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Juventus 3-0 Roma


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Juventus extended their lead at the top of Serie A to eight points with an impressive victory over Roma.


Antonio Conte fielded his preferred starting eleven, as he welcomed back Andrea Pirlo from injury.

Rudi Garcia made no significant changes to his 4-3-3. Francesco Totti, Gervinho and Adem Ljajic led the line, while Kevin Strootman, Miralem Pjanic and Daniele De Rossi formed a midfield trio.

This fixture had no major tactical theme – Juventus’ approach without the ball nullified Roma’s main attacking threat.

Juventus without the ball

One of the most significant feats in this match was Juventus’ approach without the ball. Opposed to bringing the match to the away side, Conte instructed his men to sit deep in their half and minimize space between the lines for Totti to drift into.


This approach was logical because it ensured there was no space behind the Juventus backline to attack on the counter and Totti would be unable to drag defenders out of position. Conte’s men sat in two compact banks of four, with Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente sitting a few yards ahead of the midfield to maintain Juventus’ shape.


Conte’s midfield trio sat in front of the back line, as Juventus became a 5-3-2, considering Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah sat deeper then usual. Vidal and Pogba pushed out wide when Roma’s fullbacks received the ball, to prevent them from pushing forward, and they diligently dropped deeper to ensure that their wingback wasn’t isolated against Roma’s front three – this meant Tevez and Llorente dropped into these central areas preserve structure in midfield.

Juventus’ approach out of possession was significant – Garcia’s men were left flabbergasted in possession, as the home side stifled their main attacking threats.

Roma struggle

Juventus’ reactive approach meant Roma enjoyed majority of the possession throughout the match. Apart from Tevez occasionally closing down defenders, and Juventus’ attempt to press from goal-kicks, Roma’s centrebacks, along with De Rossi, were free to push forward.

The issue that Roma encountered – besides Juventus’ great organization – was their slow ball circulation and a focal point in attack. Strootman retained possession well and Pjanic – who looked injured – attempted to penetrate, but the midfielders’ impact was minimal. Gervinho was caught offside when he broke into good positions, and was always put into 1v2 situations when he intended on isolating a wingback – and Ljajic drifted infield desperately looking for gaps to penetrate.


Totti found it difficult to grow into the match, and he failed to create space for Roma’s attacker to run into. Whenever Totti dropped deep to receive the ball the closest Juventus centreback stuck tight to the Italian – Vidal also tracked his movement and closed Totti down when he roamed around the halfway line.

Ultimately, the only way Roma could create an opportunity to expose Juventus on the counter would be to press the Juventus backline higher up the pitch, or force them to concede possession in their third, and quickly commit men forward. Ljajic received a great chance early in the match when Totti dispossessed Leonardo Bonucci, but besides that effort, Buffon made routine saves to preserve his clean sheet.

Despite monopolizing majority of the possession, the away side rarely created legitimate goal-scoring opportunities because they couldn’t find openings in Juventus’ shape. The ball circulation was slow, their playmakers were nullified, and there was no space in the final third for Gervinho to attack.

Pirlo – De Rossi

Although Roma opted to drop into their shape and allow Juventus’ centrebacks to play from the back, Garcia instructed his men to press Pirlo. Totti was handed the duty to track the Italian maestro, and Pjanic occasionally stepped in when Totti was out of position. Garcia’s attempt to nullify Pirlo was logical, but as the game wore on, the Italian found it easier to receive the ball and build attacks from deep – this was down to fitness levels, and Roma’s lack of structure without the ball.


On the other hand, De Rossi was free to play passes from deep – he often switched balls towards the fullbacks, but rarely played long diagonal balls or forward penetrating passes. De Rossi’s passing was conservative, and while his passing rate was phenomenal, it didn’t influence Roma’s attack. Here, De Rossi often dropped between the two Roma centre-backs to ensure a numerical advantage at the back, and help push Dodo and Maicon forward.

Although neither man dominated the match from midfield, both held pivotal roles – Pirlo helped Juventus get into better attacking positions as the match wore on, whereas De Rossi’s presence prevented Juventus’ strike force from isolating the Roma’s centrebacks.


The home side’s threat from open-play was minimal, but they efficiently executed set-pieces. In fairness, Pogba and Vidal ignited attacks on the break, but their final ball let them down – however, Roma looked vulnerable defending set-pieces, and Juventus took advantage.

Juventus’ opening goal came from a simple Lichtsteiner throw-in that led to the Swiss wingback playing a pass into Tevez, who cleverly turned De Rossi, slid an incisive ball towards Vidal, and the Chilean beat Morgan De Sanctis at the near post. 20 minutes later, Pirlo tricked the Roma defence into thinking he’d play a ball into the six-yard box, and laid it off to Pogba, whose shot was blocked – Roma failed to clear their lines and Barzagli’s diagonal pass to Tevez subsequently led to the Argentinian striker whipping a ball across the six-yard box, which Bonucci couldn’t latch onto.

Bonucci doubled the home side’s lead minutes into the second half, when he broke free from Leandro Castan and guided in Pirlo’s free-kick at the far post. Roma further displayed their inability to defend set-pieces when Chiellini nodded back Pirlo’s free-kick at the far post and Castan handled the ball in the area, thus leading to his dismissal and a penalty, which Mirko Vucinic converted. Although Juventus’ influence from open-play was minimal, Conte’s men exposed Roma through set-pieces, and were rewarded with three goals.


Garcia opted to bring on Mattia Destro and Vasilis Torosidis for Pjanic and Dodo, as Roma moved to a 4-2-3-1.


The move was logical as Roma now possessed a focal point in attack, but unfortunately for the away side, they struggled to get the ball into Destro – Pjanic’s departure deprived the away side of any penetration, as they were left with Strootman’s complacent passing and De Rossi in a deeper role.


Garcia’s final attempt to alter the match saw Alessandro Florenzi replace Totti, but De Rossi and Castan were sent off within four minutes of his introduction. With Roma down to nine-men away from home against the champions, the match was over, and Juventus comfortably sustained their two-goal lead.


Juventus’ defensive solidity and set-piece efficiency merited three points – this was far from their best performance of the season, yet their defensive display was superb, as Conte’s men stifled Roma’s attack.

Roma dominated possession for large portions of the match, but the away side lacked invention, guile and penetration when they broke into Juventus’ half. Garcia’s men circulated the ball too slow, allowing Juventus to maintain their shape, while their set-piece defending was abysmal. Roma have overachieved by some margin this season – considering this is their first loss of the season – and if they can positively bounce back from this result, then the title race is far from over.

Roma’s overall performance wasn’t great – nor was it poor – here, they lost to a better side, executing a well-thought-out approach.

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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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Gareth Barry: Everton’s unsung hero


The underlying significance of a ball-playing holding midfielder has been highly recognized in modern day football. The elite sides around Europe all possess a player in this mold – the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Sergio Busquets and as of late Phillip Lahm have consistently performed at world-class levels as the single pivot, abolishing the belief that only players whom possess a physical presence can succeed in this role.

Most recently, the admiration for a deep-lying midfielder has shifted towards the Premier League. Michael Carrick was a standout last season in a deeper role, similar to Mikel Arteta’s impressive showing the year prior. And while sides like Liverpool occasionally play with a midfield trio, they still combine energy (Henderson), passing (Gerrard), and strength (Lucas) in these areas. The aim to control central areas is pivotal in the modern game, which explains why teams prefer to sustain possession and have players that are capable of dictating the tempo from deep positions.

Everton has undergone a radical transformation in terms of their philosophy, since Roberto Martinez’s arrival. Opposed to their reactive approach under David Moyes, Martinez has instilled a pragmatic possession-based philosophy. Despite losing Marouane Fellaini to Manchester United, Martinez has put his faith in Ross Barkley to be the main source of creativity, Romelu Lukaku to spearhead the attack and Kevin Mirallas as a direct wide threat – thus forming a tantalizing partnership on the right flank with Seamus Coleman. Nevertheless, Martinez inherited a great core of players, and the Spaniard has found a balance between promising technical youth, and experienced veterans.

Surprisingly, Martinez’s most influential signing came at no cost, minutes before the transfer window closed. Gareth Barry was surplus to requirements at Manchester City, and in desperate need of first-team football, so a change in scenery was tempting – even if it wasn’t the dream move to Liverpool that he hoped for in 2008. Rafa Benitez was keen on bringing in Barry for Xabi Alonso – who was reportedly set to depart Anfield – but Liverpool didn’t have the funds to meet Villa’s price valuation, and Alonso stayed at the Merseyside club for another season.

At the time, Barry’s growth was gaining recognition at Aston Villa, so when Manchester City inquired about his services in 2009, the Englishman couldn’t decline. “I feel I am joining a club that will seriously challenge to win major honours,” Barry said.

However, while Barry’s stature continued to rise, his deficiencies were exposed on the world’s largest stage in South Africa. Barry was exhausted. He looked unfit, out of his element, average, frankly there weren’t enough words to describe Barry’s unpleasant afternoon at the Free State Stadium nearly four years ago. The English midfielder chased German shadows when Joachim Low’s men slaughtered England in the most recent World Cup. The Englishman conceded possession at the edge of the box, which led to Germany’s third goal – and he was lucidly beaten for pace by Mesut Ozil, thus putting the match out of reach.

Barry’s career was scarred – he’s never fully recovered from that humid, summer day in Bloemfontein, and many began to closely critique his weaknesses afterwards. Despite enjoying two good seasons at Manchester City, Barry’s progress at the club level was impeded. In terms of silverware, the 32-year-old midfielder coveted an FA Cup and Premier League medal, but he was incapable of solidifying a role alongside Yaya Toure in City’s midfield. While the Englishman’s performances were rarely putrid, his natural ability wasn’t enough to boast the Manchester Club amongst Europe’s elite. 

And as the years went by, City desperately searched for players to fill this void. By the end of Barry’s fourth season with the club, City had Jack Rodwell, Toure, Javi Garcia, and newly acquired Fernandinho at their disposal.

At the age of 32, Barry knew his minutes would be scarce when manager Manuel Pellegrini told him a starting role was unattainable, as many midfielders were ahead of him. Barry began to realize that a move abroad was logical, and with Marouane Fellaini set for a move to Manchester United, Everton’s interest persuaded the Englishman.

“Firstly, it’s all about playing regular football in the Premier League. I haven’t joined Everton to try and help my England ambitions but that will come if I’m playing consistently well for Everton,” Barry said. 

“I wasn’t comfortable with my last year at City, with not playing, so now I’m looking to establish myself here. It was made clear to me that I wasn’t going to be guaranteed first team football.”

The arrival of Barry has led to a formidable midfield partnership with James McCarthy – the Englishman often sits as the deepest midfielder, while McCarthy’s dynamism enables him to drive forward into attack. More importantly, Barry’s positional and tactical awareness allows Everton’s attacking players to express themselves. He drops between the centrebacks and in vacant spaces out wide, giving the fullbacks onus to surge forward.

Barry sits in deep areas ahead of the two centrebacks, and focuses on dictating the tempo of the match – his passes often go sideways, but the Englishman isn’t wary of playing forward, penetrating balls. The 32-year-old averages 69.7 completed passes per game – a team high – at an 86% success rate, but he also plays an integral role on the defensive end breaking up play. More so, Everton hasn’t lost a match at full strength, with Barry in the starting XI.

Martinez has expressed his praise for the midfielder on several occasions, as he believes English supporters don’t appreciate the importance of the no.6 role. “To be able to see a pass and execute it in the way he does is a talent which you either have or you haven’t but he has developed an incredible awareness – the way he sits in for other players, the way he drives forward when he has to, the way he takes decisions,” Martinez said.

In the buildup to Gerard Deulofeu’s equalizer against Arsenal, we witnessed a glimpse of what Barry offers Everton. Barry controlled a loose ball, and played a forward pass to Ross Barkley, who turned Mathieu Flamini wonderfully, and evaded Arteta’s challenge. Barkley sprayed the ball out wide to Bryan Oviedo, and Barry continued his run powerful from midfield, aiming to create an overlap, which gave Oviedo half-a-yard to deliver a cross – thus leading to Deulofeu’s magnificent finish.

Everton’s transformation under Martinez has been remarkable – The Spaniard’s ability to evolve their attack over a short period of time has produced a different side at Goodison Park. The young attacking players may steal the headlines, but Barry remains a key cog towards the club’s success this season.

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Posted by on December 27, 2013 in EPL, Match Recaps


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Juventus 3-0 Napoli


Juventus sit one point behind league leaders Roma after a convincing victory over Napoli.


Antonio Conte made two changes to the side that drew Real Madrid in midweek. Angelo Ogbonna joined Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli at centre back, while Mauricio Isla made an appearance as a right wingback.

Rafa Benitez assembled his side in a 4-2-3-1 with Gonzalo Higuain leading the line ahead of Jose Callejon, Marek Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne. Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami formed the double pivot.

Two moments of individual brilliance may have put the match out of reach, but Juventus were terrific in and out of possession.

Juventus’ great start

Conte’s men started the match in a positive manner, which has been a recurring theme throughout the early part of this campaign.

Shockingly, it only took two minutes for the Bianconeri to take the lead. From an initial short corner, Pirlo squared a pass to Isla, and the Chilean’s deflected shot fell to Llorente – who was marginally offside – and the Spaniard tapped the ball into the net. Three minutes later, Pirlo received his cleared corner kick at the edge of the box, and the Italian received time and space to deliver a cross at the far post to Paul Pogba, who nodded the ball across goal to Bonucci, but Pepe Reina made an excellent save to deny the Italian.

It was an ideal start for Conte’s men – they created two legitimate goal-scoring opportunities, took the lead, and pegged Napoli into their own half, during the opening 10 minutes.

Napoli shape

To an extent, Napoli’s shape without the ball was the cause for Juventus’ first half dominance. In Napoli’s away matches against top-sides this season, Benitez’s men have been cautious, and focused on attacking teams on the counter. Here, they dropped too deep, and failed to limit Juve’s activity in the final third.

Higuain and Hamsik dropped off near Pirlo, allowing Bonucci, Barzagli and Ogbonna time on the ball. Benitez’s men allowed Juve’s centrebacks to push forward, and their wingbacks to advance higher up the pitch. Occasionally, Higuain and Napoli’s wide men would press Juve’s defenders, but that left Pirlo as a free outlet to receive the ball.


Another odd feat was Napoli’s defensive approach towards the Italian maestro when he had the ball in Napoli’s half. No pressure was applied on Pirlo as he was allowed to spread passes to the advancing wingbacks.


Coincidentally, Kwadwo Asamoah and Isla was Pirlo’s preferred outlet going forward. Napoli’s two banks of four were organized, but their shape lacked structure.  There was space between the lines for Juve to exploit and their press was non-existent, which allowed Conte’s men freedom to express themselves.

Juventus shape

Unlike Napoli, Juventus’ shape without the ball was simple, yet effective. Similar to Napoli’s approach, Tevez and Llorente preferred not to press Napoli’s centrebacks, as they stuck close to Behrami and Inler – preventing the midfield duo from receiving the ball. This left the Napoli fullbacks as the free outlets out wide, but Vidal and Pogba closed them down admirably, while Asamoah and Isla tracked Insigne and Callejon’s runs.


Napoli failed to get the ball into Higuain, who was left isolated against Juventus’ three centrebacks, whereas Hamsik was unable to find space between the lines. Conte’s men nullified Napoli’s attacking threat by winning individual battles across the pitch, and limiting Hamsik’s space in the final third.

Another interesting feat was the dissimilarity in cohesion between both attacks. Juventus was fluid, their passing tempo was quick, and their utilization of wide areas was pivotal. Napoli struggled in wide areas against Arsenal at the Emirates a few weeks ago, and Conte’s men created their best chances from this source of attack, as they focused on isolating their fullbacks – while they may be great going forward, their defensive abilities are mediocre.

  1. 25th minute: Tevez received a pass from Pirlo between the lines and flicked a ball behind Christian Maggio to an unmarked Asamoah, but the Ghanaian’s shot hit the side netting.
  2. 38th minute: Vidal received a cross-field ball from Asamoah, and he played a defence splitting pass to the oncoming Isla. The Chilean delivered a sensational cross to Llorente, but Reina denied him at the near post.
  3. 65th minute: Pirlo spreads a pass to Isla on the right flank, and the Chilean squared the ball to Tevez on the edge of the box. Vidal’s movement led to Raul Albiol’s slip, and Tevez slipped the ball into the Chilean midfielder, but he scuffed his shot at the near post and it hit the side netting.

Juventus received several opportunities to increase their lead from wide areas, but great goalkeeping from Reina, and poor finishing kept Napoli in the match.

Napoli improve

There was a gradual lift in Napoli’s performance during the second half. Opposed to the first half, their work ethic improved when they lost the ball, as they instantly swarmed the Juventus defenders. Napoli pushed higher up the pitch, attempting to squeeze Conte’s men in their own half, and this led to their superiority in possession.

Nonetheless, Benitez’s men encountered the same issues in the second half, as they were unable to get behind the Juventus backline. But with Juventus sitting deeper, Hamsik’s movement enabled him to find gaps to exploit. Similar to the first half, Hamsik was forced to drop near the halfway line to receive the ball, and help Napoli push forward.

Hamsik passing vs Juventus

The Slovak international was neutralized in the first half, as he’s unable to influence the match from a deeper position. With Juventus 10-yards deeper, Hamsik found pockets of space to receive the ball and he attempted to overload wide areas, and penetrate in the final third.

  1. 63rd minute: Ogbonna failed to clear Pablo Armero’s cross and it fell to Hamsik – who snuck behind Pogba – but the Slovak’s shot towards the near post hit the side netting.
  2. 77th minute: Hamsik found space on the left flank, and played a splendid ball to Insigne – who made an intelligent run behind Barzagli – but Buffon saved Insigne’s shot at the near post.

Also, it’s key to point out Insigne’s attacking threat throughout the match. Whilst Napoli lacked invention and creativity in the final third, the Italian winger looked like the only player capable of snagging an equalizer. In the first half, he had two shots outside of the box that flashed inches of wide of the post and cross bar. Early on in the second half, he nearly beat Buffon with a promising curling free kick, but once again Buffon made a vital save. Insigne’s movement allowed him to get into great positions to threaten Juventus – the Italian was Napoli’s main attacking threat throughout the match but he was unable to beat Buffon when the opportunity was presented.

Benitez’s men improved in the second half with Hamsik and Insigne leading the charge, but Napoli’s standout performers lacked that extra bit of quality around the 18-yard box.


Although he didn’t add to his six goals in 11 matches, Tevez continued to shine for the Bianconeri. He was arguably the man of the match as he produced another fantastic display behind Llorente. Tevez found space between the lines to receive the ball and link play with his teammates, he made intelligent runs into space to open up holes in the backline, and he swiftly dribbled past Napoli defenders with ease.

The Argentine has settled well in his role as the second striker as his movement in the final third to allow runners to attack behind him, and his ability to play intricate passes in tight spaces has seen Tevez develop into a significant cog in Juventus’ attack. Tevez became a nuisance towards Napoli’s backline, and Inler’s foul on him – which led to Pirlo’s fantastic free kick goal – displayed the threat the Argentine poses in the final third.

Pirlo and Pogba added two goals in seven minutes to put the match out of reach, but Tevez continued to display why he’s currently the best striker in Italy.


Juventus move within one point of league leaders Roma, but more importantly they displayed that they’re still favourites to lift their third consecutive Scudetto. They nullified Hamsik’s threat in the final third and their overall shape without the ball was impressive for large portions of the match. On the other hand Napoli’s poor shape, and work ethic without the ball allowed Juve’s wingbacks, Tevez and Pirlo space to thrive in. 

“We needed more possession and to be more dangerous, but above all to show the character and quality we knew we had,” Benitez said. 

“We know Pirlo has quality, but we can’t play an entire game just for one player. We knew it could be difficult, but we know that in future we can play as we did in the second half,” he added. 

Napoli improved in the second half, and although they’re undergoing a transitional period, their performances in big matches and Hamsik’s minimal influence shouldn’t be overlooked. Napoli’s role in the title race is unknown as the season is long, but this match highlighted the contrast in quality between the two title rivals.

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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work


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Brazil prove to be the REAL winners at the Confederations Cup

Brazil claimed their fourth Confederations Cup title with a convincing victory of World champions Spain.

It was a result many would have never predicted and it left football fans around the world with hope that Spain can be knocked off their perch. More so, the much-maligned Confederations Cup that takes place every four years, one prior to the World Cup, went against the cliché of being a pointless tournament.

Over the past two weeks, we have witnessed high quality football matches – the three matches featuring football minnows Tahiti were blowouts, yet even the small nation with a population of approximately 267,000 people gave us something to cheer about. A tournament consisting of Brazil, Italy and Spain was never going to disappoint, and although it looked certain that these sides would finish in the top three, it was never guaranteed.

This tournament was always going to be a great chance for Brazil and Italy to establish themselves as contenders for next years World Cup, while Spain was looking to covet the one trophy that has eluded them during their phenomenal five-year run – but the key question that needs to be raised is did these teams achieve their goals? And who was the real winner over the past two weeks?


Cesare Prandelli has done a remarkable job in transforming the identity of the Azzuri since taking over the Italian side. Reaching the European final last year was a fantastic achievement, but the Italians have taken a few steps back over the past 12 months. Prandelli’s obsession with a possession-based system has been no secret, and the Italian has been keen on playing in a 4-3-2-1.

The importance of dominating the midfield has become essential, and a midfield containing Riccardo Montolivo, Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi is more than capable of achieving success. Surprisingly, besides the opening game against Mexico, the midfield trio failed to impress – they struggled against Japan, missed the Brazil match and were better against Spain, due to their lack of pressure.

Despite his mediocre displays for Roma, Daniele De Rossi has once again rose to the occasion under Prandelli – his ability to break up play, drop deeper to provide another passing outlet, spray positive forward and diagonal passes and getting forward to provide the final ball and score goals, displays why he’s one of the top midfielder’s in world football.

Along with De Rossi’s star performances, Mario Balotelli also demonstrated that he has the qualities to be a top striker at the international level. The AC Milan striker’s presence was missed in Italy’s final two games, as he played an integral role in the Azzuri’s attack. Balotelli’s ability to hold up the ball and turn on either side, along with his brute strength to shrug off defenders was key – it’s also key to highlight the two goals scored in three games played, one being a winner against Mexico.

Prandelli will also be pleased with Emanuele Giaccherini and Antonio Candreva – both men showcased their tactical discipline and awareness throughout the tournament. Giaccherini linked play with the Italian striker, got into dangerous areas throughout the final third, and his versatility to play in a wingback role against Spain was pivotal.

Candreva was the odd man out prior to the tournament, but injuries and suspensions earned the Lazio winger a place in the starting lineup, and he failed to disappoint. His performance against Spain was memorable – he sat back to protect Maggio, and on the attack he would drift centrally to receive the ball, along with relentlessly attacking Jordi Alba. Prandelli’s dilemma in finding suitable floater’s to play in his 4-3-2-1 may be solved with the emergence of Giaccherini and Candreva.

Surprisingly, Italy’s weakness throughout the tournament was their defence – the days of scoring a goal and defending deep as a unit may have past us. In five games, the Italians conceded 10 goals, keeping only one clean sheet against Spain. The Juventus trio in Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli looked comfortable playing in a back three, opposed to a back four, where they left large gaps available and made several errors.

Gianluigi Buffon patched up a few blemishes throughout the tournament with the three penalty saves he made in the third – place penalty shootout, but the errors made should never be overlooked. Like the Juventus centrebacks, Buffon looked a shadow of himself, and although it’s certain he’ll be in Brazil next year, questions must be posed on whether he should be Italy’s starting keeper for the future. With more games under his belt, Mattia De Sciglio has the potential to be a top-class left back in the near future, while Prandelli still faces issues on the right side. Ignazio Abate hasn’t been consistent enough, while Christian Maggio continues to thrive in a wingback role, but is a liability in a fullback position.

Some positives have come out of Italy’s Confederations Cup campaign, but Prandelli shouldn’t let their third place finish overshadow the issues that need to be addressed over the next 12 months. Prandelli has yet to find the perfect starting 11 for his 4-3-2-1 that he seems keen on playing in – but the Italians have displayed their tactical versatility to play in multiple systems, which is key at this level. If the Italians can address these issues heading into Brazil, there’s no reason why Italy shouldn’t be in contention to lift their fifth World Cup.


Out of the three contenders in this tournament, Spain looked to be the closest thing to complete. Del Bosque was disappointed to hear that Xabi Alonso would be unavailable for the entirety of the tournament – handing Javi Martinez, arguably the best player in that position this season, a chance to play in the double pivot with Sergio Busquets. Another surprise was the squad selection – many were expecting Del Bosque to select a younger squad, so the first-team could finally get a well-deserved rest, but to also implement a few fresh faces. Spain failed to lift the Confederations Cup, once again losing by a large margin – but unlike their 2-0 loss to the Americans in 2009, this time Del Bosque’s men were thoroughly out played.

Del Bosque stuck with a 4-3-3 throughout the tournament – Spain was now fluid in attack and creating more chances – but they were vulnerable to quick direct counter attacks. The reason why Del Bosque introduced the double-pivot upon his arrival was to prevent the likeliness of Spain being carved open on the counter – this made his decision to keep Javi Martinez on the bench peculiar. With Jordi Alba being one of Spain’s main attacking threats, this left del Bosque with three defenders and Sergio Busquets – Gerard Pique has declined over the past year, Alvaro Arbeloa a generally decent defender had a shocking tournament, leaving Sergio Ramos as their only competent defender.

This forced Spain to defend cautiously, along with the high temperatures and fatigue issues during the latter stages of the tournament. Nevertheless, Diego Forlan found space behind Busquets in the opener, Nigeria was allowed space in midfield to penetrate when Spain dropped into their shape, Italy nullified Jordi Alba’s threat by cleverly attacking the Spanish fullback and Brazil’s explosive direct counter attacks exposed del Bosque’s men. Del Bosque stuck with the 4-3-3, but it left Spain exposed, and the heat, along with the span between games hindered their chances of being successful in this tournament.

Another key factor was the injury of Cesc Fabregas – the Barcelona midfielder has finally secured a starting role, and was a key loss to la Roja. Fabregas provided Spain’s attack with an extra reliable passer/passing option, and his ability to find space between the lines was key. He was positioned narrow to allow Alba to surge forward, but he often linked play with Pedro Rodriguez, and got into advanced positions from midfield. His overall presence was integral to Spain’s fluidity going forward, which could have played a part in Spain failing to score in their final two games.

Spain has an abundance of world-class midfielders, but del Bosque has struggled to implement his top-class midfielders in Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata into the side. Both midfielders have struggled to adapt to Spain’s tiki-taka approach, often playing more direct balls, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s affected the balance and fluidity in the side – with the decline of David Villa and Fernando Torres, along with del Bosque not fancying Roberto Soldado, the balls provided from Cazorla and Mata haven’t been needed.

Is tiki-taka dead? Has Spain’s dominance come to an end? Both questions can’t be answered with full confidence, but it’s key to note that these same questions were posed after Spain’s defeat to the Americans four years ago – then they went on to win the World Cup and the Euro Cup two years later.

“I won’t make excuses – they were better than us and that is that. Sometimes it’s convenient to lose so you don’t think you’re unbeatable.” – Vicente del Bosque

Del Bosque’s decisions were stubborn, and he ignored the deficiencies that his side possessed – similar to Tito Vilanova’s situation against Bayern Munich this year, albeit Vilanova’s bench was much weaker. Based on the past, Spain should still enter Brazil in 2014 as favourites, but del Bosque will need to make some alterations to his system – preferably playing with a double pivot – if Spain intend on winning their second consecutive World Cup.


Luiz Felipe Scolari had many critics to silence ahead of his second stint with the Brazilian national team. Scolari inherited a side that had failed to impress over the past 24 months, failing to make an impact in the Copa America, along with the loss to Mexico in the Olympics last year. In a nation where expectations are so high, Scolari had to not only convince his side that they were winners, but the fans as well.

One of Brazil’s main strength’s going into 2014 is their defence, which could explain why they only conceded three goals throughout the entire tournament. They relied on direct play from their fullbacks, David Luiz’ reliable passing out of the back and the leadership of Thiago Silva. Surprisingly, it was the offence that needed to be ironed out, as there were many questions about Brazil’s tactical discipline and awareness. Nevertheless, three of Brazil’s front four were superb – Oscar moved into pockets of space to receive and play incisive passes, Neymar showcased the talent he possesses scoring four remarkable goals and Fred’s ability to link play with the attacking three, along with leading the press was vital.

Scolari made one change to his starting lineup during the tournament, when Hernanes started ahead of an injured Paulinho. It was shocking to see Hulk start in all five matches based on his form and the fact that Lucas Moura was available – a player that offers more pace, danger in the final third, and has a higher tactical IQ than the Zenit St. Petersburg player. Brazil developed a perfect blend of defence and attack in their starting line up, and Scolari displayed his ability to make tactical alterations in matches – specifically against Uruguay.

Although, Brazil won all five matches, there are still some questions to pose. Brazil’s ability to take over games once their opponents settle has yet to be seen, and there was a heavy reliance on players such as Neymar and Oscar – Scolari can get away with a small bench here, but he’ll need to rotate throughout the World Cup and be able to cope if one of the aforementioned players is sidelined.

On the other hand, they scored 14 goals in five games, conceding four, and finished the tournament unbeaten. Scolari was able to find cohesion between midfield and attack, building a potential starting 11, which showcased his sides tactical flexibility. Brazil have been here before, but have failed to replicate their success the following year, and Scolari will need to do so if he wants to mark his reign as a successful one.


We now sit 12 months away from arguably the biggest tournament on the planet, and three potential contenders have showcased their progress thus far. Italy’s tactical versatility, Spain’s fluid attack and Brazil’s energetic starts were positive – but defensive errors, naivety in tactical changes, and failure to take over matches will be one of many flaws to fine-tune.

“Now I am able to dream that we have an idea, that we have a path ahead of us, and that we have a good team to play in the World Cup next year as equals with other strong contenders.” – Luiz Felipe Scolari

“But as far as the team is concerned, one thing that is important is that in the last 30 days we have beaten four former or current world champions: France, Uruguay, Italy and Spain,” Scolari said.

“We are a team still being formed, facing a lot of difficulties and I think this win upgrades the team, giving us more confidence. It’s something that will make us play in a different way,” he said.

Nevertheless, although no team has ever won the World Cup after a Confederations Cup triumph, Scolari’s men were the real winners over the past two weeks.

They found a distinct balance in skill, power and tactical awareness – luckily for the other 31 teams, a lot can change in 12 months.

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Posted by on July 4, 2013 in FIFA


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Brazil 4-2 Italy


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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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Italy 2-1 Mexico


Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi anchored Italy past a disappointing Mexico side, as the Italians produced a impressive performance in their opening match.

There wasn’t much of a surprise in Cesare Prandelli’s 4-3-2-1, Mario Balotelli led the line, with Claudio Marchisio and Emanuele Giaccherini playing behind the AC Milan striker. Daniele De Rossi, Riccardo Montolivo and Andrea Pirlo formed a midfield three, while Mattia De Sciglio and Ignazio Abate were the Italian fullbacks.

Manuel De La Torre stuck with his traditional 4-2-3-1 and Javier Hernandez played as Mexico’s main striker. Andres Guardado, Giovani Dos Santos and Javier Aquino formed an attacking three, while Gerardo Torrado and Jesus Zavala were De La Torre’s holding midfielders.

Prandelli’s men were worthy winners on the night – they controlled the match in midfield, found spaces between the lines and they defended superbly as a unit.


It was a change for Manuel De La Torre’s men, as they are used to dictating possession when playing against sides in CONCACAF, so their defensive shape was always going to be pivotal. Mexico’s 4-2-3-1 became a 4-5-1 when Italy had possession, with Dos Santos instructed to stay close to Pirlo. De La Torre’s men failed to stay compact when they didn’t have the ball, which allowed Balotelli and Giaccherini space to receive the ball between the lines on numerous occasions. Also, Aquino did a poor job in protecting his fullback when Italy aimed to penetrate down the left flank.

On the other hand, Italy was remarkable when they didn’t have the ball. They also dropped into a 4-5-1 – Giaccherini and Marchisio tucked in to form a compact shape, but were quick to press the Mexican fullbacks when they received the ball. Mexico struggled to get behind the Italian defence because a) the Italians had a numerical advantage in central areas and b) their wide men were disciplined.


An interesting component in this match was Italy’s pressing. Prandelli’s men swarmed Mexico’s ball carrier when they lost possession and when the Mexican’s looked to play from the back. Mexico was forced into many misplaced passes and defensive errors that presented Italy with a few goal scoring chances. The Italians found a balance when they didn’t have the ball – they could press high as a unit to win the ball in dangerous areas, or drop into their defensive shape to conserve energy and ultimately force the Mexican’s into a mistake.

Mexico’s inability to press as a unit wasn’t necessarily bad – it was their naivety towards pressing Pirlo and De Rossi, as they allowed Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini to move forward with the ball. Dos Santos occasionally got goal-side of Pirlo forcing the Italian maestro to play sideways passes, but De Rossi dropped between Barzagli and Chiellini to receive the ball. De La Torre didn’t order a player to close down De Rossi, and this allowed the Roma midfielder to take control of the match. De Rossi was playing long diagonal balls and intelligent forward passes into the final third when Pirlo was occasionally closed down.

In the second half, Hernandez was told to help Dos Santos close down the two Italian midfielders. The Mexican attackers were quite effective when they chose to close Pirlo and De Rossi down, but they couldn’t sustain that pressure for the entirety of the match – Giaccherini connected with De Rossi’s long ball that led to Balotelli’s winner.

Mexico’s goal did generate from a rare moment when Dos Santos pressed Barzagli, he dispossessed the Italian defender and was then clipped in the box. Hernandez calmly slotted his penalty past Gianluigi Buffon, which leveled the match.

Italy’s balance of pressing and defensive organization nullified Mexico’s attack – meanwhile, pressing had an impact on Mexico’s approach – it helped create their only goal, but their inability to press frequently allowed De Rossi and Pirlo to dictate the match.

Italian midfield

There’s no secret about Prandelli’s appreciation for ball retention, and he’s fortunate to have the perfect balance of players in midfield to see out his goal. All three men are proficient passers and they each have their own significant strength. Pirlo is the deep-lying playmaker that can mix it up with a blend of short and long diagonal balls – he can also produce a final ball.

Despite dropping deeper against Mexico, De Rossi broke up play in the midfield and can also play key forward passes across the pitch. Montolivo was more of a shuttler – he pushed forward when space was available and linked play with Giaccherini, Abate and Balotelli, as they dominated the left flank.

Italy’s midfield three are defensively astute, tactically intelligent, proficient passers and possess high energy levels and technical ability. Many focus on Italy’s defensive solidity as their main strength, but their superiority in midfield is also a key component to their success.

Mexico’s attacks

Although Italy dominated possession, Mexico still created a few chances. De La Torre’s men lacked creativity in the final third and it’s been an issue they’ve face over the last few months. Mexico has tied five of their six World Cup qualifying games three, and have scored three goals – only last place Jamaica has scored less.

Most of Mexico’s chances came on the counter attack, but their decisions in the final third were poor. Dos Santos looked to be Mexico’s most influential player going forward, as he was getting the better of Abate on the left flank. Luckily for the Milan fullback, Barzagli drifted over to provide cover and nullify Dos Santos’ threat. Besides those minimal breaks, Mexico continued to struggle in the final third, as their crosses and passes lacked penetration and their decision-making was lethargic.


The Italian striker seems to save his better peformances for the national team, as once again he had a positive outing. Balotelli’s strength and pace troubled the Mexican backline, but he was also finding space between the lines to receive the ball and link play with the midfield. It was a constant feat in the first half, and the foul he suffered between the lines led to Pirlo’s magnificent goal.

The AC Milan striker’s only downfall was his finishing – quality infront of goal and discipline prevent Balotelli from being a top-class striker and there were a few chances that he should have buried. Nevertheless, he rose to the occasion in the 77th minute using his brute strength to shrug off Maza and direct his shot into the net.

A vintage Balotelli celebration followed the goal, which didn’t impress the senior players or Prandelli. Balotelli’s performances play a huge role in whether this Italian side succeeds, as they’re short on goal scoring options. In the past we’ve seen glimpses of how ruthless he can be in front of goal, but now is the time where it needs to be consistent.


Prandelli used all three substitutions available to address the minor issues he faced. Although they didn’t have a significant impact on the match they’re key to point out.

Alessio Cerci replaced the ineffective Marchisio, who was relatively quiet throughout the match. Cerci provides another element going forward, as he’s a direct player that likes to take defenders on.

Alberto Gilardino replaced Balotelli who was on a yellow card – Prandelli didn’t want to risk a second consecutive sending off for the Milan striker, so he decided to take him out of the match. Lastly, Alberto Aquilani replaced Giaccherini, to kill off the match by retaining possession.

De La Torre made a player swap by introducing Hiram
Mier for Aquino. He also added another striker in Raul Jimenez to replace Zavalla. The change made sense at the time, but the Mexican forward sat behind Dos Santos and Hernandez. De La Torre failed to change their shape and his changes had no impact on the match.


Italy were a class above the Gold Cup champions – they were fantastic without the ball, Pirlo and De Rossi were superb and they found space between the lines to penetrate.

Mexico face the same problems they have over the last few months. They lack a creative player in the final third, and a target man for Hernandez to play off of. De La Torre also has a few questions to answer as to why Pirlo an De Rossi weren’t picked up, along with their general plan. Tactically he needs to find another approach if Mexico want to get out of this group, along with featuring in next year’s World Cup.

It was an impressive performance, but Prandelli will have a few questions to solve ahead of their match with Brazil. How will he get the best out of Marchisio? And can Balotelli continue to play at this level, while scoring goals and keeping out of trouble? Nevertheless, like Brazil and Spain, the Italians displayed why they’re favourites to win this tournament.

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Posted by on June 17, 2013 in Match Recaps


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