The following article has been translated from the french version.
We all heard some football experts, journalists or national coaches, claiming that it’s almost impossible to reach a high collective level in a national team. And then they added: « Spain reached it thanks to Barcelona’s players, Italy reached it because they use 3 centre-backs from Juventus and Germany reached it because they have many Bayern’s players ».
Let’s be clear about that statement: that is bullshit. And thanks to Italy, we gonna prove it!
Yes Italy reached quarterfinals with the Juventus’ back three, and we can even add Buffon to those 3 guys. So they had 4 players from Juventus as a basis of the shape.
Then it’s not surprising to see that Italy’s ability to defend was often reduced to this quatuor : Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli. But we will see that Conte built far more than that.
But we had the ball!
Since season 08/09 a new paradigm is dominating football: the possession. The ability to have the ball is opposed to the ability to defend well. That’s the good against the evil, the nice against the ugly, and the proactive versus the reactive. The battle between Mourinho and Guardiola is the embodiment of this new paradigm. Nowadays you have to control the ball if you want to be the good guy.
This point of view is obviously Manichean but some experts don’t mind to dispraise their opponents if they performed without the ball.
Yesterday I saw Italy running everywhere and defending very deep. Conte chose runners [instead of footballers]. It’s his choice. – Marc Wilmots
Were Italy just a team of runners who parked the bus?
Italy : athletics or Catenaccio ?
In following paragraphs I will often talk about channels. If you aren’t familiar with that concept, do not skip this image:
Then when I will speak about channels, I will refer to those 5 areas.
You have to choose between running or thinking!
The Wilmot’s statement is even more surprising as it’s really easy to understand what Italy wanted to do without the ball. Shaped with the 5-3-2 aforementioned, Conte’s team tried to prevent their opponents to play in their half and they did their best to make the possession sterile.
To achieve this objective they applied a strongly ball-oriented block, which slid with the ball in order to remain compact in front of it and close potential free spaces. Only forwards weren’t ball oriented, they rather staid centrally and didn’t slide much.
Let’s take a look on the 3 shapes used by Italy according to the position of the ball:
While ball was in the central channel, Italy’s 5-3-2 shape was already preventing any vertical penetration. Then they didn’t need to change their shape, and we could easily see the Conte’s line-up in those situations.
However everything became more complicated when the ball leave the central channel to go into half-spaces. Indeed in 5-3-2 there isn’t any player who can access in the half-space without leaving his initial position. So in order to make his team able to close down in those half-spaces, Conte needed to set up some collective mechanisms. He chose to use the central midfielders (let’s call them CM) to fill this mission. The ball-near CM had to close down quickly the ball carrier, while the rest of the team slid … except forwards who usually made no more than few steps.
In the following article I will refer to this movement of the block with the term “Italy’s sliding”.
Same access’ issues are met when the ball is on the wings since 5-3-2 shape doesn’t provide access on the wing, as it would be the case with a 4-4-2 (for example). In that very situation Italy used 2 structures: the first one was exactly the same as the one applied in half-spaces (a CM closes down), but the second one was copied on the Juventus’ shape in such a situation, with the ball-near fullback who closed down as fast as possible. And I will smartly name it the Juventus’ sliding.
It doesn’t seem that there was a specific trigger forcing one solution instead of the other. I think that the choice between both solutions belonged to ball-near CM and fullback. Looks like the 1st choice was the « Italy sliding » while the « Juventus sliding » was an alternative which could be triggered by the fullback. In that case he had to communicate with the nearest centre-back to make him sliding in his back, and communicate with the CM to inform him that they use the 2nd solution.
Whatever the solution chosen, forwards had a huge role in Italy’s shape despite their lack of movement. Indeed they had to prevent any pass towards centre of the field and must remain concentrate to maintain balance of the block.
The defensive line slided with the ball and mark aggressively their opponents on the ball side. Indeed ball-near centre-back and fullback were strongly man-oriented and they were willing to leave their position in order to follow their opponent. Finally Bonucci had to cover the depth and especially the space left by the man-oriented centre-back.
All these mechanisms may prevent the opponent to progress with the ball.
In theory that’s perfect as every solution is covered. However on the field Italy’s first line (forwards) struggled to cover the centre during the whole match. Belgium exploited that issue few times and progressed up the field thanks to this hole.
The use of those 3 structures to prevent progression was Italy’s corner stone when they hadn’t the ball. And you might have noticed that there is just a little part where 2 Juventus players were involved together (Bonucci covering a centre-back). Yet the whole team had to move together in both “Italy’s sliding” and “Juventus sliding”, with 2 collective structures which were far from standards shapes. So a high level of communication and coordination was required to execute them efficiently.
We can see on this example that Italy was able to switch from one solution to the other with a great fluidity. That ability allowed Italians to deal more efficiently with switch of play made by their opponents.
Except the quartet from Juventus, the 7 other players play in 6 different clubs. Despite the obvious lack of automatisms, Conte has been able to set up a defensive side that can fluidly use 3 structures in order to prevent opponent’s progression according to the ball position. Do you remember what we said at the very beginning? ☺
These structures allow Italy to prevent progression efficiently. That’s a necessary step for a team who want to master the phase without the ball, but it remains limited if the team hasn’t mechanisms to get the ball back.
Get the ball back
As we saw previously, Italy’s 5-3-2 shape was very efficient to control central channel. Then opponents were naturally forced to play in other channels: half-spaces and wings.
As soon as the ball was played towards the half-space, Italy’s block started to move according to the “Italy’s sliding”. We saw that this solution is efficient to prevent progression, but it also contains some mechanisms to get the ball back. The keystone of these mechanisms is the CM’s body shape, who must prevent the pass towards centre and force the ball carrier to play diagonally towards the wing or vertically in the half-space.
By forcing the play towards the wing, Italy were relying on the principle of positional superiority.
In football there are 3 kinds of superiorities: numerical superiority, positional superiority and qualitative superiority. I showed in my article on the France national team that France relied essentially on qualitative superiority.
In our case it’s a matter of positional superiority, which is created by the touchline. Indeed when the ball is on the wing, the ball carrier has only half of the field to play, which make him predictable and then it’s far easier to defend.
The role of the fullback was key to get the ball back, as they had to prevent their opponent to turn with the ball. By doing so they allowed their teammates to close the trap.
This pressing trap on the touchline is becoming more and more common in football, but it’s still very hard to avoid it.
However Italy weren’t especially great when using this pressing trap since CM often close down too slowly and didn’t prevent the opponent to recycle possession along the touchline.
As I said previously, opponents weren’t forced to play only on the wing, as they could pass the ball vertically into the half-space. In that case, it was no longer a matter of positional superiority as half-spaces are high potential areas (you should take a look on that amazing article on value of half-spaces made by Rene Maric) in which it becomes far harder to trap the opponent. However Italy weren’t in danger when they invited their opponents to play this pass because instead of relying on positional superiority, they relied on the qualitative superiority of their centre-backs: Chiellini and Barzagli.
Chiellini had been amazing during the Euro in his reading of the game and his ability to step out to intercept passes. If he wasn’t able to intercept, he had to prevent the forward to turning with the ball while his ball-near teammates closed the trap.
On the other side Barzagli made same interceptions with quite quality too.
Chiellini il a sereinement passé l'Euro à marcher sur les attaquants adverses, exceptionnel dans l'anticipation. pic.twitter.com/ZmUdNlfdia
— PEZE Thomas (@Analysport) 4 juillet 2016
So Italy were relying on several kinds of superiority in order to get the ball back as soon as their CM push to close down the ball carrier. However the trap could easily be avoided because the ball carrier was barely prevented to recycle the possession through his centre-backs.
It could be seen as a success as Italy forced opponent to play back. But Conte knew that he couldn’t let opponents circulate the ball from left to right with such ease as Italians needed to make high efforts to set up their structure in order to prevent progression.
That’s why Conte added a mechanism to his defensive side: forwards had to press on back-passes.
Until now forwards were very passive, parked in the centre to control the central channel while making almost no effort. However as soon as a back-pass was played, the ball-near forward had to close down aggressively the receiver to prevent him for building a new attack. And he maintained his run to the goalkeeper if needed.
The forward used cover-shadow while pressuring the keeper, while the 2nd forward marked the other centre-back. Without any short solution and no time to control the ball and analyse the situation, keepers were forced to get rid of the ball and played some long balls.
Obviously forcing a long ball doesn’t mean that the team will get the ball back, but it’s still a decent outcome for a defensive situation. That’s even truer when you have 3 top-notch headers on your defensive line.
However any team whom ambition is to control collectively every phases of the game hate chaotic situations. That’s why Conte’s work does not end as soon as the keeper kicks the ball: instead of that he set a mechanism to reduce the uncertainty of aerial duels and second balls.
There is no silver bullet hide in that mechanism, it’s just about making sure that second balls may be for an Italian. Especially second balls in depth as they must not concede a big chance on a keeper’s kick.
As I said, it’s basic. The midfield line follows the ball to cover space in front of the aerial duel, and the 2 nearest defenders who cover behind. This coherent spatial coverage provides balance and make sure that the ball may fall on a Italian.
You can see on the last example that this mechanism isn’t as obvious as it may look in the first place. This is the first aerial duel played by the defensive line in the match, and there isn’t any cover behind Umtiti. Obviously French players (and even those from other countries) often run in behind to cover the aerial duel. But none do it with such regularity as Italy do. And the regularity is the best proof of a great work: even broken clocks are right on time twice a day.
Now I think you understand that Italy mastered defensive phases and were able to prevent progression before using some mechanisms to get the ball back … while reducing the uncertainty. However their defensive animation wasn’t flawless, and some holes could have exploited by their opponents.
How to break Italy’s block ?
Italy’s block is defending the width of the field with its midfield line, which remains compact while sliding from one side to the other. However the midfield line is made by only 3 players, then they can’t cover the ball-far half-space when they slide to close down the ball carrier.
This lack of coverage on the ball-far side was an issue if the opponent was able to quickly switch from a half-space to the other. Italy’s first line should prevent this pattern by forcing the opponent to circumvent them. By forcing a horizontal pass instead of a diagonal one, they slowed the switching and then allow midfielders to slide.
However Italy’s forwards failed to do it for 90 minutes and this hole could have been exploited by their opponents.
This issue was undoubtedly spotted by Conte who usually tasked Eder to position himself in the ball-far half-spaces from the 60th minute. He may use this variation after 60min to also fix the 2nd issue of his block.
This second point is my main concern about the Italy’s defensive animation: I don’t think that it’s possible to use it for 90 minutes. Physical demands are too heterogeneous, as CM must make far more efforts than their teammates.
Unfortunately data about kilometres ran by each player aren’t available publicly, but we can find some articles who wrote about it. Thanks to them we know that Parolo (right central midfielder) covered the highest distance in a match after the group stage with 12,57km. At this point Giaccherini had the third highest distance with 12,34km; both were made against Belgium. In this match their teammates (Buffon excepted) covered an average of 11,1km. As you see there’s a gap between distance covered by central midfielders and their teammates.
And this is not a one shot since Giaccherini took the first place after the game against Spain with 12,97km!
This huge gap on the distance covered has an impact on the performance of the team on the field. Indeed midfielders were already struggling at the 35th minute, and they were really in trouble from the 60th minute. With less ability to close down quickly the opponent, they gave him time and space to progress with the ball. Then Italy had to step back and they had to defend around their box.
The block was still coherent and Italy controlled efficiently spaces in it. However by defending closer to their goal, Italians allowed their opponents to end their possession, whether by a shot or a cross. Even if those situations were far from big chances, conceding many chances in or around the box put them in danger.
The difference is quite astonishing, Italy barely concede anything in the first 30 minutes during the Euro, but didn’t manage to do as well in the following 60 minutes.
The gap in physical efforts comes from the shape of the team. Indeed with a 5-3-2 there is a need of mechanism to cover the width as we seen previously. Personally I prefer the “Juventus sliding” as it has a better homogeneity of the physical efforts but it requires higher coordination and communication.
These aspects can be trained in a whole season in a club, but it’s harder to do it with less time as in a national team. This may explain the Antonio Conte’s choice.
The ability of a shape to cover the field is the reason why several coaches claimed that the 4-4-2 is the shape that offers the most coherent spatial coverage.
The 4-4-2 is the shape that suits best the field sizes – Arsène Wenger
Italy could have chosen a 4-4-2 but it would have mean that they needed to let aside one of their 3 centre-backs. But their ability to gain the ball back relied strongly on the qualitative superiority of those centre-backs.
Conte may chose to “sacrifice” his midfielders to keep a great control behind his midfield line, thanks to the qualitative superiority of his centre-backs. This explanation is very likely but it’s not the only one. Indeed we saw that defending with a back three had consequences on the whole shape, but it’s quite the same when Italy had the ball.
Italy with the ball
It may seem anecdotic to analyse Italy with the ball as most of the time they were reduced to their performance without the ball. Yet I’ve been more pleased by what Italy did with the ball than what they did without.
With Verratti and Marchisio injured, Conte was deprived of 2 world-class playmakers. He had to begin Euro with a team made by players who seemed quite average (except those in defensive line), most of them were nearly unknown outside Italy. It was hard to imagine that Italy would be able to unbalance their opponents with the ball; this idea lasted until the game against Spain. In this very game it was expected to see Spain have huge amount of possession, however Italy had been able to control the ball and to create chances by building from Buffon.
Conte is the man who allowed Italy to make such a performance, thanks to principles and patterns well oiled.
These collective principles should allow Italy to fulfil their main objective: reaching forwards, who should be freed in the centre in order to have time and space to receive and support to release the ball.
It sounds basic because it’s definitely very basic. The Italy’s greatness didn’t lie in their game plan, but in ways they used to fulfil their goal.
In the following paragraphs I will analyse Italy’s play step by step, which a short video for each step. Videos will focus on the very step analysed, but a comprehensive video will end the article to show the full picture. I can’t advice you too much to look each short video to be as prepared as possible for the final video.
Let’s start with Buffon
Italy showed against Spain and Germany that they were willing to build from the back even against a high pressure as these teams pressed high with 3 or 4 players. Goal-kicks situations were very interesting as we could notice 3 ways to start from Buffon, according to the opponent’s shape.
The most common start was on the 1st structure, made by the back three + De Rossi. Buffon played short even if the opponent pressed with 3 players, which is quite unusual as most of the teams choose to play long against a 3 players pressing.
Noticing that Italians were still able to build against 3 players, their opponents usually used a fourth one to prevent any short solution. Against this positioning Italy chose their second way, with a midfielder positioned along the touchline (most of the time it was Giaccherini) and between the lines.
As they wanted to force the long play, their opponents could choose to block this solution with one midfielder positioned wide. Without any short solution, Buffon was then forced to play a long ball.
At this point it may seems that Conte’s team had no solution and was forced to play long. But can you remember the aforementioned Italian’s objective? Reaching freed forwards in the centre of the field.
As they wanted to prevent short build-up, their opponents’ midfielders were positioned high. That positioning opened massive spaces in the centre, then Italy were happy to play long directly to forwards.
With several solutions in their pocket, Italy were able to answer to their opponents’ positioning. These opponents had to chose between letting spaces in their block and letting Italy build from the back. It was surely a hard decision to take as Italians showed a great ability to build chances from the back.
Need free space
By analysing the build-up from Buffon, we have understood the main component of Italy’s principles: creating spaces in the centre of the field. We saw that they did it when their opponents were positioning very high to block every short solution. However this is an extreme situation that he is obviously not the most frequent building situation faced by Conte’s team.
Since the beginning I’m talking about “spaces”, however on a football field we should rather speak about “surfaces” as the height dimension is barely an objective. Freeing spaces is actually trying to create a free surface, as wide and deep as possible in front of opponent’s centre-backs.
Using width is a very common way to create spaces on a football field. What is very interesting with Italy isn’t that they use width but how they use width.
In a organized block, the space in front of centre-backs is covered by central midfielders. As Italy wanted to free this very space in their opponent’s block, they had to find a way to send opponent’s CMs far from their CBs.
This task was upon too midfielders (Giaccherini / Parolo). We saw that previously through goal-kicks’ analysis, these both players were willing to move wide and position themselves on the touchline. This unusual positioning could allow them to receive the ball without pressure, but actually it was also a way to draw opponents away from the centre. Giaccherini or Parolo weren’t always positioned as wide as the touchline, but they often move towards the touchline to open some passing lanes.
This movement made by midfielders give a second level of width to Italy. Indeed they now have the wingback + the midfielder. However most teams defend with 2 players who have to control each wing (winger + fullback), so they had 2 players against the double level of width used by Italy. Without numerical inferiority, opponents’ midfielders didn’t have to follow runs towards the touchline: 2v2 on the wing is a decent situation, they preferred to cover the centre instead of being in a 3v2.
Then at this point centre is still covered, and Italy’s plan is a fail. That’s why Conte’s team were introducing a third level of width. This third level of width is made by their centre-backs, who can be positioned wide thanks to the back 3.
With 3 levels of width Italy were causing troubles to their opponents who needed to change their structure to defend on the wings.
These 3 levels of width are the first step to drawn out opponent’s midfielders and create the desired space.
This is not surprising to see Italy using the following mechanism as it’s also done by Juventus and it involves the 3 centre-backs.
Indeed Italy were using their defensive line in order to create spaces between opponent’s lines. That’s why they are willing to recycle the possession through Buffon, or to make some misplaced back-passes (few meters behind Barzagli for example). Those passes may trigger the opponent’s press, then their first line was drawn and spaces were created between lines.
This space between first and second line allowed Italy’s midfielders to drop diagonally (instead of horizontally), which drawn even further opponent’s midfielders.
You may have understood that the aforementioned build from Buffon was the extreme case, as the opponent’s block was stretched to its maximum in depth (a half pitch). By having 3 levels of width, Italy could almost drawn midfielders on the touchline.
What about the field ?
Previous paragraphs described how Italy created spaces in front of opponent’s centre-backs, but it was fully theoretical and you may doubt about the real efficiency of these mechanisms.
However that’s why I’ve been really amazed by Italy’s performances at the Euro: whoever was the opponent they succeeded to use their principles. If you doubt about it, we will soon see many examples.
By circulating the ball on their 3 centre-backs, Italy could set up patiently their structure to disorganize their opponents. If you are a fan of Guardiola’s philosophy, it may remind you something.
Having the ball is important if you are going for 15 consecutive passes in the middle of the field in order to maintain your shape, whilst at the same time upsetting the opposition’s organisation – Pep Guardiola
Guardiola’s teams used the ball to disorganize the opponent while changing their structure with one aim: creating spaces. Italy weren’t different. Quite surprising for a team labelled as a defensive one.
All these mechanisms were done to create enough spaces for Italy’s forwards. However even if creating spaces was the main step, Conte’s team still had to reach these freed forwards.
The most obvious way to do it was to make passes from centre-backs towards forwards since opponent’s midfielders weren’t anymore on the passing lanes. Italy often used this solution, especially with Barzagli.
I’m sure that you expected Bonucci to have this very role (so did I) because of his amazing ability to play vertical passes. However vertical passing lanes were hardly opened in the central channel as most of teams tried to prevent these passes thanks to their forwards (so did Italy with Eder and Pellé).
Chiellini and Barzagli were positioned wider, at least in the half-spaces, so they could play diagonal passes that are far harder to defend than vertical ones.
If centre-backs couldn’t play towards their forwards, Conte’s team used another way to progress. This alternative allowed playing around the opponent’s block to find an uncovered passing lane towards forwards. This very passing lane was from wingbacks, who were positioned on the touchline and between opponent’s lines.
— PEZE Thomas (@Analysport) 5 juillet 2016
You can see some examples in each match played by Italy (I let aside game against Ireland as they played with a B-team), and these are just a small sample.
Playing a one-touch pass allowed wingbacks to not be trapped along the touchline. As the pattern was well oiled, Chiellini or Barzagli were willing to play to their wingbacks, as they knew that they would not get trapped.
Obviously this pattern isn’t as cleared as the previous one since forwards received balls that were quite complicated to control. However despite my scepticism I must admit that it has been efficient.
These patterns are the most obvious proof of Conte’s work. Each player knew his role and they were able to repeat it again and again. At some point it was even too much automatic as Darmian made such passes whereas opponents anticipated it and let him receive freely.
So far we have analysed Italy’s build-up step by step to understand how they reached forwards.
However we haven’t seen yet how they were able to receive the ball without being tightly marked.
We have seen how Italy opened passing lanes to their forwards and created spaces to let them receive without intense pressure. However even if this space allowed them to drop deep, they weren’t free as centre-backs followed them aggressively. Despite a huge vacated space, forwards couldn’t receive in good conditions if they had their bodyguard on the back.
Once again the solution came from midfielders, who were definitely cornerstone in Italy’s animation. We saw that they moved towards touchline in order to open passing lanes to forwards.
Actually both midfielders didn’t positioned on the touchline at the same time, and they didn’t always move that far from the centre. Sometimes few steps were enough, especially for the ball-far midfielder. In previous GIFs I showed both midfielders on the touchline to have a better visualisation.
This work is key, however it ends as soon as the pass to the forward is made. Then they have a new role: creating a numerical superiority on opponent’s centre-backs. To fulfil this objective, at least one midfielder took the depth between opponent’s centre-back and fullback.
This run made by the midfielder created a 3v2 against opponent’s centre-backs and forced them to a dilemma. Following the forward who dropped deep and opening space behind them, or letting forward receiving unmarked.
Obviously the opponent’s midfielder could follow the midfielder’s run, however he would still have a delay (as he would react) and this delay would be sufficient to force centre-backs to the aforementioned dilemma. Moreover it’s quite rare to see midfielders following run behind their defensive line since they generally have a zonal man-oriented marking role (they mark their opponent when he is in their zone). Then they tend to not be as attentive about what is going on behind them as in front of them.
The following video shows several Italy’s situations built by mechanisms analysed previously and concluded thanks to midfielders’ runs.
You may have noticed that Witsel has been very concentrate on these runs, which allowed Belgium to not concede big chances on Parolo’s runs. However we can also notice that Belgium’s centre-backs struggled massively to deal with forwards’ movements because they didn’t know how to answer to the dilemma. And they weren’t able to deal with Giaccherini’s runs as efficiently, which allowed Italy to score thanks to this very mechanism.
If a centre-back decided to not follow the forward (because he rather covered depth), Italy’s forward was able to receive the ball in space while being unmarked. This mechanism could have been included in the “depth” paragraph as the midfielder’s run in depth creates space for his forward.
Thanks to this mechanism, the forward could receive the ball unmarked. However he was facing his own goal which is far from ideal to progress, that’s why Italy’s forwards were combinational-oriented and often used lay-offs.
Moreover Italy didn’t play to their forwards to have a secured possession higher on the pitch. Instead of that they wanted to end quickly their actions as soon as the forward received the ball. We saw that previously with quick lay-offs for the midfielder’s run. However in this case, centre-backs were covering the depth so forwards can’t make a through ball. Then progression went through the wings.
Italy’s wingbacks were naturally quite freed since midfielder’s run + combinational play in the centre forced opponents to be very compact horizontally to prevent axial progression.
Italy had been quite bad to benefit from this situation through the Euro. They were efficient to isolate their wingbacks but then they struggled to exploit the unbalance. Candreva was good but Darmian and De Sciglio inability in 1v1 had been the Italy’s weakest component.
Conte’s team would have been far better offensively with wingbacks able to win such duels and accelerate with the ball.
Anyway Italy’s offensive performance had been limited by individual limits. Conte set up several patterns and their opponents had been hardly able to deal with their mechanisms. However all this good stuff was barely converted into big chances because of a lack of individual quality (technical side and decision making were far from flawless).
That’s why Italy weren’t the most entertaining team in the tournament for a neutral viewer more interested about the chances created than about the tactical battle. But for me they were the most interesting team, by some distance. Their ability to manipulate their opponents forced Germany to change deeply their structure. As Conte said after the game, it was already a win for Italy.
The world champions changed their system for us and that’s a reason to be proud – Antonio Conte
Italy’s mechanisms were far more efficient against a team with a man-oriented midfield because it was easier to drawn players out of their initial position. Moreover these mechanisms were also better when Italy faced an aggressive team.
For these very reasons the game against Sweden was very interesting since Erik Hamren’s team was defending with a position-oriented median block. Then his players positioned themselves to maintain the structure instead of marking Italians. Their defensive side was quite similar with Villarreal’s one. Italy struggled to open the aforementioned space for their forwards because Swedish players didn’t follow Giaccherini or Parolo. Moreover the Sweden’s first line was quite passive then Italy’s centre-backs couldn’t create space between lines with back-passes.
Italy were facing a defensive organisation which solved well their mechanisms and they had to change the way they build. That’s why they began to use many players between Swedish midfield and defensive line in the second half. As they trusted their 3+1 structure (De Rossi, Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli) to secure possession and create free players, they could position 6 players between opponent’s midfield line. Sweden hardly dealt with that positioning, as they had to be very compact horizontally to deal with 4 opponents in the 3 central channels, so they freed Italy’s wingbacks who could easily receive diagonal balls from Barzagli or Bonucci.
Once again Italy had been limited by their wingbacks who couldn’t profit of their freedom. Moreover Italy weren’t good while attacking on the wings as they lacked of support for the ball carrier: barely no underlap / overlap and only a cutback solution for the wingback.
Statistics allow us to proof the change in the game-plan as we can compare how many passes Pellé and Eder received through the Euro:
The need of change could be seen as a weakness, however no game-plan is flawless then it would be naive to imagine that an outsider team could use same mechanisms in every game. In my opinion their ability to switch from their well-oiled mechanisms to new ones is very positive, especially in a national team.
Some may argue that the goal came from an individual action, however Italy controlled the whole game: without the ball in the 1st half then with the ball in the 2nd, thanks to Conte’s changes.
It must be noticed that Sweden’s organisation was the worst case that could be faced by Italy. Such a position-oriented block is quite rare in national teams, especially in big ones who rather choose a man-oriented approach as they rely on their qualitative superiority.
I briefly mentioned it previously; Germany changed their shape against Italy: from a 4-2-3-1 Germany switched to back three made by Hummels, Boateng and Howedes.
Some had criticized this choice but I think that Löw made the right one. Indeed playing with a back three allowed his team to keep a spare man in defensive line against 2 Italy’s forwards. This spare man (Boateng) was able to cover his teammates and played as a libero.
Thanks to this cover Howedes and Hummels could mark tightly Italy’s forwards without opening massive spaces in their back. Then they were able to nullify main Italy’s pattern while keeping a good access on the wings (thanks to fullbacks).
However even with a spare man, Germany weren’t able to fully cover their centre-backs. Indeed Boateng was ball-oriented and covered the ball-near centre-back, and then he couldn’t cover the ball-far side when Italy changed the play quickly.
This example is very similar to Giaccherini’s goal against Belgium … but Parolo isn’t Bonucci.
Congrats to Conte and Italy
I hope this analysis highlighted the amazing work of Conte as the Italy’s coach.
I want to be a coach for Italy, not just a manager who picks best players. The very reason why I chose this job is that I wanted to build the Nazionale as a small club – Antonio Conte
As a national team coach, Conte didn’t have as much time as he would have in a club. Obviously Italy weren’t as good collectively as Atletico Madrid, he should be proud about his work. Despite the lack of time he undoubtedly changed Italy’s face and allowed his team to reach a very high level of performances: their collective coherence was better than many teams in Champions League.
Moreover the beauty of this team also relied into their originality. Indeed Italy were an anachronism in an era that crowns midfield as the most important zone of the field. Nowadays football is a sport of midfielders, but Conte didn’t mind to reject the fashion. Italy didn’t try to build line by line and they were very happy to bypass the midfield.
This team of Italy may not be a part of Italian history, however their performance in Euro was a success and they must be praised for it. And Conte is undoubtedly the one who made it possible.
Conte starts his press conference by getting a round of applause from the journalist
— Marco Messina (@Marcocalcio22) 3 juillet 2016
I will definitely keep an eye on his work with Chelsea and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he brings “the Blues” back to the top of the league.
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