FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023: Italy’s striker diversity and how it helped them overcome Argentina’s aggression – tactical analysis
Italy kicked off the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup with a significant win against one of the underrated teams in this tournament, Argentina. This first win will help Italy a lot from a psychological perspective as it will make the team start the two remaining group stage games with a lot of positive motivation and more confidence in their ability to win, knowing that the next game will be against a tough team like Sweden, before facing South Africa. Although Italy won the match, there are plenty of aspects to improve and lots of mistakes to avoid in the upcoming games if they want to qualify for the knockout stage.
On the other hand, Argentina showed a lot of talent in this game, especially in an individual way, yet, the attacking ideas and chance creation lacked the team’s performance.
This tactical analysis will focus on what Argentina should work on to exploit the talents and skills existing within the team more concretely and collectively, especially in attack. The analysis will also look at the tactics of Italy and study their strengths and weaknesses in this match while shedding some light on the strikers’ dilemma within the team and how to improve the midfield performance.
Milena Bertolini started the match using the 4-2-3-1 formation, using Inter Milan‘s Francesca Durante as a goalkeeper, Lucia Di Guglielmo, Roma’s Elena Linari, Juventus‘ Cecilia Salvai and Lisa Boattin in defence, Manuela Giugliano and Giulia Dragoni as central midfielders, Arianna Caruso as an advanced playmaker, Barbara Bonansea and Chiara Beccari as wingers, while Valentina Giacinti was the team’s striker.
On the other hand, Germán Portanova preferred to opt for the 4-2-3-1 formation as well, with Vanina Correa in goal, Sophia Braun, Miriam Mayorga, Aldana Cometti and Eliana Stábile in defence, Daiana Falfán and Lorena Benítez as central midfielders, Florencia Bonsegundo as an advanced playmaker, Atlético Madrid‘s Estefanía Banini and Romina Núñez on the wings while Mariana Larroquette was the team’s forward.
Italy’s strikers’ dilemma and what to fix in midfield
The Italian strikers can represent a problem and a solution at the same time. Italy have got two of the best strikers in Serie A Women at the moment, even though both strikers are different from each other. Cristiana Girelli was indeed the one opening the score for Italy after replacing Valentina Giacinti. Yet, the latter was not at all passive and scored two goals that were disallowed and brought some danger to Argentina’s defence, mainly thanks to her quick movements without the ball and her chemistry with Dragoni.
Giacinti is a player who excels in movements and in shooting on goal from different situations, with a high average per game. However, she is not good enough in aerial duels and prefers to score and contribute from open play rather than from set pieces or crosses from the wings.
That’s precisely why Giacinti was extremely dangerous when receiving key passes from Dragoni and succeeding in expertly finishing some of these chances despite being offside. Improving her movements’ timing and paying more attention to offside would help Giacinti and Italy a lot since the striker usually makes intelligent movements and has got good chemistry with midfielders.
On the other hand, Girelli is a different striker who is characterised by an extraordinary ability in the air and relies a lot on scoring goals from crosses and set-pieces, exploiting her height, technique and physical ability in the air. And although she is not as quick as Giacinti, she can be more efficient in terms of goal contribution and finishing as she also retreats a bit more and can provide key passes frequently. This means that Giacinti and Girelli are quite different in terms of characteristics and, therefore, can complement each other as they can play alongside each other if Bertolini opts for a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-4 on certain occasions.
Girelli’s goal of the match highlights her excellent header and her intelligent movement and timing, which were in total coordination with Boattin’s cross. It was Girelli who asked for the ball as soon as Boattin received it, convincing the latter to execute the cross as quickly as possible. Also, moving behind her direct marker and asking for the ball while being behind her helped Girelli get a bit away from marking and put the impact she wanted on the ball before the defender.
In terms of midfield organisation, it is worth saying that Bertoloni was courageous enough to include young players like Dragoni and Beccari in the starting line-up of the first match. The performances of the two players were positive overall and helped the team get the desired win. Nevertheless, a few alterations can be made to simultaneously make the midfield more robust and balanced. For instance, opting for Caruso as an advanced playmaker wasn’t the best choice because Caruso is a central midfielder with more defensive characteristics.
For future games, it would most probably be more helpful to play with Giugliano and Caruso as central midfielders and insert Dragoni as an advanced playmaker, given the excellent signs she showed in this match in terms of dribbling, playmaking and personality and, more importantly, the chemistry she had with strikers. This midfield change would guarantee a bit more balance to the team overall as Caruso’s positioning in front of the defence will limit opponents’ attacking threat.
At the same time, Bonansea’s performance was a bit disappointing in this match as she looked out of form and failed in numerous actions, in addition to the fact that she was playing in a position that doesn’t really suit her abilities. If Bertolini is convinced of playing Bonansea, starting her on the left wing would be the best option, as she can be dangerous and help in the attacking phase. And let’s not forget that Valentina Cernoia can be very useful on that right wing.
How can Argentina improve?
Argentina’s performance in this match was one that deserves credit since all the players performed with passion, desire and determination to win, plus aggressivity that wasn’t used in an exaggerated way but rather in an effective one. Argentina’s aggressivity, especially in the defensive phase, helped them disturb Italy’s attacking build-up on several occasions as it limited their threats from the wings. Therefore, the team wasn’t poor defensive-wise despite conceding a goal that could have been avoided if Girelli had been marked more tightly.
From an attacking perspective, Argentina did their best to exploit half-chances as they had six attempts with only one on target. And this deserves a lot of work in terms of finishing. The following picture highlights Argentina’s attacking potential and shows they have what is needed to score. However, what lacked their performance in this match was concretisation and quality finishing in addition to the failure to create numerous chances per match, which can be understandable, given that Italy were solid at the back.
Argentina’s individual players’ talents were remarkable and showed that a lot of work can be achieved with this team if done correctly. A player like Banini showed a lot of skills in one vs one and even in one vs two or three, as she has got some excellent dribbling skills and awareness of space.
She was able to create some dangerous situations for her team, like in the example shown below, where she got past two defenders and reached the box. However, more chemistry must be found between the players inside the final third to be more dangerous upfront, knowing that this chemistry in terms of movements and passing exists inside the team’s half and in the build-up.
Moreover, Argentina should exploit set pieces more frequently and efficiently since this was one of their most dangerous aspects in this match. Having some good set-piece should be used by alternating the plans executed during set-pieces to confuse opponents, and why not score goals from set-pieces, especially against teams with compact defences like Italy?
Argentina tried to alternate their plans in this match but weren’t always successful, as their plans were predictable for Italy on some occasions. Improving this aspect and making set pieces more dangerous and natural would prove very impactful for Argentina.
Italy reached their ultimate goal in this match, winning the three points and starting the tournament with high hopes. But since the winning goal came a bit late and the team struggled during certain moments in the match, a lot of work will be needed on the psychological and tactical aspects to be ready for Sweden.
On the other hand, Argentina shouldn’t give up early and have to play their chances until the end, knowing they showed a lot of passion and determination to win. Keeping the same attitude while fixing what went wrong against Italy would surely help Argentina achieve better results in the upcoming two games.