandelli’s men dropped into a 4-5-1 with Aquliani and Giaccherini tucking in, but their relatively older side, failed to cope with Japan’s movement and fluid passing.

Japan had no issues with letting Italy play from the back, and none of the goals they conceded stemmed from Pirlo or De Rossi’s dominance. Japan dropped off into a 4-4-1-1, and Honda was the key man staying close to Pirlo and preventing the Italian midfielder from dominating the match. This made De Rossi pivotal, but Zaccheroni instructed his players to close him down as well, meaning Italy’s centre backs were forced to play from the back. Leonardo Bonucci would have been an asset in this situation as he’s a better passer of the ball compared to his Juventus teammates Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini. Italy lacked cohesion going forward, and found it difficult to play the ball to Balotelli or their midfield.

When Italy tried to play the ball from the back on goal kicks, Maeada and Honda closed down Barzagli and Chiellini, while Pirlo was also pressed – Italy found it difficult coping with Japan’s pressure, and that played a key factor in their dreadful start.

Kagawa

Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa rarely featured for the Red Devils this season, as Sir Alex Ferguson allowed the Japanese star to settle into a high paced Barclays Premier League. It must be said that when he has made an appearance, Kagawa has made some sort of positive impact for the Premier League champions.

Nevertheless, Kagawa was one of Japan’s key men throughout the match – his tactical awareness and ability to find space around the pitch led to Japan’s dominance. Kagawa was Zaccheroni’s main creative outlet, he often drifted into central areas from the left flank to allow Nagatomo to push forward, but his combination of balls over the top and intricate passing in the final third troubled the Italians. Although Kagawa was influential going forward, he struggled to find the final pass at times – Japan were getting into great positions in the final third, but they rarely got behind the Italian defence.

Also, Kagawa played a key role in Japan’s ball retention and their ability to play through Italy’s pressure. The Japanese winger was dropping into pockets of space in the midfield to receive the ball – this gave Italy problems because a) no Italian player picked him up and b) he provided an extra passing outlet for the Japanese.

Kagawa played an essential role in Zaccheroni’s XI – he provided a creative spark, helped Japan retain possession and he also scored a lovely goal that should have put Japan in cruise control.

Defensive errors

It’s key to note that six of the seven goals were down to diabolical defending – while many can make the case that Giovinco’s winner was as well, it’s fair to say that it was piece of magic from De Rossi. The Italians have struggled defensively thus far due to their inexperienced fullbacks and a possible tired Barzagli – Chiellini duo, while Japan conceded three goals for the second consecutive match.

Mattia De Sciglio had himself a difficult afternoon coping with Okazaki and constant overloads on the right flank, and the 20-year-old Milan fullback made a poor error that led to Honda’s penalty. For the second time in the tournament the Italian defence concede a penalty when pressed in their third, and Gianluigi Buffon was fortunate not to be sent off.

Failing to clear your defensive lines and defending a set-piece should be automatic at this level, and it was shocking to see Prandelli’s men concede goals in this manner. To be fair, Kagawa’s finish was superb, but Montolivo allowed Okazaki to run past him and head the ball past Buffon at the near post – two preventable Japanese goals made life difficult for the Italians, but luckily for Prandelli, Zaccheroni’s men weren’t any better defensively.

Zaccheroni will feel that the goals that his men conceded were unfortunate, and although he may have a point, the defending was still lacklustre. The Japanese manager would be disappointed with the defending on De Rossi’s header, which changed the balance of the match, as it gave Italy belief. Atsuto Uchida’s own goal was down to a bit of luck that Giaccherini received to keep the ball into play, but Maya Yoshida should have dealt with the situation better – the defending from the Southampton centre back was comical. Two minutes later, Makoto Hasebe conceded a penalty – it was a brutal call by the referee, and it allowed Balotelli to calmly record his second goal of the tournament.

Zaccheroni’s men did receive some unfortunate setbacks, but they stemmed from poor defending and that should never be overlooked. On the other hand, Italy looked a shambles at the back and will need to improve dramatically as Brazil and Spain await.

Right floater

One of the interesting components in Prandelli’s 4-3-2-1 system has been his right floater. In Italy’s opener he chose to play Marchisio in this role – the Italian failed to adapt to the role, often sitting as another midfielder and failed to receive the ball in the final third. Against Japan, Prandelli opted to play Aquilani in that position – another central midfielder, that can score goals, but isn’t necessarily suited playing behind the striker.

Aquilani, like Marchisio didn’t understand his role as a right floater and it left the Fiorentina midfielder lost during his time on the pitch. One can assume that the attempt to play a fourth central midfielder in that role is to nullify the opponents attacking left full back and to help retain possession, but Aquilani failed to do that.

As the tournament progresses, we’ll learn more about the role of Prandelli’s right floater, but thus far, two direct players in Alessio Cerci and Giovinco have been better options in that position.

Japan in wide areas

Zaccheroni’s men had majority of possession in both halves, and they were thriving in wide areas. Italy’s tendency to drop into a narrow 4-5-1 closed down pockets of space for Honda and Kagawa to penetrate, but it left their two fullbacks vulnerable to overloads. Prandelli’s wide men were disciplined against Mexico – they created a narrow midfield five, but quickly closed down the Mexican fullbacks when they received the ball, and it was strange to see that initial plan ignored.

With Kagawa and Okazaki drifting centrally, Maggio (oddly a great right wing back but a below-par right back) and De Sciglio struggled to cope with the threat of Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida. Kagawa and Nagatomo combined brilliantly, terrorizing Maggio, and it looked like a well thought out plan constructed by Zaccheroni. De Sciglio had to cope with not only Okazaki and Uchida, but also Honda, who periodically drifted into pockets of space on the right hand side.

Japan was vastly superior in wide areas due to the lack of defensive cover from the two Italian floaters – but why weren’t they instructed to track the Japanese fullbacks? And where was Montolivo or De Rossi? Although these are minor tactical errors, Prandelli needs to be held accountable for them, because they can prove to be the deciding factor in matches of this nature.

Giovinco winner

Giovinco replaced Aquilani 30 minutes into the match as Prandelli noticed that Aquilani was ineffective. Giovinco offers a different element going forward – his movement off the ball into pockets of space is better, his direct running and pace is key on the counter and his ability to link play with Balotelli, who was isolated for large portions of the match would be vital.

Ultimately Giovinco grabbed the match winner, and the ball from De Rossi was delightful, as was the diagonal run from Marchisio, but Giovinco’s positioning was key. It’s very unlikely that we would see Aquilani get into that position, which is why Giovinco’s substitution proved to be significant. His mobility and instinct to get into goal scoring positions is something you wouldn’t get from Aquilani, and as stated earlier, it now leaves Prandelli with a few tactical issues to iron out ahead of their clash against Brazil.

Substitutions

Prandelli replaced Giaccherini with Marchisio, pushing Giovinco to the left. With the game deadlocked, it could have been an attempt to focus on ball retention or to limit the threat Nagatomo was inflicting on Italy’s right side.

The Italian manager also decided to introduce Abate for Maggio, who was struggling at right back. Abate is better suited at right back but the Milan defender also found it difficult to cope with Japan’s left side.

Zaccheroni made predictable player swaps, but the decision to bring on a target man in Havenaar was logical. Unfortunately, Japan failed to provide the striker with quality service and he had no impact on the match.

Conclusion

Italy nick a late winner and qualify for the semi finals, despite Japan’s domination in possession and wide areas.

Overall, it was an open game filled with many defensive errors. Zaccheroni’s men were unfortunate on the night, but their inability to convert chances into goals cost them three points and a chance to secure a berth in the semi finals.

Prandelli’s tactical change proved to be pivotal, but he’ll be concerned with his back four, as they’ve been mediocre thus far. With De Rossi and possibly Pirlo unavailable to face Brazil, Italy lose their two best midfielders – but the Azzuri have adequate replacements in Aquilani and Marchisio to join Montolivo in midfield.

Does Prandelli stick with his 4-3-2-1 and play Giovinco as the right floater?Or does he go 4-3-3 and start Stephan El Shaarawy? Fortunately for Prandelli, this tournament is a great setting to experiment – Italy have yet to play their best football, but they’ll need to produce a better performance without their two best midfielders if they intend on avoiding Spain in the semi-finals.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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