lunedì 11 giugno 2012

The best in the East

Cesare Prandelli is a tactician, much more than Marcello Lippi or Giovanni Trapattoni. He likes attacking football over specific patterns, and his teams even had an identity. Prandelli came to lead Azzurri in a particular moment: the generation of Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero and Gennaro Gattuso has gone. Italy still have good, but no great, players. Prandelli tried to give his team an indentity: he started playing a 4-3-3 before to switch to a 4-3-1-2. But the fixing scandal, that left him without the starting left-back Domenico Criscito and bad shape of some players made Prandelli playing with other than a 4-3-3 or a 4-3-1-2. He lined up his team in a 3-5-2 pattern, with Daneiel De Rossi dropped from the midfield in middle of the back line, alongside Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, with Emanuele Giaccherini and Christian Maggio as wing-backs. Italy's display was amazing in the first hour and Spain suffered the outstanding performance made by Italian midfield. It was not a Chelsea vs Barcelona game as Italy had not the plan of 'Parking the bus'. For Spain, the only way to win the battle on the middle was to bring back Cesc Fabregas or to create numerical superiority moving one wing inside. When Andres Iniesta did it, Spain was able to find superiority in the middle and gaps between the lines.
But Spain didn't it much so Italy  had an easy job covering the middle with a block 3+3. Italy also was rarely unbalanced and Spain didin't exploit well those situations playing fast-breaks. Some criticized the idea to play in the middle, saying that Spain could have outnumbered Italy on the flanks. This is a commun option to exploit when you have two players on the flanks against a 3-5-2.

But Spain usually plays in the middle and they had some good moments moving the ball inside when they outnumbered Italy moving Iniesta in the middle to create a 4 vs 3 centrally. One problem was they do it no so much and not quickly. At this point, create superiority centrally would have lead Spain to open the play on the flanks when it needed: this is the way to occupy the middle to open the flanks. But the full-backs, Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa, was unable to provide attacking width.

But the real problem for Spain - one of the reasons that made hard for Spanish to have the edge numerically in the middle of the pitch - was the job done by Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli. Both Italian forwards - specially Balotelli - deserve credit to have helped defensively in the middle. They put in shadow Spain's lines of pass in the middle of the pitch. To beat them, Spain would have to pass the ball quickly on the flank but, to stay with his philosophy, they would have to play quickly the ball between the Italian forwards, with Iniesta moving inside and Fabregas coming back. Then, they would have to play the ball on the flanks to the upcoming Arbeloa o Alba or to David Silva, keeping him in 1 vs 1 situation against Giaccherini. But Spain played without much needed quick passing and movement. The first half ended scoreless, with Spain happy with the ball and Italy happy with the score. Spain improved in the second half when Del Bosque introduced some width, with Jesus Navas. In that way, Del Bosque utilized Navas as real weapon on the flanks, playing against the less pure italian defender, Giaccherini. On this moment, Spain moved the ball in the middle to open on the flank when necessery. But Prandelli made two calls, and two good ones. First and foremost, he selected Antonio Di Natale to play up top. Then, he put in Sebastian Giovinco. Prandelli played the second half to win as both strikers looked dangerous running over the centre-backs of an unbalanced Spain. Del Bosque was good calling a real forward in Fernando Torres, with Italian defense that had issues to deal with him, but is wasn't enough to win, neither with Italy on their knees the final 25 minutes, after 65 minutes of high intensity. At the end, Jose Mourinho criticized Spain 'sterile' striker-less formation but the idea to play a 4-6-0 with Fabregas running in behind to unlock Italian defense, was a good one. Simply, they have not execute well. Spain lacked penetration and was unable to move quickly the ball from the middle to the flanks or inside after created numerical superiority. Also, Del Bosque made a mistake not introducing Fernando Llorente instead Torres.

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