Excellent Azzurri Edge Through to the Semi’s

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Italy faced Belgium in Munich, in the Quarter Finals of Euro 2020. The Italians overcame Austria, while Belgium narrowly defeated Portugal. The competition so far has been full of surprises – with shock exits & underdogs prevailing – and another big team is certain to go out from this game. Mancini vs Martinez is a battle which isn’t too unfamiliar – as they both managed Man City & Wigan at the same time retrospectively.

Team news:

Italy made 2 changes from the RO16 win over Austria. Chiellini wass back available and comes in for Acerbi & difference maker Chiesa came in for Berardi.

MUNICH, GERMANY – JULY 02: The Italy starting XI, (L-R top) Italy’s defender Giorgio Chiellini, Italy’s defender Leonardo Spinazzola, Italy’s midfielder Federico Chiesa, Italy’s forward Ciro Immobile, Italy’s goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Italy’s defender Leonardo Bonucci, (L-R bottom) Italy’s defender Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Italy’s midfielder Marco Verratti, Italy’s forward Lorenzo Insigne, Italy’s midfielder Jorginho and Italy’s midfielder Nicolo Barella pose for the official photograph during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Belgium and Italy at Football Arena Munich on July 02, 2021 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Markus Gilliar/Getty Images)

Belgium made 1 change from their win against Portugal. Exciting young winger Jeremy Doku came in for Eden Hazard – who wasn’t fit to make the squad after the injury he picked up last week. De Bruyne also got injured in that game, but was fit enough to start.

MUNICH, GERMANY – JULY 02: The Belgium starting XI, (L-R top) Belgium’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Belgium’s forward Romelu Lukaku, Belgium’s midfielder Axel Witsel, Belgium’s defender Thomas Meunier, Belgium’s defender Toby Alderweireld, Belgium’s defender Jan Vertonghen, (L-R bottom) Belgium’s midfielder Thorgan Hazard, Belgium’s forward Jeremy Doku, Belgium’s midfielder Youri Tielemans, Belgium’s midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and Belgium’s defender Thomas Vermaelen pose for the official photograph during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Belgium and Italy at Football Arena Munich on July 02, 2021 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Markus Gilliar/Getty Images)

Style & areas to potentially expolit:

Italy operated in a 433 vs Belgium – just like they have in all games they play under Mancini. Jorginho plays the deepest as the ‘regista’, but has the security of Verratti to pick passes at will and ultimately control the game. The midfield 3 is so versatile & is the best part of Italy’s outfit. Barella is the ‘Modric-esque’ player, who is more adventurous, but can still do all roles exceptionally well. Verratti & Barella are brilliant ball progressers among other traits – which allows Italy to keep sustained pressure high up. Barella has 6.08 progressive per 90 and 6.80 progressive passes per 90.

Due to the defensive capabilities of Italy, Barella is given freedom to run the game & cause havoc to a team’s defence. The left hand side overload has been a key part of this Italy team. Spinazzola of Roma has combined with Insigne for a 2v1 so far this tournament a lot, which has made for a wing overload which is harder to prevent.

Belgium line up in a 343. With a more pragmatic and countering style, Belgium will rely on the likes of De Bruyne & Tielemans to progress the ball & add the creative spark – to make up for the safer style of football – as seen against Portugal. Meunier of Dortmund thrives in a 3 back as a wingback – as he is given more protection.

As mentioned, Belgium will look to get at Italy on the counter. Doku has been introduced for this reason. the star talent at Rennes in France is a frightening dribbler. He average 10.97 progressive carries per 90 & 3.35 dribbles completed. At only 19, he has established himself as a top talent, a tricky, skilful, direct winger who has ultimately been picked for Belgium’s most important game. All stats are from fbref.com.

Italy as well all know have although brilliant readers of the game, they ultimately have slow defenders. Italy play in a aggressive pressing manner, so both Chiellini & Bonucci have to be careful to not be exploited by the pace & strength and shear power of Lukaku. Belgium will also aim to counter with their wingbacks. Thorgan Hazard is occupying this role – which adds an additional attacking presence which Italy must be wary of.

Contrarily, Italy will look to exploit the offensive oriented wingbacks,. Both Hazard & Meunier are a lot better offensively than defensively. Leanardo Spinazzola has been one of the biggest threats for Belgium to handle.

Italy’s dominance in most games so far with their three man midfield will be a worry for Belgium. Tielemans has been underwhelming so far so he’ll need to step up, otherwise Belgium could very easily get outnumbered and lose the game in that fashion. Italy will have a lot of the ball, which is another worry for Belgium but this could be countered by pressing themselves – which is high risk high reward.

Can they prevent sustained pressure?

1st half overview:

The big game didn’t disappoint. Lukaku was a threat on the counter – having a shot well saved by Donnaruma. The Italian had a busy half – stopping De Bruyne’s long range effort among others. Chiellini did a brilliant job dealing with a Lukaku overlap, getting touch tight and winning aerial battles.

The Italians had a lot of the ball as expected – to where they had the ball in the net from a set piece via a flick on from Chiellini & finish from Bonucci – but unfortunately for Italy it was offside. The right decision and sorted out really well by VAR – a common consensus in this tournament. There had been very few clear cut chances besides that.

That was until the 30th minute, where Vertonghen was caught on the ball, Verratti with Italy’s high press played in Barella, who’s immense body utilisation and low centre of gravity allowed him to create a shooting opportunity away from the centre halves of Belgium – to which he buried emphatically. A massive goal in a tight, end to end game.

MUNICH, GERMANY – JULY 02: Nicolo Barella (L) of Italy celebrates with Federico Chiesa (C) and Marco Verratti during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Belgium and Italy at Football Arena Munich on July 02, 2021 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Markus Gilliar/Getty Images)

Just before half time, Insigne drove with the ball, past Tielemans and sets a rifle into the net from range. The Allianz Arena erupts as Italy double their lead, a mentality killer for the red devils.

MUNICH, GERMANY – JULY 02: Lorenzo Insigne of Italy celebrates after scoring their side’s second goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Belgium and Italy at Football Arena Munich on July 02, 2021 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Just before half time, the rapid teenager Doku ran into the penalty area and Di Lorenzo shoves him in the back – the referee points to the spot. A very soft penalty and a controversial call which likely wouldn’t have been overturned if the decision was opposite. Lukaku sends Donnaruma the wrong way to set up an enthralling second half.

Second half overview:

This was the ‘Doku show’. The direct winger caused Italy all sorts of problems, as he went up another gear in the second half. With the half as a whole, the game had a relatively similar pattern to the first half – except Belgium saw a bit more of the ball & had clear cut chances.

Lukaku scuffed a header from a De Bruyne cross and the Belgium talismans goal bound effort was blocked off the line by Spinazzola. The Italian left back overran the ball & went off on a stretcher. A massive blow to Italy, as Leonardo has been one of the tournaments best performers, so to see him out for 5-6 months with a broken Achilles tendon is sad to see.

Ultimately, Italy saw out the result, Belgium didn’t take their chances & the Azzurri are through to the semi finals – where they will face Spain.

MUNICH, GERMANY – JULY 02: Players of Italy celebrate at the end of the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Belgium and Italy at Football Arena Munich on July 02, 2021 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Standout performers:

The standout performers for Belgium was without a doubt Doku but for, Italy it could be any. Spinazzola was sensational till his injury once again. Running the show as a star performer – along with the top collective team performance. I think while Barella & Verratti, Insigne were standout, Chiellini deserves this award.

36-years-of-age, keeping tabs on Lukaku, getting stuck in, winning duels and all around covering nerves which many had about whether Italy could cope against the quicker and stronger players on the counter. The Italian veterans longevity is fascinating and him and his partner Bonucci did an admirable job to help fire Italy through.

Overall, Italy played a far better game than last week vs Austria, dominated play, scored the all important goals and were all round good value for their knockout win.

What next for Italy?

Italy face Spain in a nail biting semi final affair. Two of the teams who play the best football and have the best managers should make for a thrilling watch. Spain have looked convincing in every factor bar when it gets to scoring. This has improved with scoring five vs Slovakia & five vs Croatia, but overall Spain have been a high creative, very dominant side who haven’t been able to capitalise near as much as XG may suggest.

Italy also play in a very free flowing manner, so the game will be a really intriguing one – where it’s hard to call how the game will go, wo goes through & if either team win the Euros.

Both teams have the quality to do so and whoever wins very much could on paper – but with other strong opponents left like either Denmark or England, the freakish underdog nature of the competition and the nature of a 1 off game as well as the top quality on the pitch, anything can, and will happen. I predict Italy will edge the game 2-1 but could very likely see extra time and penalties.

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