Tactical analysis: how Italy outperformed Belgium in euros
The 16th edition of the European Championships continued to provide top-notch football and entertainment in the quarter-finals.
The biggest clash of the last eight was between Belgium and Italy, who faced each other on Friday at the Allianz Arena in Munich.
Both teams were out in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, but one of their destinies would change here.
Belgium had a few key players absent due to injury, while Italy were fit and shooting as Roberto Mancini had a winning formula that was working brilliantly even before the group stage started.
After 90 hard-fought minutes, Italy emerged victorious 2-1 thanks to some excellent results in the first half.
In this analysis we will see how Roberto Mancini’s team managed to beat the Belgians and what Roberto MartÃnez went wrong in his setup.
Italy’s monopoly in midfield
Italy’s possession play system hasn’t changed much from what we’ve seen throughout the tournament. It worked wonders for them in this game, in part thanks to a sub-optimal defensive structure on the part of Belgium.
The Red Devils defended in a 5-2-3 in which Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne swapped positions on the front row (which was usually near the center line) to allow the latter to cover Jorginho from a central position. .
The five full-backs remained fairly flat, so midfielders Axel Witsel and Youri Tielemans had to deal with NicolÃ² Barella and Marco Verratti.
The major problem here, however, was that there was still a lot of space between the first two lines.
Although Jorginho (the man who almost exclusively occupied that space) was not directly accessible due to De Bruyne’s presence, it was easy for an Italian defender to pass one of the other two forward. midfielders, who could then send him back to Jorginho. between the lines.
After that it was free real estate for Italy, with passes available everywhere, as two Belgian midfielders had no chance of stopping a multitude of runners.
The real agent of chaos, however, was Lorenzo Insigne, who alternated between a position wide on the left (where he overloaded Thomas Meunier with Leonardo Spinazzola, who could freely step forward as Lukaku was not backing down) and a central position between the defense of opposition and midfielder.
In other cases, he backed up to free himself to receive the ball on the left while Spinazzola took the lead and occupied Meunier.
This is precisely how he started the race which led to his wonderful goal in the first half, in which he only had to beat one player due to the Belgians’ slim midfielder.
The well-executed Italian high press
As bad as The Belgian plan in possession was, credit must also be given to Italy for running a very successful high press.
Against a three-way defender, Italy asked their three forwards to each worry about a central defender. Barella and Verratti scored Witsel and Tielemans (directly corresponding to what Belgium did in defense) so the central areas were well guarded.
The Belgian defenders were forced to come out wide towards the full-backs, but they encountered the Italians aggressively pushing their full-backs.
The stats reflect this as well, as most of Italy’s turnovers in the opposing half have been in the wide areas.
The last alternative for Belgium would be to go far from the defense, but they only made four long passes from their third defensive to the attacking third, as Lukaku was very well led by the Italian center-backs, with Giorgio Chiellini looking particularly exceptional. .
Once again Italy put in a hugely impressive performance against a great, universally accepted team – something they had yet to do in this edition of the Euro, which is why some still doubted their abilities) .
However, it must also be said that Belgium did not play like the best football team in the world (this is how FIFA ranks them) – their defensive structure was flawed.
More importantly, their possession game depended almost entirely on a star forward with an ankle ligament injury while not fully recovering from a facial injury.
It was certainly not ideal from an opposition perspective, but Mancini must be credited with once again showing his tactical genius in making the most of Belgian weaknesses, not least thanks to Insignia’s free role.
Italy will now face Spain in another tantalizing semi-final clash, and given that both sides have been formidable in controlling possession and high pressing, it is sure to be a football feast.
Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.