Italy came into the UEFA Euro 2020’s third qualification matchday of Group J against Greece having won their previous two. Against a considerably weaker side, Roberto Mancini’s men once again showed off their slick short passing with the “golden triangle” and comfortably won 3-0. In this tactical analysis, we look at both teams’ style of play and how they countered their opposition’s tactics.
Greece used the 4-1-4-1 formation, with their most famous names the centre-back pair Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Kostas Manolas. Kostas Fortounis is positioned highest in the line-up, but he is not a real centre forward. Italy lined up in a 4-3-3, with Jorginho covering Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella in midfield. Lorenzo Insigne joined Andrea Belotti and Federico Chiesa to make the front three.
How did Italy stop Greece’s ball progression?
Italy defended in a 4-3-3. The front three looked to close down Greece’s goalkeeper or centre-backs whenever possible.
The front three tried to stay close to each other, aiming to close down the opposite centre-backs and a full-back while leaving the other full-back isolated. This method may not work well against strong teams but it did against Greece – the ball circulation between their back four was rather slow. Belotti was very helpful with the pressing, eager to run to any Greek defender (and also goalkeeper) who had the ball.
If Greece developed play further, Italy retreated to a 4-5-1, but if a Greece full-back had the ball he was pressed intensely by Italy’s nearby winger. During the first 15 minutes of the match, Italy counter pressed aggressively, leaving Greece no chance to venture forward. The Greeks mostly had to try long balls to Fortounis. Here we can see Chiellini anticipating the situation quickly, closing down all spaces and stopping the counter right after Italy lost the ball.
When Greece had the ball around the centre circle, Italy compressed the space with numbers and tackled fiercely.
Italy’s golden triangle
Italy used an interesting style in this game. From the start of the match, we can see Florenzi on the same line with the centre-backs, forming a back three. Fortounis mainly stood in the middle, while Greece’s midfielders didn’t close down Chiellini and Florenzi, meaning these two are often free to drive the ball through the half-spaces and contribute to the attack. Italy easily built from the back with the 3 vs 1 advantage, and the playmaking ability of Jorginho and the dropping deep Verratti. Their deepest five outfield players are all capable long passes, so they can also play lobbed passes to Emerson and Federico Chiesa on the wings.
Florenzi most of the time didn’t venture high forward. We can see from the pass map that Chiellini’s ball touches were often at a higher position than Florenzi.
Greece defended in a 4-1-4-1 with Kourbelis being the deepest midfielder (however, Siovas became the pivot just after 15 minutes). Their midfield four tried to stay narrow and compact while closing down and tackling the likes of Verratti, Jorginho and Insigne whenever possible.
When Italy attacked, they looked like a 3-2-2-3, with Insigne and Barella in attacking midfield positions and Emerson becoming a left-winger.
Italy’s play flowed through the trio consisting of deep-lying playmaker Jorginho, roaming playmaker Verratti and advanced playmaker Insigne. These three players are excellent with passing and combination in tight spaces. Insigne often dropped deep to a central attacking midfielder position to exchange passes with Jorginho and Verratti. He could then carry the ball forward with pace and disrupt Greece’s rigid defence. Insigne’s constant positioning between the lines made him become the third man a lot of times. Third man combinations on the left side – their main attacking side – were key to Italy in this match.
Here we can see Verratti’s passing lanes to Insigne was blocked, but Jorginho positions himself intelligently to receive his pass and find Insigne in a pocket of spaces. We can also see Florenzi’s positioning in the middle when Italy attacks on the left side – he’s not far away from the midfielders and can coordinate with them to instantly counterpress when they lose the ball.
Left-back Emerson and right-winger Chiesa are often high and wide. Barella is often on the right half-space when defending, and between the lines close to Belotti when attacking.
With Insigne dropping deep and overloading the left side along with Chiellini, Jorginho and Verratti, space often opens up for Emerson for a deep run behind Greece’s right midfield. The Greek midfielders found it difficult to stop Italy’s left overload. They tried very hard to stop ball progression through Italy’s left half-space, but often paid the cost of letting Emerson run freely on the left wing. Emerson mostly timed his run perfectly, and Italy’s great passers often find him with third-man passes, after some hypnotic short combinations. Below is one such example with Jorginho’s through ball.
But we have to say here one of Greece’s right midfield players should have been lower to cover the deep run from Emerson. Instead the two stayed in the same horizontal line and were all attracted to Verratti’s dropping movements – we can say that their spatial awareness is quite poor. That’s why Emerson was free to make a cross a lot of times. He was the most prolific crosser of the night with nine in total.
Another weakness of Greece was that their two lines were at times not vertically compact. Insigne and Barella like positioning between lines and they exploited this constantly.
And sometimes they left Insigne free on the wing.
I feel like there has to be some tributes to Jorginho and Verratti: Jorginho was Italy’s metronome, building play fromen deep – he completed 110 accurate passes (2nd on the field) while six out of his sev long passes attempts were successful. Verratti, on the other hand, was Gli Azzurri ‘s midfield engine. He completed the most accurate passes with 118 (93%), won the most duels with nine out of nine, completed the most dribbles with three, made the most successful tackles with three, and created one big chance. His performance was phenomenal.
We all know that Italy has great long passers from deep, and the dropping movement of Belotti is an ingenious way to exploit this. Belotti is good with the ball, so a centre-back will try to follow him. Right after Belotti dropped deep, either Insigne or Barella – who as said, often position in between the lines and close to Belotti – can make a quick run behind that centre-back.
Italy controlled the first 15 minutes of the match, pinning Greece deep into their own half. After that, they allowed Greece more time on the ball – probably because they can’t press so intensely for the whole match. Greece mostly played short passes and try to cross the ball as they couldn’t penetrate through the centre. Fortounis was key to their build up. Not only being the destination of Greece’s lobbed passes, he moved seemingly everywhere to help Greece circulate the ball. A nominal forward, he was Greece’s second highest prolific passer with 31 accurate passes.
Italy couldn’t score when they had most of the ball. But then they let Greece progress higher and higher and hit them on the break. They used a strange attacking structure, with Fortunis dropping deep and the midfielders up high – these midfielders will be aggressive after losing the ball.
Here we can see Greece commit four of their five midfielders and their right-back in the above attack while Fortunis dropped deep. This kind of attack left them vulnerable at the back as their lines are too far apart, and they were definitely too slow to cover these problems. Seconds after the below image, Italy got the ball back and Greece’s midfield was never able to track back. They scored the second goal through Insigne’s trademark curling shot.
In the first goal, after pressing high, Greece’s midfield was very slow to get back. Italy had a throw-in, but Greece didn’t even take that time to settle their defence. The situation effectively became a four vs three. Belotti got past Manolas and provided a cut-back assist for Barella.
After the third goal, Anastasiadis made a change: Siovas became the left centre-back in a back three.
Notable second half changes
In the beginning of the second half, Mavrias came in for Kolovs, Siopis came in for Kourbelis. Zeca and Samaris formed the new double pivot while Stafylidis and Zeca became wing-backs. Siopis and Masouras played right behind Fortounis. Greece’s formation thus became a 3-4-2-1. Their attack did not really trouble Italy throughout the match though.
That was a much-deserved win for Italy, who demonstrated their dominance during the whole 90 minutes. Italy, with nine points, are now comfortably in the driving seat of Group J. The pain of not making the 2018 World Cup is now a thing of the past. They’ve come back strongly and now may look to be a championship contender for the Euro 2020 Finals