Italy U21s 1-0 Germany U21s : Italy progress
Posted on June 27th, 2017
Italy went into their final group game in need of a result against Germany after their slightly surprising loss to Czech Republic. Despite this, they looked confident and determined to progress, with a talented squad and a fiery attitude. Di Biagio wasn’t afraid to make changes – leaving Petagna out of the starting lineup and going with a front three of Bernardeschi, Berardi and Chiesa who had earned his place in the eleven. Germany went with a predictable eleven, no changes, including new Dortmund signing Mahmoud Dahoud, Bayern acquisition Serge Gnabry and captain Max Arnold.
Italy’s key players
Breakthrough season last year, just 18 years old, Milan’s goalkeeping sensation embroiled in contract stand-offs and constant speculation. Undoubtedly one of the biggest talents in Italian football and potentially most sought-after goalkeepers in the tournament. Fantastic shot-stopping and dominating physique amongst the attributes making him a key part of the defence. Played every minute of Milan’s Serie A campaign, with 4 man of the match awards.
The 23-year old enjoyed a very good season with Atalanta on the right-hand side, as they went on to secure European football by finishing 4th in Serie A. Fast, physical and a threat going forward, Conti has proven his worth in style this season, making 33 league appearances and scoring an impressive 8 goals and registering 5 assists.
The 21 year old central midfielder, enjoying a good season for Sassuolo, earned his first full international cap. Eyed closely by Roma, with rumours of a buy-back deal on the horizon. Will look to try and control the game in the middle alongside Benassi – both having a fair amount of experience in Serie A. Pellegrini scored 6 goals in the league, contributed 6 assists, and was prominent in his team’s display in the Europa League. Has a fierce shot when alowed space in and around the edge of the area.
22 years old, with a decent season for Torino under his belt, has already played over 80 senior games for his club side as well as taking the captain’s armband for them and this under-21 national side. Scored 5 goals with 2 assists last season, will look to retain possession for his side in midfield, whilst driving forward and looking for opportunities to appear on the edge of the area. Should be a key element in organising and keeping team discipline in the middle of the pitch.
Not always a starter at Serie A club Fiorentina this season, but an impressive entrance onto the big stage for the 19 year old. An exciting winger with flair and skill, still slightly inexperienced but with big things expected and a family name to represent. 3 goals and 2 assists from the right in Serie A, and a Europa League goal to his name, Federico is fast putting himself on the radar.
Another young Fiorentina attacker, albeit with more first team expose and recognition than Chiesa, playing more predominantly as a number 10 for his club, but often roaming out and in-field. His attacking creativity was a big part in Viola’s season, as he contributed 11 goals and 4 assists in 32 appearances last season. His skill on the ball, ability to open up defences and movement off the ball will undoubtedly cause problems to the opposition defence.
Juventus 2-1 Fiorentina : Sousa’s team on the back foot
Posted on August 24th, 2016
The opening day of Serie A brought together two rivals who had very different starts to last year’s campaign. This time around, Allegri would be looking to get out of the blocks quickly, and without certain big names or new recruits in the starting line-up. Higuain and Pjanic were left out, although Dani Alves made it in at right wing-back. The back-three plus Buffon remained unchanged from the usual defensive set-up, but ahead of them we saw Lemina, Asamoah and Khedira in the centre. Alex Sandro occupied the left, and Mandzukic started up-top with Dybala. Sousa couldn’t have expected a tougher game to begin the season with, and would go into the match with a familiar starting eleven. Tomovic, Rodriguez and Astori formed the defence, with Alonso and Bernardeshi wing-backs. Vecino and Badelj paired up in the holding roles in the centre, with a front three of Ilicic, Kalinic and young debutant Federico Chiesa on the left.
Juve dominate and control
With no new signings in the starting line-up, Sousa’s only surprise (and it was a big one) was the introduction of Chiesa in the eleven. Juve, on the other hand, had to try and replace Pogba in midfield, and as the match progressed it was clear that they had gone some way to doing that with Asamoah. Lemina could act at times as the ball player in midfield, not replacing Marchisio, but dropping into space around the middle in his own half, and Khedira occupied spaces on the right as well as surging through the middle as we will discuss later. Vecino and Badelj operated what appeared to be a similar mechanism to last season, with Vecino the more passing-orientated and Badelj maybe the more combative. However, Juve’s dominance in the first half meant that the transitional phases for Viola were basically non-existent – they couldn’t find a way out of their half. The energy of the Juve midfield in particular was an overriding feature when the ball came into the middle third. The defence was able to hold a high-line and Fiorentina spent periods of time pinned back. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world for Sousa’s side because they organised reasonably well to contain opposition attacks and not gets opened up, but they had absolutely no attack. Tatarusanu really didn’t help either, with his kicking being extremely poor, handing Juve back the opportunity to apply pressure on multiple occasions.
Last season, when Fiorentina played exceptionally well, they were fantastic at dictating the ball in their own half, with almost the double-pivot of Badelj and Vecino, they manipulated the play with quick passing and good movement – creating routes up the pitch. Right from the very kick-off this evening, they gave the ball away from the right, and Badelj had to bring down Asamoah on the edge of the area. It wasn’t a great start, and Viola never picked up any momentum or tempo from that point on. Tatarusanu chipped a horrible clearance straight to Khedira who should have scored, and Juve applied pressure in the away team’s half to compound Viola’s vulnerabilities early on. It was a common theme that a Juventus player would win the ball in the middle of the pitch with greater numbers and energy, and then Fiorentina would retreat to try and contain the attack. Then when/if they won the ball back, Juve were high-up and the purple shirt on the ball had no route to initiate an counter or to slow the tempo and retain possession. How could Sousa’s side had countered this? Options would perhaps have been to have a distinct out-ball on the wing – Bernardeschi for example, to try and run and also stretch the play. Another would be to hold a higher line as well, and force more of a battle around the centre-circle using Vecino and Badelj, allowing their front three to maintain a high position ready to receive a forward pass. Amongst all this, I think Fiorentina really missed Borja Valero, who would have been the equivalent of Asamoah with additional ball-playing qualities.
Italy 2-0 Spain : A perfect system
Posted on July 1st, 2016
Despite playing well in parts in the group stages, Conte’s side went into the knockout stages off the back of a loss against Ireland – one in which although inconsequential to their position, gave away weaknesses to their competitors. The job was to then rally a performance like we saw against Belgium, and for this Conte reverted to a familiar selection. Florenzi deputised for the injured Candreva on the right, and the only surprise was De Sciglio’s inclusion on the opposite flank over Darmian. Before the game, we spoke about the key role in which the pivot and central midfielders could play, considering they have been an indicator of Italy’s effectiveness in transition and cohesion on the ball. De Rossi was brought back in to this role in front of the back three, as expected, and Parolo continued with Giaccherini in the middle.
It was evident that Italy weren’t going to shy away from playing a variety of passes from their own half. From the start, we saw De Rossi play a long searching ball out wide to Florenzi (which was inch perfect), as well as passes through midfield on the ground and the use of the wing-backs when necessary if the defenders were slow in build up or pressured. But the most effective route was often the long ball over the top to Pelle. It has to be said first of all that many of these balls were not aimless or hopeful. Like we’ve seen already on this tournament, Italy are prepared to get a lot of men forward to receive long passes from their own half – often sacrificing a big gap in midfield – and if they don’t win possession from it, they have men there to pressure high-up. Pelle was absolutely superb at winning these long balls, through knocking it on with his head to chesting it down and linking up with Eder. It was probably one of his most influential performances for the Azzurri because of this link-up he provided. Parolo is also actually quite tall as well, over 6ft, and is useful in winning headers. A large amount of Italy’s chances and good attacking moves came from this direct style and good interplay between the attackers. To put this into context, Spain actually made more long passes in the game than Italy. However, Conte’s side were set up so much better to use them and did so with a lot more purpose – making it an effective method of transition.
Euro 2016 : Italy’s route to Saint-Denis
Posted on June 27th, 2016
With a suspected tough start against Belgium, Conte drew on an expected and trusted system, fielding the 5-3-2 – which remained the case throughout the group stage. The only slight surprise was the inclusion of Parolo and omission of Florenzi in the Belgium game, who was then reintroduced and left back against Sweden at the expense of Darmian. Giaccherini managed to cement a place in the starting lineup and De Rossi, as expected got the nod ahead of Motta. Eder and Pelle proved themselves to be the preferred partnership up front. The third game, against Ireland, was somewhat experimental with the team having already topped the group – although interesting nonetheless. Despite a great start to the tournament, there was common themes (good and bad) for Conte to consider and work upon going into the knock-out stages.
The back three + Buffon was pretty much set in stone from before the first match, and this was billed as being the nation’s big strength. Nothing has really changed here. In the first game against Belgium, we were treated to some of Bonucci’s talents coming to the fore – the pinnacle of which probably being his long-ball assist for Giaccherini’s goal. We knew that he is the ball-playing defender, and that his range of passing is excellent, but we didn’t expect this to be demonstrated (and neglected by Belgium) so quickly in the tournament. Bonucci was given plenty of time to stand on the halfway-line and pick out Giaccherini, who made a good run in behind and Ciman switched off, for the first goal after half an hour. It was a bit symptomatic of Belgium’s start – they didn’t harass Conte’s side on the ball, they left too much time and space in midfield, and they looked flat-footed & passive without the ball. As we’ll mention later, Italy can struggle if routes to pass through the middle or out from the back are cut off, but they never really had this problem in the opening game, especially as their wing-backs weren’t really pressured either when receiving the ball directly. Chiellini was often able to chose who he wanted to pass to, sometimes ignoring de Rossi and attempting more aggressive balls through midfield or linking with Giaccherini on the left. Italy were able to keep a high line, and Belgium (Lukaku in particular) never really took advantage of running in behind.
Coppa Italia final : Milan 0-1 Juventus (aet)
Posted on June 2nd, 2016
Both teams entered the final encounter of the season with enforced changed to their side, whilst retaining a familiar shape. Milan manager Christian Brocchi, once a combative central midfielder himself, included a midfield three of Kucka and Poli, with Montolivo orchestrating just behind. Bonaventura and Honda occupied the wide areas either side of Bacca, with De Sciglio switching over to left-back to support and Calabria coming into right-back (in the absence of Antonelli and Ababte). Zapata and Romagnoli took up the centre-back partnership ahead of young Donnarumma. With no Khedira or Marchisio, Hernanes occupied the playmaker-type role, and played alongside Pogba and Lemina in midfield. Lichtsteiner and Evra offered the width, with Manzukic and Dybala paired up front once again. Rugani came in for the suspended Bonucci, alongside Chiellini and Barzagli, with Chiellini taking up the armband as Neto continued his cup run in goal.
Early Milan pressure
The notable theme from kick-off was the pressing from Milan, and their urgency to hassle Juve in their own half. If was a determined and impressive start for Brocchi’s side, who were obviously set up with that midfield three, particularly Kucka and Poli, to try and dominate the midfield spaces. Kucka has been especially impressive at closing opponents down and covering large areas on the pitch this season, but on this occasion we also saw Honda push right up on Pogba, as well as Montolivo doing the same on Hernanes. This often forced Juve into long balls and results in a loss of possession, as Milan appeared to catch Allegri’s team by surprise and prevent them from gaining any momentum. The lack of Marchisio or Khedira in central midfield was noticeable, and Juve struggled for any sort or outlet when in transitional phases inside their own half. Usually their options on the ball mean that the back three can push up and open up the game in front of them, but Milan were able to keep them pressed in and gain no real workable routes through midfield. Without Marchisio, and also Bonucci, there was no-one doing the job at the base of the midfield pivot – it had turned into a completely different approach that Juve had to manage. It took away a lot of their options on the ball.
Much of Juve’s play was forced out wide, where neither Lichtsteiner or Evra did especially well. The two strikers were starved of service for periods of the game, and even Dybala was wandering out wide on the right with the ball on occasions, linking with the right-back. It was clear that from the first 20 minutes, Milan were winning the midfield battle and controlling the middle of the pitch, with Pogba sometimes being reduced to a role on the left of his own half. His strength and ability is useful in trying to get possession for his team and start an attack, but Pogba’s main influence is when he can drive forward into the opposition half with his team-mates and create openings to goal. When pinned back, he can get frustrated. As a result of all this, there was no direct route to goal, and little chance for Juve to find a way to start putting their opponents under pressure without a change. Milan’s energy and effective pressing of Juve’s back three was the main determining factor on the game here, which could have left them exposed if they didn’t stick to it, but it worked incredibly well (for about 70 minutes at least) in stifling Juve – but also in being able to break up potential counter-attacks.
Fiorentina 1-1 Napoli : High-intensity stalemate
Posted on March 3rd, 2016
With Juve on top, four points clear, and Roma one point ahead of Fiorentina, both sides were desperate for a win coming into this match. Neither team had a successful time in Europe in the week, but Napoli had experienced the more turbulent time in Serie A recently – conceding a late winner to Juve and managing only a draw at home to Milan after their previous 8 game winning streak. Sousa’s team were unbeaten in 6 league games, with wins over Inter and in Bergamo in their last two. Despite the form book, Viola’s main struggles this season have come against teams in the top 8 – something that Napoli looked to capitalise on with a win at the Artemio Franchi to re-affirm their title chase.
Fiorentina went with a 4-2-3-1 formation, although this wasn’t necessarily a ‘traditional’ one, with Alonso in particular pushing very high on the right and Valero dropping back deeper when necessary. Badelj once again partnered Vecino in the holding midfield role, with Matias Fernandez ahead of them. Tello started wide on the right, Valero left, with Kalinic up front. This, surprisingly, left no space for Bernardeschi or Ilicic to be included in the starting line-up. Napoli fielded a familiar eleven, in a 433, with Callejon and Insigne supporting Higuain. Ghoulam and Hysaj also provided width, and Jorginho partnered Allan and Hamsik centrally. Both teams play a similar style, that being a high defensive line and control of possession – but this was likely to be broken up somewhat by the counteractive high-pressing, and high-intensity, of both midfield and attacks. It made for an interesting game, and an exciting battle of Serie A’s most aesthetic teams this season.
Early action and Alonso the centre of attention
The match got off to a pretty frantic start, and it was Tello on the wide right who looked like he could be the threat to Napoli, getting an early cross in from the byline. However this was broken up by a short spell of possession for Napoli, and a willingness to exploit the same flank through Ghoulam getting forward and delivering crosses, albeit none of which threatening to provide a goalscoring opportunity. Fiorentina provided the first meaningful effort – a goal coming in the 6th minute. It came from a corner, after Callejon had headed a long pass behind. Valero delivered a great whipped cross into the near-post area, just on the edge of the six-yard box, where it was Marcos Alonso who jumped high and headed into the far corner. It was a nice header from the tall left-back, but the marking wasn’t fantastic. Hysaj jumped in-front of Alonso, but missed the ball, and the Spaniard rose high just behind after making a run in from the penalty spot. He ran towards two of his team-mates who also jumped for the header, which meant that Albiol was partially shielded off from attacking the ball to make an aerial challenge. No-one tracks Alonso specifically, so once Hysaj misses the cross, it means that the Fiorentina goalscorer can make the header with the protection of his two team-mates.
The response from Napoli was instant, although it came through a mistake by the man who had just scored seconds before. The away side did their classic kick-off routine of playing it long down the right-hand side for Callejon and Hysaj to push up and chase, however it fell just inside the edge of the penalty area where Alonso tried to clear it. He inexplicably goes to do so with the outside of his left foot, and slices it straight to Higuain. Tatarusanu moves over to the left-hand side of his area, behind the line of the ball in-case Alonso leaves/misses it, which means that Higuain has an open goal to shoot at when he receives the sliced clearance by Alonso just outside the area. It was a bizarre goal, one that goes down to an individual mistake by the left-back, and a somewhat unfortunate series of events for the goalkeeper who could do nothing to prevent it. Other than somehow managing to kick it in his own net, it was probably the worst thing Alonso could have done in the situation. His apparent panic may have been caused by the sense of Hysaj closing him down quickly, although there was still a reasonable distance between the two. The goal gave Higuain his first in 5 matches, left the game back at square one, and went some way to setting the tone for a hectic remaining 85 minutes.
Fiorentina 2-1 Inter : Purple reign in Florence
Posted on February 16th, 2016
Both teams came into the match with form that had tailed of from the first half of the season, but with Inter having the worst of it recently. A third place finish is still up for grabs, and this game would seemingly give us a big indication as to who was favourite in the chase for Champions League football next season. Sousa’s side won the reverse fixture in September at the San Siro by the considerable 4-1 scoreline. They also boast a good home record of 9 wins in 12 games in Serie A this season. Inter’s away record is also good, but they’ve failed to score more than once on all but 3 occasions and failed to win in the last 3. Viola fielded what was effectively a 4-2-3-1, with Valero once again in the holding position alongside Vecino, deputising in that role as a result of the injury to Badelj. Bernardeschi and Tello occupied the wings, with Ilicic and Kalinic restored up front. Fernandez suspended after last week. Inter’s line-up was familiar to last week’s, but with Medel replacing Melo in the middle, and Miranda dropping back in alongside Murillo. Ljajic, Perisic and Jovetic all left on the bench once again.
High pressing, high energy
Both sides were intent on closing down their opponents high up the pitch. This wasn’t a particularly surprising strategy for Inter to implement, given Fiorentina’s reliance on possession and build up from deep, but it was a question of whether they could disrupt the home side’s rhythm enough. A period of poor passing, overlapped with intense pressure from Inter, could have resulted in momentum and chances for Mancini’s side early on – but it was actually Fiorentina who grew into the game more in the first half. They also pressed Inter when given the chance in the final third, and both teams were guilty of the occasional sloppy pass. The first real example of the pressing tactics was when Tatarusanu had a goal kick, and Inter dared him to pass it out – which he did – through the two attackers. The ball ended up being worked out wide and may have created an attack, but there were two points of danger that could have left Viola exposed: the initial pass from the keeper to the centre-back under pressure, and the next pass on to the midfielder (Bernardeschi in this case) who was also closely followed. If either of these passes are intercepted, Inter then have the ball in the centre of the pitch with seven men in Fiorentina’s half waiting to attack. This is where the high-pressure can be beneficial not just for the attackers, but it means that the midfielders become the second wave of pressing. It forces the opposition receiver of the ball to play with his back to goal, as he comes deep to give the defender on the ball an option to pass to, and have a very good first touch to retain possession. However, the danger then is that the pressing team get sucked too high up the pitch, exposing themselves to a long pass or flick round the corner that starts a counter-attack.
Ilicic and Kalinic both showed willing to close down Inter men as well in the opening 15 minutes, and the game was scrappy at times as neither team could get much space. A key area for Fiorentina was out wide, where they looked to stretch the play and use Tello in particular to do this down the right. Around ten minutes in, there was a point where Alonso moves up the pitch and presses Brozovic on the ball, ultimately gaining possession back for his team. From this, the home side switch the ball across their defence and quickly out to Tello on the touchline, who gets the first real chance to use his pace – knocking the ball past Telles and drawing a yellow card for the Inter defender as he blocks him off. This all came about from Alonso’s tenacity to get the ball on one wing, and then retain possession so that they could move it across the pitch. Unfortunately, this use of Tello was relatively few and far between – an area that they could have exploited more, particularly after Telles’ yellow card.
Wallpaper : Dybala & Pogba
Posted on February 10th, 2016
AC Milan 3-0 Inter : Rossoneri resilience
Posted on February 3rd, 2016
The eagerly anticipated derby della Madonnina was again expected to be a tight affair, with both sides needing a win. Mancini’s Inter had suffered a significant dip in form since their loss to Lazio just before Christmas, and needed 3 points to keep in touch with the leaders. Mihajlovic, on the other hand, had experienced a period of renewed confidence and better performances from his team – not perfect, but signs of definite improvement. Tonight he made one change, bringing in Kucka for Bertolacci in central midfield in the 4-4-2. Mancini made the decision to include Santon at right-back, which seemed surprising in a game of this magnitude, and handed Eder his debut alongside Jovetic – not his former team-mate Icardi.
The game started in reasonably lively fashion, after a short wait for Montolivo and Juan Jesus to plant a tree, with attacking intent from both sides. It was Milan who controlled the first couple of minutes, getting numbers forward, with Abate putting in a cross and Niang having a positive run at the opposition defence. This quickly turned into a period of pressure for Inter, who stretched the Milan defence from a great pass forward by Perisic to put Eder away down the right. Romagnoli was caught pushing up on Eder and left space in behind. Unfortunately the new signing couldn’t find anyone in the middle. Mihajlovic would probably have been slightly worries about Inter isolating and targeting Romagnoli early on, after previous displays of edginess – for example against Roma recently. Eder was involved again shortly after, with a cross coming into the box from Jesus meeting him in the box, but the header was bizarrely off target from what seemed like a great opportunity to score. The Inter striker was looking lively in the opening ten minutes, making another run, only for a foul to be given against him, when it could have gone the other way leaving the Milan defender in trouble. Perisic was getting a chance to run down the right, looking to cut-in when he could, and seemingly had a good link with Santon, demonstrating some nice interplay in that channel.
Kucka impressive and aggressive
A key performer for Milan in the early stages (and throughout the match) was Kucka. He’d been brought back in by Mihajlovic, presumably to strengthen the midfield – which was clearly the less physical of the two teams. However, alongside Montolivo, they were very good at making tackles and breaking up Inter attacks. Kucka showed his worth in multiple areas in the first 20 minutes alone. We saw him tracking down the ball in the right-back area, running through the middle to the box in possession only to be brought down by a foul that wasn’t given (and then charging back to regain the ball), ‘roughing up’ Brozovic, and getting forward to cross into dangerous areas. The versatility and work-rate that Kucka brings to Milan is massively important in big games like this. Similarly, Montolivo has the most interceptions in Serie A this season, and although they miss a more creative aspect from central positions, the Rossoneri captain has been very influential. They seem to have a good dynamic in midfield, and although maybe not the classic central partnership, they appear to work very well at times. The Milan duo clearly won the midfield battle over Medel and Brozovic.
Juventus 1-0 Roma : Juve March On
Posted on January 26th, 2016
Juventus came into the match looking for their 11th consecutive Serie A win, and wanting to put pressure on Napoli at the top of the table. They had their back-line trio of Chiellini, Barzagli and Bonucci back together, in a familiar 3-5-2. Evra came back in on the left, Pogba into midfield and Mandzukic started alongside Dybala up top. Spalletti, aiming to turn his side’s fortunes around and keep pace with the top three, went with a similar set-up although having Nainggolan almost behind the strikers. This differed from their last outing, against Verona, as Castan and Torosidis made way for Rudiger and Vainqueur. De Rossi slipped back into the back three. Salah played as a forward, along with Dzeko.
Juve first-half domination
Although a slightly cagey opening, we got a general feel for the approach that both sides were taking. Juve, as they often do, pressed from the front with the benefit of having the two strikers that can squeeze the opposition into playing the ball out quickly from the back. Roma were more inclined to sit back and let their opponents have the ball, potentially trying to catch them on the break when possible. This early possession and movement up the pitch appeared to give Juve the upper hand and set the tone for the half. Something we saw in the first ten minutes or so was Pogba getting down the left, troubling Roma, and getting crosses in. He was being afforded a concerning amount of space around this area of the pitch. I’m not sure that this was a deliberate ploy to attack Florenzi, who isn’t the best full-back when it comes to defensive positioning or tackling, but it looked like a possible avenue for attack. However, as the game went on, it was predominantly Evra who was the one to move into this area.
De Rossi didn’t do himself any favours by getting booked early after an off-the-ball incident with Mandzukic. He was possibly lucky to stay on the pitch after replays showed a punching motion into the striker’s back and he appears to stand on him as well. Not too long after, Rudiger was also booked after an unnecessary challenge (and could have been carded just before), leaving Roma’s defence on a relatively thin line after only 15 minutes. Dybala was getting into pockets of space between the lines, which he usually does, and was already starting to have an influence (we’ll cover Dybala’s role later). Despite already being pretty deep, Roma probably could have benefited by having someone closer to Dybala to nullify his impact – Vainqueur being the most likely candidate. Nainggolan was dropping deep to help out Roma’s defensive efforts, and with him being there it gave the possibility of him starting counter-attacks, which he has tried to do from a naturally deeper position – like against Milan. However, Juve never really allowed this, and the Belgian’s influence was very limited. Demonstrated on 29 minutes, he had the chance to instigate a counter-attack but lost the ball carelessly. Nainggolan was also well marshalled in the attacking half, making only 9 passes in the attacking third all game. Chiellini proved this on 27 minutes by rushing out of his defensive line to meet the Roma midfielder on the ball, giving away a foul in the process.