Italy 1-1 Spain – Euro 2020 Semi-Final – Tactical Analysis

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In a highly contested affair, Italy and Spain played out a 1-1 draw after extra time, and needed penalty kicks to settle the match. After missing just one of their spot kicks, Italy sent themselves through to the final of the tournament, extending their impressive unbeaten run to 33 matches in all competitions. Here is our tactical analysis of the match!

italy – 4-3-3

(GK) Gianluigi Donnarumma, (RB) Giovanni Di Lorenzo, (CB) Leonardo Bonucci (CB), Giorgio Chiellini (LB) Emerson, (CM) Nicolo Barella, (DM) Jorginho, (CM) Marco Verratti, (RW) Federico Chiesa, (CF) Ciro Immobile, (LW) Lorenzo Insigne

Italy set up in their usual 4-3-3 formation, playing in the exact same systematic left-sided way that they have throughout this tournament. They quieted that approach down in the second half and went more defensive, settling in what floated between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-5-1 defensive shape and 4-3-3 in attack. Without the injured Leonardo Spinazzola, Chelsea fullback Emerson Palmieri came into the mix and performed a slightly more defensive role than his predecessor. Federico Chiesa also started ahead of Domenico Berardi on the right wing, and scored the all important goal to help send Italy to penalty kicks.

in possession

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Along with their natural width from players like Emerson and Chiesa, Italy played with a fair degree of verticality, through quick attacking transitions and incisive one-touch play. They often went from out to in during their attacks, starting wide and then finding players centrally. They frequently attacked down the right with Chiesa and Barella linking up in close proximity, while Verratti held a slightly more reserved role from his position at left-centre-mid. Much of their attacking presence came from the two wingers, with Berardi and Chiesa taking the most shots both on target and as a whole. Immobile on the other hand only had 1 shot during the match, and his role in dropping deep became more important from a possession and pressing perspective. Lorenzo Insigne performed the same functions after Immobile’s withdrawal, and played even more as a false nine. One potential reason for Immobile’s lack of goals at international level was easily identifiable in this game. Quite simply, he is not the focal point of their attack, like he is for Lazio. Italy don’t have any real desire to deliver crosses or feed him chances, and so he is generally unable to use his expert one-time finishing to his advantage for his national team. But his role in the team was still very important, especially from a movement and mobility perspective. While Italy were bright in finding Berardi in dangerous positions toward the edge of the box, as he would come inside from the right, they had more dominance in possession when the Lazio man was on the pitch.

Playing out from the back, Italy played with much of the same principles that they have done so throughout the tournament. One slight tweak that they utilized more often in this particular game were switches of play from left-centre-back Chiellini into the right winger Chiesa. The Juve man would then bounce the ball backwards for Di Lorenzo, who would then go long for an Italy attacker like Immobile to run onto. Italy played a fair amount of longer passes like this throughout the game, and constantly looked to exploit Spain’s high line. In fact all of Italy’s most dangerous moments beyond their goal came from through balls past Spain’s high line. Unai Simon was often poor in his decision making when sprinting out of his goal to mitigate the gap, and Italy certainly could have taken more away from these moments.

out of possession

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Italy defended throughout the first half in their usual 3-5-2 shape, opting to push Emerson forward, Insigne along the first line of pressure with Immobile, and Chiesa lower and wider. Chiesa’s inclusion in this match, as it was against quarter final opponents Belgium, likely had to do with his defensive attributes and energetic verve during the press. Berardi is mobile and aggressive himself, but Chiesa is the ultimate terror of a terrier, and his inclusion against a possession heavy Spain side made sense.

As the match wore on, Italy went more and more defensive and allowed Spain more and more of the ball. They withdrew Emerson and switched Di Lorenzo to the left, opting for greater caution and a very stable, compact, 4-5-1 system. This then floated into 4-2-3-1, as Matteo Pessina stepped up to track Sergio Busquets. In the first half, that role often went to Nicolo Barella instead, who had a more successful time picking and choosing moments to stop Sergio Busquets from receiving the ball. The problem for Pessina was that he glued himself to Busquets, when there was no need at all for him to do so. The danger was coming from deeper with Olmo and Morata hovering around dangerous spaces, and Italy couldn’t find a way to cope with that. Even when the Barcelona man received the ball, he often only pivoted it backwards, so Italy’s persistence on stopping the Spaniard was strange.

With Barella sometimes high or out of position due to Spain’s positional rotation (more on that to come), the gaps in between the central midfielders were then easily exposed. This grew to even greater levels of ineffectiveness as Italy tired and sat deeper, as they completely lost their compactness in terms of depth between the lines. The back-four hung back and made little attempt to track Olmo’s runs in deep to pick up possession. Jorginho was then often on his own to watch two or three Spain players making movements into his space, most notably Pedri, Morata and Olmo. Again, since Pessina attached himself to Busquets, and Berardi had the task of Alba, Pedri could have been found more often to create more chaos for Jorginho. Instead, Spain often bypassed that option completely in going straight for Olmo or Morata on a grass-fed diagonal pass. This worked for Enrique’s team, and resulted in Spain’s goal. From an Italy perspective, it was a major tactical hole, and one that they will need to sort out against England.

On a more positive note, Italy defended their own third and penalty area magnificently well. You could argue that too many players were pulled out of position at once to try and stop Olmo from playing in Morata, but that was the only major blip they had in the game. Donnarumma was excellent yet again and made three saves out of the top drawer. Bonucci was exceptional, even as he tired, making six interceptions, blocking two shots, and clearing a goal from going in off the line. While Jorginho also struggled to cope with Olmo, he had an easier time dealing with the likes of Pedri and his attempts to drive in-field with the ball. The Chelsea man made 7 interceptions and 2 tackles in the match, highlighting his expert positioning throughout most stages of the game. This will be pivotal moving forward for Italy, as they start to show their first signs of fatigue, especially from some of their key defensive contributors like Bonucci and Jorginho.

spain – 4-3-3

Unai Simon (GK), Cesar Azpilicueta (RB), Eric Garcia (CB), Aymeric Laporte (CB), Jordi Alba (LB), Koke (CM), Sergio Busquets (DM), Pedri (CM), Mikel Oyarzabal (RW), Dani Olmo (CF), Ferran Torres (LW)

Spain matched Italy up in what is also their preferred 4-3-3 formation, with Dani Olmo playing an interesting role as the team’s free roaming false nine. Spain struggled to win their 1v1 battles throughout the game and often couldn’t cope with Italy’s pace on the break, but their possession made it so that Italy only had a few chances to score. Their shape was very flexible and adaptable, particularly in Olmo just moving wherever he pleased, and Busquets sometimes dropping in as a fifth defender out of possession.

in possession

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Spain had the bulk of the possession throughout the match (70%), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were the better team, nor that they were particularly adept at breaking Roberto Mancini’s team down. In fact, they weren’t. Luis Enrique’s team were reduced to a few low probability chances, and only made Italy look silly on one occasion throughout the 120 minutes.

However, their possession naturally breeds dominance and control, and it could be perceived by this that Enrique’s team were the better team. Spain built out from the back in what was usually a 2-5-3 shape. This often came with right-back Azpilicueta deeper than left-back Alba, and Dani Olmo frequently drifting all the way toward Busquets and abandoning his role as one of the front three. Throughout the game, Spain attempted to pull Marco Verratti, one of Italy’s best pressers and tacklers, out of position through positional rotation. This came in the form of the right central midfielder advancing high and Verratti or Locatelli being pulled away with him. The false nine would then drop into the space in front of Jorginho to receive with his back to goal, and then look to drive the ball forward or circulate it around to someone else.

Another area of the pitch that Spain looked to exploit was the wide area on the left, through careful but quick switches from the right side. Since di Lorenzo or Toloi often had a role as a third centre-back, Spain’s attempts to find space down that side typically came off in temporary moments of exploitation. Alba could then underlap, or other times he was the one controlling the cross-field pass, before playing in someone like Pedri or Torres.

By in large, Spain were slow in possession, particularly in the first half. They would ramp up their attempts once advancing into the final third, but didn’t find themselves in particularly advantageous positions often enough until after Italy scored their goal and sat off. The only real bright spark in creating for Spain was Dani Olmo, who performed like a maverick in the team and offered multiple personalities to drive Enrique’s team forward. His awareness of space was positive throughout, and crucial for assisting Morata’s late goal to tie up the game.

out of possession

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Since Spain had 70% of the possession, this section is going to be a bit shorter. Spain defended with a high-line, attempting to catch Italy offside during their many attempts to play quick through balls into the paths of their speedy strikers. This approach was successful in catching Italy offside in some moments, but was horrendously dealt with in other moments. Unai Simon looked like he was having a rush of blood to the head every time he was required to come off his line, and Italy should have done better in finishing off chances to punish him. With the worry of these balls being played in and a general lack of an attacking midfielder for Italy, Sergio Busquets would also drop into the back-line and help to form another central wall that would stop the centre-backs from being exposed when one of them drifted wide to stop an Italy attack. As a whole, Italy’s constant desire to play in this manner certainly inflated Spain’s possession stats, as their quick attacks were often caught offside and resulted in Enrique’s team being given the ball back.

Spain, like Italy, were also very physical and didn’t want to waste too much time in winning the ball back after losing it. Alba dealt with his 1v1 battles down his left-hand-side well, but most other Spain players struggled to do the same and couldn’t really cope with the speed of Italy in behind. This then makes sense why they persisted with such a high line even despite Simon’s evident lack of comfort with the situation. They simply didn’t have the speed to deal with Italy, and so they resorted to an alternative method of defending. The method is perhaps riskier, but it certainly worked in helping to catch players offside in some of Italy’s best moments to pump the ball forward.


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Italy and Spain’s semi-final affair was a highly enjoyable encounter, and one that will live long in the memories of Italy supporters and everyone involved for their team. The Italians have now gone 33 games unbeaten. While they let Spain have more of the ball and looked desperately tired after scoring their goal, Italy were still very much in control of this match for long spells and had just as many clear-cut chances to score. Spain dominated the possession, but weren’t always as progressive as they could have been, and failed to find a way past Italy’s stellar defensive unit more than just the one time. In the end, Italy came out victorious, and now advance into the final of Euro 2020 as expected.

So there it is! A tactical analysis of Italy’s 1-1 draw with Spain in the semi-finals of Euro 2020, where Roberto Mancini’s side went through on penalty kicks. Be sure to check out more Euros content, more Match Analyses, and follow on Twitter @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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