Quick Take: Italy’s Shield is the Euro’s Sharpest Sword

Embed from Getty Images

When establishing a style of play, all top-level managers face the same pragmatic questions: How will positional defenders become functional attackers (and vice versa) as changes in possession occur? Where is the balance between earnest advancement and cautious reserve? And how is that equilibrium expressed, implicitly and explicitly, on the team sheet?

On paper, solutions seem simpler; the use of wing backs or outside backs, extra center backs or designated defensive midfielders all infer something different about offensive and defensive posture. But a football formation guarantees performance about as much as a tennis star’s stance ensures a serve is aced or returned (meaning, it doesn’t… not on its own, anyways). And while the location of names on a projected pitch says one thing, mid-match, a side’s tendencies may be operationally accomplished in a less presumptive manner by expression of players’ unique strengths, planned alterations which enhance both individual contributions and tactical nuance while accessing the desirable aspects of multiple “formations” all at once.    

At Euro 2020, Italy have been a strong illustration of this principle in action. While they have been relatively consistent in their approach throughout the competition, let’s look below at the structural propensities which drove Italy’s quarterfinal victory over Belgium.

To begin, both sides maintained their usual starting formations: Italy (white X) lined up in a 4-3-3 and Belgium (red/yellow O) in a 3-4-2-1. And though each sought to occupy different spaces when in and out of possession, Italy arguably posed the greater challenge to their opponent’s defensive solidarity. One major reason for this dissimilarity was Italy’s progressive repositioning, and adjustments made possible in part by Belgium’s preference for a less energetic press. With possession secured, the Italians quickly reshaped (blue arrows): Spinazzola (left back), more often than Di Lorenzo (right back), pushed into the opponent’s half while the rest of the backline rebalanced as a triad. This opened passing lanes for drop balls, and mitigated Belgium’s threat on the counter. Insigne (left winger) drifted unpredictably, either taking up a position alongside Immobile (center forward) or picking up the ball around midfield to start the attack. Chiesa (right winger) notably stayed wide, stretching the Belgian backline, occupying the opposition left wing back, and playing to his strengths as a 1v1 dribbler with support from Barella (central midfielder). All things considered, Italy in possession could be better characterized as a 3-1-5-1 or 3-5-2 (right diagram), a remarkable conversion from 4-3-3 and impressive display of tactical fluidity. 

More and more, we see world class managers disregarding precedence in favor of strategy, differentiating responsibilities of positional enantiomers or recasting talented players in uncharacteristic roles, with the ultimate reward being realized when the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. The implications are extensive: formations become formalities, lineups appear misleading, and humdrum team rosters eclipse all-star casts. Suddenly, the match at hand turns out to be just the visible iceberg above a submerged colossus of technical and tactical identity. And football is all the better for it. 

you might also enjoy…

The Longball – Premier League Preview Show – Everton

On this episode, John and Declan head off to the blue half of Merseyside, and discuss everything Everton with superfan Mike from The Blue Boyz Network! Mike’s worried about the midfield, John thinks Rafa’s the man for the job, and Declan thinks Allan can be the answer to all of life’s problems, all that and a whole lot more!

The Longball – Premier League Preview Show – Crystal Palace

On this episode of The Longball Premier League Preview Show, John and Declan are joined by TheMastermindSite.com’s very own Brandon Wallis, to discuss all things Crystal Palace. The panel fly high like eagles talking about Palace’s busy summer window, how Patrick Vieira will get on in the Prem and whether or not Palace can survive the drop without Roy Hodgson.

The Longball – Premier League Preview Show – Chelsea

On today’s episode of The Longball, John and Declan are joined by
TheMastermindSite.com’s very own writer and podcaster Victor Onoh to discuss the Champions of Europe – Chelsea. The panel dive into the Chelsea loan system, the signing of Jules Koundé, and the striker conundrum. All that and a whole lot more in this episode!

2 thoughts on “Quick Take: Italy’s Shield is the Euro’s Sharpest Sword

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s