Tactical Analysis | How Italy nearly pulled off a miracle against the mighty Germans

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© Facebook - Euro 2016

Tactical Analysis | How Italy nearly pulled off a miracle against the mighty Germans

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Amlan Majumdar

07/03/2016

The curse is broken and the streak is over! Germany have finally defeated Italy in a competitive match, albeit via penalties, to book their place in the semis of the Euro.

However, what was labeled as the worst Italian squad in 30 years, nearly pulled off a defensive masterclass over one of the most talented bunch of players in the world at the moment.

How they started

Germany (3-4-2-1) - Neuer; Howedes, Boateng, Hummels; Kimmich, Khedira, Kroos, Hector; Muller, Ozil; Gomez

Despite scoring a goal and providing an assist in the 3-0 win over Slovakia in the round of 16, Julian Draxler was dropped to the bench as Joachim Low matched Italy's tactics with a three-man defence of his own. Benedikt Howedes lined up alongside Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels at the back, with Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller playing in the space behind the striker Mario Gomez.

Italy (3-5-2) - Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Florenzi, Sturaro, Parolo, Giaccherini, De Sciglio; Pelle, Eder

Italy came into the tournament with an already depleted midfield, and after their last game against Spain, things only got worse. Daniele De Rossi picked up an injury and was ruled out of this game, along with Thiago Motta, who received his second yellow card of the tournament in the last match. This meant Antonio Conte had to bring in Stefano Sturaro into the lineup, with Marco Parolo taking up the role of being the defensive midfielder in front of the back-three.

Germany tries to mirror Italy's pressing and counter-pressing

Germany mirrored Italy's high pressing game in the match, which meant that both the teams had very little scope of building up attacks from the back. Whenever the ball reached the goalkeepers, Italian and German attackers would look to cut off Buffon and Neuer's outlets near the box, forcing them to use long balls. However, Italy's pressing was more coordinated, since they had done this throughout the tournament. Germany, on the other hand, left a few gaps while pressing, especially with Mesut Ozil failing to match up to his teammates Muller and Gomez defensively.

Interestingly, both the teams applied counter-pressing, high up the pitch, whenever they lost the ball in attack, which drastically reduced the number of counter attacks they faced in the game. Italy were expected to sit very deep in this match with Germany dominating possession of the ball. However, Conte's men, especially the attackers, made sure that the defence is not left exposed on counter attacks as they looked to win the ball back immediately after losing it. Giaccherini and Sturaro joined Eder and Pelle in their endeavor to put the likes of Hummels, Boateng, and Kroos under pressure, and that drastically affected Germany's buildup play.

Khedira's injury nearly proves to be big blow

The Juventus midfielder looked the most dangerous German player on the pitch in the opening 15 minutes of the match. With Italy holding on to their shape and pushing Germany wide of the pitch, Khedira's late runs from the midfield seemed like the only route through which the Germans can breach the Italian defence through the middle.

The 29-year-old was looking to exploit the space between the center backs with his runs, especially on the right-hand side of the pitch, and it took a lot of persistent effort from Marco Parolo to track his run. Khedira's energy was proving to be the difference, till he picked up an injury after he received what looked like an innocuous challenge from Chiellini.

Khedira was replaced by Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has not played a lot of football in recent times. The Manchester United midfielder looked rusty, and lacked the drive that Khedira provided in the attack. In fact, his defensive mistake nearly proved costly for the Germans towards the end of the first half.

Leonardo Bonucci is brilliant at picking up long passes, and in this tournament, he had built a special bond with Emanuele Giaccherini. The Juventus defender picked up a well-timed run from the Bologna midfielder with a lovely cross-field pass over the top of the German defence, and it was Schweinsteiger who failed to track his run. Thankfully for Germany, Giaccherini's cut back did not find any Italian shirt inside the box, and Sturaro's drive was deflected wide by Boateng.

Two of the best defences in the world were on the pitch, and they were on song

Germany were yet to concede a goal in the tournament at the start of this clash against Italy, who themselves had conceded just once in four games. The match showcased six world class center backs—Jerome Boateng, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Mats Hummels and Benedikt Howedes—in an era when there is a clear dearth of world class center backs. Behind these two impressive defences were two of the best goalkeepers to have played this sport. It was only normal that the match ended up being a masterclass in 'How to defend'. Germany hardly stretched the Italian defence, despite all of their ball possession. Bonucci and Chiellini were dominant in the air, and swift on the ground.

At the other end, Boateng was imperious. The 27-year-old is perhaps the most complete center back in the world at the moment, and he showed why. He was swift to break down the Italian counter-attacks, and was always at the right place to thwart away danger. Ironically though, after putting in such an accomplished performance, it was his only mistake in the game which allowed the Italians a way back into the match. A strange handball incident in the 78th minute, gave Bonucci an opportunity to equalize from the spot and take the match to extra-time.

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