Euro 2012 Final Tactical Preview: Italy vs Spain
Without doubt, this is a tactical preview some of us here at forzaitalianfootball.com were never expecting to be writing come the Euro 2012 final.
However, the perennial ‘slow starters’ as many pundits like to label Italy, have more than merited their place in Kiev and we shall now try to decipher the thought processes that might be going through coach Cesare Prandelli’s mind as he prepares for the ultimate encounter with the defending European and World champions, Spain.
Tactically, Italy have become incredibly difficult to second guess, and though that might be problematic for us here at Forza Italian Football, imagine how frustrating it must be for an opposing coach preparing his side to face the 2006 World Cup winners. The Azzurri, in reaction to a poor display in their final warm-up game for these Championships, drastically switched formation to a 3-5-2 and earned a creditable draw, ironically against Spain, in their opening game.
However, since then Italy have beaten Ireland, England (on penalties) and the Germans by reverting back to their more familiar 4-3-1-2 , so we will assume Prandelli will not change a winning side and continue with this strategy, that has finally begun to reap rewards. He has publicly stated that he is not thinking whatsoever about a three man defence, and we have no reason to believe this will not be the case.
The coach does have a dilemma in defence. We don’t expect he will tinker with Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci as his centre backs. The pair, much maligned ahead of Euro 2012, have incredibly become one of the finest central defenders this side of Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro.
Neither appear to be blessed with raw pace but both have acquired an exquisite sense of timing and positioning. They easily neutralised all the attacks that Joachim Loew had devised for them and are the backbone of the team that will attempt to bring home the trophy that has eluded Italy since 1968.
With Giorgio Chiellini back fit, we will presume the Juventus hard man will once again take his place at left back. The question mark remains at right back where Ignazio Abate has been recuperated and would be the natural choice.
However, Federico Balzaretti who has performed superbly thus far, was again impressive against Germany playing in a position unnatural to him and it is entirely feasible that the Italian tactician will keep the back four as it was in that semi final.
If this is the case, Chiellini would be asked to do most of the attacking, something that may give the Spanish full back Alvaro Arbeloa food for thought and might slow down his own incursions.
Spain are similar to Germany in that much of their width will come from the full backs – in fact much the same as Italy – and so they may cancel each other out as neither team will want to concede too much ground in those wide areas. And that brings us to what surely will be the key to victory in this highly anticipated finale - supremacy in midfield.
Riccardo Montolivo, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchiso and Daniele De Rossi will be facing Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Alonso and Andres Iniesta. If ever the term ‘Clash of the Titans’ was appropriate, then this would be it. The Spanish midfield will want to dominate the middle of the pitch and inch their way to goal, looking to play slide rule passes as players run from deep, penetrating the Azzurri back line.
We will assume that this is what Iniesta and co. will be looking for, in a similar vein to the goal Cesc Fabregas scored in the first encounter between the two. Their mesmerising short passes almost lull the opposition into a complacency that is punished with a goal from inside the penalty area.
But the ‘best team on the planet’ are not without their weaknesses. With the potential high line that Spain like to employ, we could see Mario Balotelli hanging off the shoulder, or more likely playing between the two centre backs, similar to his second goal in the semi final, and exploit any gaps that Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos leave unguarded.
Antonio Cassano will undoubtedly flit across the whole of the back four, to keep the full backs away from the central areas allowing Balotelli the extra space that he might just be able to profit from.
Fortunately Prandelli’s Italy does have the flexibility and personnel to play a passing game as well as, sometimes frustratingly, to hit long balls into Super Mario’s path.
This tactic can lead to loss of possession quite often, but it’s a strategy that has the opportunity to pay off. Balotelli is in good form and his physical attributes as well as a punishing shot, might be a factor in what looks to be a very evenly balanced final.
Vicente Del Bosque will have his own tactical predicament, to play a striker or not to play a striker? We suspect that Fernando Torres may start ahead of Alvaro Negredo who was quite ineffectual against Portugal.
In fact the Chelsea hit man was quite a threat in the group stage encounter and Del Bosque might be tempted to give Torres a starting berth. If not, we will see Fabregas back as a false number nine, making the extra man (or perhaps spare man) in midfield as well as being tasked with making those 10 yard bursts into the box to finalise the ‘tiki taka’ build up play.
The game appears to have the hallmarks of a classic encounter. Both teams have supremely gifted players throughout and maybe the tactical strategy will be what separates the two come the final whistle.
From all of us here at Forza Italian Football, we hope you allow us the one indulgence – FORZA ITALIA!