venerdì 29 giugno 2012

Italians do it better

While the critics share their toughts about tiki-taka, with some people saying that the Spanish play style of retaining the ball with short passing is boring, there is another team that deserves to take a look to. Cesare Prandelli’s Italy showed that is possible to win without a clear formation or playing style. Prandelli utilised a 3-5-2 for Italy’s two initial matches against Spain and Croatia, then he switched to a 4-3-1-2 against Ireland and England. Two years ago, in the tiki-taka Era, Josè Mourinho shocked the world showing that a side can win playing reactive football. After being outplayed when he tried a different approach, Mourinho came back to his ordinary strategy to let the opponents have the ball in the way to play fast-breaks. It was the same tactics that Chelsea utilized at the Nou Camp a few months ago and they produced in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern. Coming back to Prandelli, he tried to give his team an indentity. Prandelli went to this tournament after studied both 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2 formations. But the fixing scandal and bad shape of some players made him playing with a 3-5-2 pattern. He relied on counter-attacking against Spain, while played a more offensive oriented football against Ireland, Croatia and England. With both Croatia and Ireland, Italy found troubles playing this kind of football and raised questions about how they are able to succeed with attacking football. Against England, things were different: Cesare Prandelli brought in Riccardo Montolivo to play as No. 10, because of concerns over Thiago Motta and, against a reactive team like Roy Hodgson's side, Italian way produced to dominate the middle of the pitch. Prandelli's team has the tactical flexibility to switch between patterns within the match. During the match, Prandelli also brought on Alessandro Diamanti and Antonio Nocerino playing also with a 5 men-midfield. They adapt the formation to the opponents. But the key is on their philosophy: can a team be active and also reactive? Italy has done it. This is maybe the first time we have a big team relying on the opponents features with success. With English happy to let them the ball, and with no pressing there, Italy was able to built an entertaining active kind of football. Against Germany, Italy played the diamond, lining up Federico Balzaretti as right-back, a position not unsual for this player, that played this role during his stints with Torino and Juventus. Germany dominated possession, loading the centre of the pitch with four good ball carriers in Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger. But Italy wanted not sacrifice "two years' work" by coming back to a more reactive approach, such as coach Cesare Prandelli said. 
Jogi Low pick Ozil to chase Andrea Pirlo. But after few minutes, Germany's head coach changed his mind and swithced the duty to cover the Italian deep-lying playmaker to Kroos. That changed the initial pattern in a 4-4-2 with Ozil lined up as right wing. This move wasn't particularly effective: with the Germany loading the middle of the pitch, Italians found spaces on the left side. Italian strategy was clear: they tried to find a free-man in the gaps between defensive and midfield's lines of Germany and to isolate Antiono Cassano in one-to-one situations on the left, where played the unimpressive Jérôme Boateng. And the first goal came from a movement of Cassano in a 1 vs 1 situation following a forward move made by left-back Giorgio Chiellini. Mario Balotelli aside, Cassano's performance was particularly brilliant. He made a lot of runs, trying to find spaces behind rivals' midfield's line and also playing the one-to-one on the flank. Prandelli’s substitutions in the second half made the team more safe defensively, when Italians showed other issues about fitness shape. 

One of the most defensive display made by the Italians was the utilization of the so called 'coperture preventive' - maybe a good English translation could be precautionary coverage - a defensive action based on send against the ball carrier the closest player in the way to stop the counter-attack and to allow to his teammates to gain time recovering their defensive positions. This is a key part of the game: how avoid transitions and how play defensive transitions. And It's a key part of Prandelli's game plan. Another good move made by Prandelly was to keep two strikers high up the pitch without big defensive duties, in the way to have two men ready for the counter-attacks. At the end, Low and Germany was tactically outcoached by Prandelli: Germans had no idea on how contain Italian forwards and how to find spaces in the middle fo the pitch. In the second half, Prandelli replaced Riccardo Montolivo and inserted Thiago Motta then brought on Alessandro Diamanti for Cassano and Antonio Di Natale for Balotelli, switching to a 4-4-1-1 formation. 
Italy was impressive defensively, especially with the midfielders, even ready to close the gaps centrally, to help the defense and to cover the pass options around Germany's ball carriers. We have seen also Daniele De Rossi playing as a true left back, in a kind of 5-men defense, against Boateng during the second part of the game...

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