Italy played one of the most important games of the last three years. As a matter of fact, the victory against Bosnia-Herzegovina gave them the chance to take part in the final four of Nation League, which will be played in Italy between Milan and Turin.
Bosnia-Herzegovina, who are already sure of their mathematical relegation, still played their last game of the season without their leader Edin Džeko, who was hit by Covid-19.
In this tactical analysis, I will explain Italy’s tactics, how they reached this goal and why this National team can be a loose cannon against Spain, Belgium and France. This analysis will also highlight the two Italy goals.
Bosnia-Herzegovina started the game with a defensive 4-1-4-1 formation. Kenan Pirić was the goalkeeper; Josip Ćorluka, Amir Hadžiahmetović, Siniša Saničanin, and Advan Kadušić in defence; Gojko Cimirot as a defensive midfielder; Benjamin Tatar, Miralem Pjanić, Rade Krunić, and Amer Gojak started in midfield; and Smile Prevljak was the lone striker.
Italy lined-up with Mancini’s classic 4-3-3 formation, with Gianluigi Donnarumma as a goalkeeper; a four-man defence formed by Alessandro Florenzi, Alessandro Bastoni, Francesco Acerbi and Emerson Palmieri. In front of them, Jorginho was the playmaker with Nicolò Barella and Manuel Locatelli in midfield. Berardi started on the right side, while Lorenzo Insigne on the left. And Andrea Belotti led the attack.
Italy’s positional attack
Italy didn’t win without reason. They had more possession (61% vs 39%) and created more chances (xG 1.40 vs 0.84) in this match. Thus, in this section, we’ll be dissecting Italy’s positional attack and see how Italy dominated in this game.
To begin with, Bosnia deployed a 4-5-1 mid-block to engage Italy. Bosnia’s block was narrow and they tried to create a strong side on the ball side. This meant that there would be a lot of openings on the weak side. To exploit this, Italy utilized a 3-2-5 offensive shape, aiming to occupy the width along with the weak side space in front, creating 1 vs 1 cutting-in scenario for the likes of Sassuolo’s player Berardi on the right and Insigne on the left.
In the image above we can see Italy’s passing structure. We can see that the triangle of the left-wing is evident: Emerson, Locatelli and Insigne. The Chelsea player passed the ball 15 times to Locatelli and 13 times to Insigne. The Italian midfielder completed 17 passes to Napoli’s player while 15 to the left full-back. This chemistry was an important tool in Italy attacking force.
The ease with which they changed position during this game was disarming. In the case above, Emerson overloaded internally causing playing reading problems to Pjanić. In this vision, Italy wanted to focus on a side and then change their course, exploiting the free right side. The unique way of doing it was to have good ball property and mental rapidity in order to seize the opportunity.
The pressing intensity explains how Bosnia-Herzegovina prepared the game: 18.7 in the first half and 26.1 in the second while Italy maintained the rating close to 4.0 before the first goal and 7.0 after the second one. In this way, Italy controlled the game easily.
In the image below we can see another interesting chance after a perfect combination between Locatelli and Insigne. The Napoli player attracted his marker asking the one-two with the former Milan midfielder. Meanwhile, Emerson saw the space behind the right full-back and received the perfect ball from Locatelli.
As I explained before, Bosnia-Herzegovina rarely tried to raise their intensity. The first reason was their insufficient pressing organization whereas the second one was the Italian ability in the exit balls. In the image below we see how Italy created a chance starting from Donnarumma.
Bosnia-Herzegovina gave a hint of pressing but Bastoni and then Acerbi easily reached Florenzi on the right side. The Paris Saint-Germain player found Berardi who attracted his marker. Meanwhile, Barella ran behind the Sassuolo player who touched the ball lightly for his movements. Gojak did not expect this rapid solution and all the Bosnian pressing was gone in vain.
Then Barella changed the side by passing to Insigne. The Napoli player dribbled wonderfully past Ćorluka but his shoot from outside the penalty area hit the post.
Italy improved a lot after the clamorous elimination in the 2017 World Cup preliminaries against Sweden. Roberto Mancini did and is doing a good job, especially because the players have become a unit now, moving in relation to each other, and thinking about the ball and the opponents in a united way.
In the image below we can see how Jorginho predicted the ball movement by lowering his position while Acerbi took his place in midfield. The positional style of play is not acknowledged in Italy yet. The defensive legacy is something innate especially for some old players, and it is not easy to convince them to change philosophy.
It is not a case that Jorginho, Emerson, Locatelli, Berardi and Insigne are the best players under Mancini. Their experiences with Maurizio Sarri and Roberto De Zerbi were and are illuminating and for them, it is easy to adopt the new Mancini ideas.
Italy’s two goals
Italy scored two similar goals, at least in terms of movements. Both in the first and the second case, the timing was fundamental in order to avoid the offside. Belotti took advantage of the debatable Saničanin and Kadušić’s positions. And Insigne’s pass was extraordinary.
The left-wing played an incredible game, finally showing leadership and football maturity: 51/62 passes (82% of accuracy), three key passes, 5/6 progressive passes, 8/14 duels won, three dribbles and three shots.
In the second goal, we saw Sassuolo’s connection; Locatelli to Berardi. Also here, the timing of Berardi’s movement was determinant to score. The great assist from Locatelli rewarded his dominant season start, not only in Sassuolo but also in the National Team. And who knows if Verratti will be a starter in the Euro 2021…
Italy does not only attack
Mancini also cultivated the defensive approach. The gegenpressing idea is one of the cornerstones of the new Italy, a team that wants to dominate the game by recovering the ball as quick as possible. In this way, the defensive line must be high and the midfielders have to follow the forward’s first attempt of pressing.
In the image above we see how Italy tried to recover the ball in a Bosnia-Herzegovinan dangerous area. Emerson cut the space behind himself, Barella moved towards the ball and Belotti attacked his Torino’s teammate from behind. Meanwhile, Insigne looked at what happened. If Gojak had managed to dribble Barella, he would have covered Emerson.
When Bosnia-Herzegovina was in possession, they depended almost completely on their star, Pjanić. Italy’s players knew his abilities very well. In the image below we see how Mancini decided to cut the former Juventus’s player from Bosnia-Herzegovina’s exit balls. Barella kept marking him and Italy created density in the middle of the pitch where both Pjanic and Gojak played.
In this way, Bosnia-Herzegovina was forced to play on the wings where the quality was much lower. Furthermore, with the absence of Džeko, they were not able to exploit the long-balls.
After three years, Italy went back to the European elite. The final four will be a good chance in order to evaluate what point of the growing process Mancini’s team has reached. But before this important event, Italy have to prove their worth in Euro 2021 with the hope of recovering Zaniolo, one of the brightest Italian talents.
Bosnia-Herzegovina paid the cost for their mathematical relegation and the absence of the captain. But the new generation could still do better in the near future.