Italy – Euro 2020 – Tactical Analysis

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After missing out on the 2018 World Cup, Italy have now gone 30 matches unbeaten under the influence of former Premier League title winner Roberto Mancini. The Italian manager has reinstalled the faith of the nation at this summer’s Euros, playing an exciting brand of possession-based football. After taking 9 points, scoring 7 goals and conceding 0 in their opening three group stage matches, Italy now look like genuine favourites for the crown. Here is our tactical analysis of Roberto Mancini’s Italy after three matches at this summer’s Euros.

system of play: 4-3-3

Italy play in a 4-3-3 formation, but you might not necessarily know it by watching them. Their left-wing-back gallops up the pitch as their left winger cuts inside, giving both their attacking shape and subsequent defensive shape much more of a 3-2-5 to 3-5-2 look most of the time. But before examining more into the intricacies of the shape, let’s quickly run through the players and the beginning blocks of their roles.

In goal, Gianluigi Donnarumma is yet to concede a goal, and is backed up by veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci at the heart of Italy’s defense. Giorgio Chiellini started both of Italy’s opening matches but now looks set to miss out on the rest of the tournament, with Inter’s Alessandro Bastoni and Lazio’s Francesco Acerbi the most likely replacements. Italy’s build-up structure means that their right back is much more involved in moving the ball out from the back than the high-flying left-back, and that right-sided role has been contested between PSG’s Alessandro Florenzi and Napoli’s Giovanni di Lorenzo. Atalanta centre-back Rafael Toloi also seamlessly fit into the position against Wales due to the nature of the position in possession. The left back (or shall we say left-wing-back) spot has been one of the stars of the tournament so far, with Leonardo Spinazzola’s importance to Italy signified by his omission from the team’s final Group Stage game to rest his legs for the knockout fixtures to come. His high position on the left means that he rarely actually plays like a left-back in both attack and defense, and that actual left-winger Lorenzo Insigne drifts inside. The right-winger meanwhile usually holds more width and a lower defensive position, and Domenico Berardi has firmly made that position his own despite stern competition in the form of Federico Chiesa. Up top, Ciro Immobile hasn’t always had the best goal record for the Italians, but has been firing on all cylinders at the Euros, scoring 2 goals in 2 matches.

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The midfield three has however been the most imperative unit to Italy’s success so far, and has been led by Inter’s Nicolo Barella, Champions League winner Jorginho, and Sassuolo’s Manuel Locatelli. The balance of the midfield three is particularly key to allowing all the other interesting facets of the team mentioned above to continue. Barella is normally the more adventurous one in darting forward, pressing high and creating chances, but Manuel Locatelli has also shown incredible intelligence in getting forward at the right moments. The Sassuolo man is however more likely to stay with Jorginho as a sort of midfield pivot, and provide defensive solidity and cover in behind Spinazzola. Jorginho meanwhile has been a key orchestrator in the build-up, but also phenomenal in transition, where Mancini’s team have succeeded in counter-pressing magnificently well. As if that’s not enough, Matteo Pessina scored the only goal of the game against Wales, which was assisted by another central midfielder – Marco Verratti – who bossed the game start to finish. But despite their positive performances, the balance between Barella, Jorginho and Locatelli has been a real master stroke from Mancini and will likely be key for Italy’s continued success in the knockout stages.


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Under Roberto Mancini, Italy have developed into one of the very best possession-based teams in the world. They have a particularly meticulous build-up, that is spearheaded by extraordinarily experienced defenders and a Champions League winning defensive midfielder. As you will see, their build-up has also achieved much variety, beyond the obvious back-three + Jorginho diamond shape as Spinazzola hangs high and wide. But with that being one of the primary keys, that is where we start.

Italy build out from the back through three defenders, one of which is normally a natural right-back slotting in as a third centre-back. Jorginho completes the diamond shape, but it tends to actually become more of a pentagon, with Locatelli also relatively low and engaged. When Verratti played in the team, he too motored around to try and pick up possession from deep. The other central midfielder will then stay high on the right and may interchange with those further forward as others like Insigne, Berardi or Immobile drop to draw marking defenders away.

While all this is going on, left-back Leonardo Spinazzola plays like a left-winger, sometimes even the highest player in Italy’s attack. Lorenzo Insigne will then drift inside, looking to get on the ball himself, or preparing himself to work one-two’s down an overloaded Italian left.

Another feature of Italy’s build-up is in the left-sided-centre-back also roaming forward and looking to carry the ball far into the opposition’s half. Giorgio Chiellini was excellent at this in his opening match and a half, creating an additional player to recycle possession and unbalance a set defense. At times against Wales, Bastoni also played very wide to the left, allowing Verratti and Jorginho to take turns dropping in as part of the back-three build-up instead. This then aided Italy’s left-sided attack once again and their ability to spray long passes out from the back over top of a compact defense, for fast runners to run onto. The centre-backs are all adept at playing these balls over the top and finishers like Immobile and Belotti will eventually capitalize if this continues. The Italians can therefore be both patient in playing out from the back and working the right angles, or splash the odd direct pass to mix things up and catch their opposition off guard. This variety has been key to Italy’s possession, where only Spain has accumulated more. But unlike Spain, Italy have been incredibly effective with their possession, scoring 7 goals, from 20 shots a game.

attacking principles

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Italy have been one of the most efficient sides at the Euros for many reasons. One of those reasons has been their efficiency in attack, scoring 7 goals and creating 16 chances per game. Only Denmark have taken more shots or created more chances, while only the Ukraine have had more shots on target. Gli Azzurri have done all of this without the man who many thought would be most instrumental to their attacking success, Federico Chiesa, who’s had to bide his time from the bench.

In attack, Italy look to get all ten outfielders into the opposition’s half, and then work their overloads and switches of play to exploit gaps in the opposition. All of the positional movements we’ve mentioned so far about the likes of Spinazzola, Insigne and Berardi hold true as Italy shape into something of a 3-2-5, with even Barella floating high.

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While they’ve been solid from set-pieces and counter attacks, Italy’s two main attacking facets involve wide overloads and switches of play. They look to primarily utilize the left with the-back three building up in that direction, before Insigne and Spinazzola work their magic. The two men often combine through one-two pass and move sequences, and Spinazzola frequently looks to isolate his opposite right-winger or right-wing-back 1v1, as the actual right-back or right-centre-back tracks Insigne’s inside movement. The Roma defender has tremendous skill in taking players on 1v1 and has completed 2 take-on’s per game, in addition to threatening inside the box with incisive passes or shots that just miss the post.

As the opposition plot how to stop Italy’s left-sided attacks, they can then suddenly switch to the right to do the exact same thing. Giovanni di Lorenzo’s greater attacking freedom in the side allowed Italy to finally undo Turkey on the opening day when he linked up with Domenico Berardi, while Manuel Locatelli’s opening goal against Switzerland also came down a quick right-sided attack. This is where Italy use switches out from the back and long balls over the top to expose the opposition’s left (Italy’s right), and doing so often allows Manuel Locatelli to venture forward and join the attack – where he was clinical against the Swiss.

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If Italy are having a hard time breaking down the opposition through their possession, they can also be deadly on the break. Their second and third goals against Italy were scored not too long after winning the ball back, and this intentional approach to sit off Turkey and let them have more of the ball ultimately won Mancini’s team the game. As we noted in the opening match analysis, Italy’s ability to turn smooth jazz into heavy metal football that easily, makes them an extraordinarily dangerous team to watch this summer.

defensive principles

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With 59% of the possession in their matches so far, Italy have not had too much defending to do, especially in their own half. But when Italy have had to defend, they’ve been extraordinarily successful at counter-pressing and winning the ball back quickly in transition.

In longer spells without the ball or when pressing/blocking high, Leonardo Spinazzola also stays high and rarely reverts to a left-back role. This gives their defense a 3-5-2 shape, as Domenico Berardi tracks back down Italy’s right, but Insigne stays high to press alongside Immobile. They can also press in a 4-2-2-2 kind of shape (although again Spinazzola is not that low), with Barella pushing high alongside Immobile and Insigne/Berardi remaining inverted as Italy shuffle the play out wide or into their central midfielders. Despite having one of the more aggressive pressing structures at the tournament, the Italians have been far from an overly-aggressive team. Matteo Pessina is the only player to pick up a booking so far, and as everyone knows about international tournaments, a sound disciplinary record is integral to keeping top players in the lineup throughout the competition. But it’s again their central midfielders that have been the key to their success.

Through positional caution of both Manuel Locatelli and Jorginho, Italy have achieved wonders in winning the ball back quickly. Since Mancini’s team favour the left in their attack, it is then natural that Locatelli is so involved in Italy’s first line of defense, as the opposition often don’t have any time to switch to their left before Locatelli and Jorginho swoop in to cut them off. Marco Verratti was also superb at this in the Sassuolo man’s stead, which is incredibly encouraging for Mancini moving forward. While Barella is certainly the most adventurous of the midfield three, he often also stays compact with Jorginho and Locatelli to provide more defensive solidity. This was seen particularly in the second half against Turkey after the Italians took the lead, with Gli Azzurri allowing the Turks more time on the ball.

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This solidity in midfield then often forces opposition teams to look long instead, where Italy are yet to come up against anyone able to trouble them. Even when balls are successfully played over the top to an opposition attacker, the likes of Bonucci, Donnarumma and Chiellini/Acerbi are there to block it off and never look out of sorts or out of position. In addition to shutting down quick transitions and forcing teams long, their midfield solidity has also completely stopped opposition teams from gaining any momentum down the wings. Italy have conceded just 7 crosses per game at the tournament, in comparison to completing 17 themselves.

This has all made the Italians incredibly difficult to score against, and on that note, Mancini’s team are yet to concede in the tournament. If they continue their quick transitions from attack to defense, and Locatelli continues to show tremendous intelligence in when to get forward and when to hold, the Italians will likely continue to be this difficult to score against.


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Roberto Mancini’s Italy have started this summer’s European Championships in extraordinary fashion. Through their system of play, players like Manuel Locatelli, Domenico Berardi and Leonardo Spinazzola have become some of the standout stars of the tournament despite not having that sort of pre-existing status, while their genuine stars like Insigne, Immobile and Jorginho have all performed to the highest level. Their possession-based, quick transition, wide overload brand of football has inspired so much creativity and variety to the team in both attack and defense, and continues to make Italy genuine contenders to win it all at Euro 2020. Whether or not they can keep up their extraordinary exploits against tougher teams remains to be seen, but for now, Italy walk away from the Group Stages as one of the tournament’s best, if not the very best of the bunch.

So there it is! A tactical analysis of Roberto Mancini’s Italy after their opening three group stage matches at Euro 2020. Be sure to check out more tactical analyses, and if you enjoy our content check out our free and paid subscription options. You can find us on social media below and be sure to be back for more great Euro 2020 content.

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