It is more than half a century ago since Italy last failed to qualify for a FIFA World Cup. Now Italy are in the brink of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup having just failed to do so in 1958. Being four time World Cup champions, Italy were drawn against the Swedes in the play off after poor run in the qualifying campaign. The Azzurris’ manager Ventura has come under scrutiny after poor performances in the recent past.
Now he may even move on should Italy fail to qualify to the 2018 World Cup after a 1-0 defeat in the Play off First leg in the Friends Arena in Sweden. The Swedish team were praised for their recent performances under their manager Janne Andersson with Ibrahimovic retired who had carried them in his shoulders all these years.
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Sweden (4-4-2) | Manager: Janne Andersson
1.Olsen; 16.Krafth, 4.Granqvist, 3.Lindelof, 6.Augustinsson; 17.Claesson, 8.Ekdal, 7.Larsson, 10.Forsberg; 9.Berg, 20.Toivonen
Italy (3-5-2) | Manager: Gian Piero Ventura
1.Buffon; 3.Chiellini, 19.Bonucci, 15.Barzagli; 4.Darmian, 8. Verratti, 16.De Rossi, 18.Parolo, 6.Candreva; 11.Immobile, 9.Belotti
Sweden continued in their 4-4-2 shape under Andersson which has got more praise of late. Robin Olsen started in goal as the back four comprised of Krafth, Granqvist, Lindelof and Augustinsson. In midfield, the four of Claesson, Ekdal, Larsson and Forsberg started the game. In front, Berg and Toivonnen were deployed. The RB Leipzig man Emil Forsberg was considered as the man to look from the Sweden troop.
Ventura on the other hand has followed the system left by Antonio Conte. The 3-5-2 has been the prominent system in Italy for the past few years and Ventura used the same as he started the BBC in defense. Buffon who is looking to set a record by playing in his sixth world cup, started in between the sticks as Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini played in the central defence. In the centre, de Rossi started as the pivot who was supported by Parolo and Verratti on the two sides.
In the wide areas, Candreva started in the right while Darmian was given the opportunity in the left. Both Ciro Immobile and Belotti started for the Azzurris as they looked to get something out of this game that would help them achieve their target in Milan in the return leg.
Italy look to maintain width
As Italy played with two wide players it was evident that they would look to run down the wide channels and attack the box. Both Candreva and Darmian looked to offer width on the flanks. However their inability to beat their direct opponent and put in a cross meant that they’d often wait for an overlap and provide crosses into the box rather than underlapping into the half space.
There were key contributions right from the opening few minutes when Darmian crossed into the box that was headed wide by Belotti. Often the wingers were asked to do the same but their intention of getting infield started to show when Candreva came inside from a corner to hit the ball on target. Something nearest to the most successful event for Italy fell by when Darmian hit the post from the centre.
This is something that Ventura has to look for in the second leg and make sure he uses his wide players to full use.
Sweden’s compact 4-4-2
Sweden have been often under the praise for their work off the ball under Janne Andersson after he took charge of the Sweden National Team. Their compact 4-4-2 structure denied space for Italy to work their way through the middle. Their discipline with the 4-4-2 structure has been the key so far. In the image below it can be noted how Sweden moved with respect to the ball.
Often two players were seen going for the ball in the wide areas with the other players sticking to the other options.
Here the ball near winger and the ball near full back are seen going for the ball creating a 2v1 in favour of Sweden while the other players are marking the passing options. This is how the 4-4-2 worked to go for the ball while staying compact in the centre.
Sweden’s high pressing
One of the most talked aspects was the high pressing tactic used by Sweden. Italy’s idea of playing out from the back was a failure in most instances, as Sweden were able to stop them from doing so. This forced Buffon to play long. Firstly the ball near wide player would press if the ball had reached the flanks.
In the subsequent move, the next passing option would be pressed after the ball had reached him. This move was often seen and if the ball carrier passed the ball to Buffon, then both the strikers would press Buffon. They would press in such a way that that passing lane to the centre back would be closed and his only option is to disrupt the build up and clear the ball.
This was particularly done very well by the two strikers Berg and Toivonen as they were able to stifle Italy’s build up play.
The high press in the initial stages showed how good this Sweden side are drilled. Italy’s idea of playing out from the back was a failure in most instances as Sweden were able to stop them from doing so. This forced Buffon to play long. pic.twitter.com/cN7EDhuPja
— Football Bloody Hell (@fbhfootball) November 10, 2017
Sweden in quick transitions
The key to Sweden’s attack was their quick transition from defense to attack. They attacked in a 2-4-4 quite similar to the Monaco side that won the Ligue 1 last season but quite on the slower side when compared to the French club. They maintained the basic structure in a 4-4-2 in defense and transitioned to 4-2-4 and then 2-4-4 as they had options in the wide areas as well as attacked centrally.
The key was the movements of Emil Forsberg and Larsson. Both the players on often receiving the ball allowed others to move around by either holding up play or slowing up the pace. This was done so that they had more players in the attacking areas. Emil Forsberg was given many responsibilities and he did them very well as he help up play, drove the attack forward and also provided width on the left.
Sweden have been brilliant attacking wise and Italy should be happy having gone 0-0 into HT. The Swedes have been quick in transition from 4-4-2 defence to 2-4-4 in attack with Forsberg as the key, holding up play and orchestrating things. pic.twitter.com/hSTFNoZPP2
— Football Bloody Hell (@fbhfootball) November 10, 2017
In many instances, he was seen to play from the 10s space providing key passes to strikers.
Sweden finally found a goal through Johansson after a deflection which put Gigi Buffon’s record of playing in a sixth consecutive World Cup in danger. Before the game, the Swede coach had wanted his team to win by a one goal margin and they’d exactly done the same and even exceeded expectations as they kept a clean sheet. The 4-4-2 played by Sweden was reminiscent of the early years of the last decade as they were able to competently beat Italy with their well organised structure.
This loss has just added pressure to a man who has been wanted to move out by the majority of the Italian faithful. His confidence before the game was sky high as he said, “I am not thinking about whether we will play in the World Cup or not. I am already thinking about the group stage.” This loss should definitely make him rethink should his team aim for qualifying for the World Cup.