Preview: What Italy Women need to do tactically to ensure qualification
Italy Women will be facing Israel Women at the Artemio Franchi Stadium in a crucial match that would enable Italy to qualify to the upcoming Women’s Euro 2022 as a best runner-up while avoiding play-offs, if they meet certain conditions and get the desired result.
The Azzurre will need to win with a margin of two goals at least against Israel in order to secure their direct qualification, since this result would make Portugal’s mission more difficult because in that case, they will have to win 10-0 against Scotland in order to qualify instead of Italy.
The mission of the Italians sounds attainable yet it will not be as easy as it may sound. And therefore, in this tactical analysis we will discover why this match can be tricky, how can Israel be difficult to beat and how should Italy play as well as what tactical plans should they rely on.
The analysis will start by identifying the probable line-ups and formations of both teams before looking at Italy’s tactics and how they should approach this match while focusing on Israel’s strengths as well.
Expected line-ups and formations
Last time both teams played against each other was in 2019 and the game ended with a 2-3 win for Italy, and the teams were lined-up like this:
And although these formations may be used once again, there were some notable tactical changes that happened for both teams. For Italy, Milena Bertolini did not keep playing according to the 4-4-2 formation regularly since she alternated between the 4-3-1-2, the 4-2-3-1, the 4-3-3 and lately, she used the 3-5-2 formation against Denmark because during that away match the team needed to be solid at the back with three centre-backs and two wingers joining them in the defensive phase to become a 5-3-2 formation.
In the next match however, the situation will be different since Italy is now the team that needs to get the three points at any cost and score goals. And that’s why a 4-3-1-2 formation would be more suitable to the team since it would provide more attacking depth especially if the staff chooses Juventus’ Barbara Bonansea as an advanced playmaker, given that she has the qualities that allow her to create a lot of danger thanks to her pace and dribbling skills, as well as providing the two strikers with great support in the final third to get through Israel’s defensive blocs.
Therefore, a probable Italy formation for this match would be the 4-3-1-2 with Laura Giuliani as a goalkeeper, Valentina Bergamaschi, Sara Gama, Cecilia Salvai, and Lisa Boattin in defence, Manuela Giugliano, Valentina Cernoia and Martina Rosucci as midfielders, and Barbara Bonansea as an advanced playmaker behind both Cristiana Girelli and Valentina Giacinti.
Israel however will come to Italy with determination to do well and especially not lose since they have got nothing to lose now and they are able to create the surprise at any time, especially when knowing that they scored two goals against Italy in the away fixture.
And even though Israel did not keep the same formation and line-up in the last few years, they know how to defend well against big teams and they can be dangerous in counter-attacks as well. And they will most probably use the 5-4-1 or the 3-5-2 formation since they will rely on making two large defensive blocs in order to prevent Italy from scoring and to have a numerical superiority in their own third. Israel would line-up according to one of these two formations depending on the availability of their regular starting players.
Italy’s tactical approach to the game
Italy will definitely need to start the match with attacks right from the beginning in order to not allow Israel to gain possession and advance. This would mean that the team need to start pressing high with continuity in order to oblige Israel players into committing errors inside their own third. However, Italy will need to remain focused in attack because if they advance with numbers, there will be a risk of conceding counter-attacks, like what happened in this example in the first leg between the two.
Israel can be dangerous if allowed a lot of space like this and Italy should keep their balance throughout the match if they want to avoid conceding goals and at the same time score some goals.
And in this regard, Giugliano, Cernoia, Rosucci and Bonansea will have a big role in linking midfield to attack and supporting Girelli and Giacinti with through passes and penetrations inside the box in order to create numerical superiority and aim at shooting.
Alternating between shooting from outside the box at times, crossing to one of the strikers instead of shooting at other times, would create many goal-scoring chances for Italy and confuse Israel’s defence. Chances like the one shown below should be exploited in the best of ways by passing or shooting without hesitation to create the threat.
It is true that Italy’s xG is 2.53 and that in the last encounter between the two Italy shot 20 times with nine shots on target. Yet, these stats will need to be improved if they want to challenge the bigger teams of Europe in the near future. Shooting more on target will surely improve Italy’s attacking performances and make these matches easier for them. And at the same time, exploiting possession should be the team’s goal in these kinds of matches. Italy has got a 60.21% of possession per match actually, however if this possession remains passive, it will not serve the team.
How to break Israel’s defence
If they want to get their desired result out of this game, Italy will have to use the wings, make penetrations from midfield, rely on crosses to Girelli and Giacinti, but at the same time serve them with through passes. Italy can also rely on counter-attacks, on exchanges between their attacking duo and especially movement without the ball.
If both Girelli and Giacinti move without the ball as soon as the ball reaches one of them, defenders won’t necessarily be able to catch them and in that time both players need to be aware of that and pass at the right time while avoiding the insistence on solo efforts.
And with the assistance of Bonansea, Rosucci and Cernoia who are great passers, Italy should be able to score more than once despite Israel’s defensive compactness that will await them.
Giacinti is used to make those intelligent runs without the ball at Milan while waiting for a pass from a teammate, and this would help a lot upfront since there will be a great need for such dynamism especially at the back of Israel’s defenders. Like in this goal action shown below, such movements can create goal-scoring opportunities especially when there is good chemistry between midfielders and strikers.
You can see here how Giacinti started running towards the box as soon as she saw Bonansea receiving the ball. And the latter did not hesitate and gave her a through pass in the direction of her run, and that’s how Giacinti found herself in front of the goal and away from defenders.
And the rest was a beautiful goal against Denmark that came mainly thanks to Bonansea’s instant and accurate pass and to Giacinti’s awareness of the situation since she asked for the ball at the right time, avoided the offside position, and scored.
Also, Girelli, who is one of the best Serie A Women strikers, can be fundamental in such situations since she has the physical strength that allows her to protect the ball and win in the attacking duels as well as in the aerial duels. And that’s why Bergamaschi and Boattin’s advancing and crossing from the wing would be beneficial and can create tangible opportunities if they are accurate and if Girelli moves towards the ball on time.
This happened several times for Italy and it was impressive to notice how Girelli was powerful in these situations. In this example you can see how she was distant from the action but was not even marked by her opponent, and when she saw the ball being crossed, she immediately moved towards it and had advantage over the defender and the goalkeeper who tried to intercept the ball. And this stresses on Girelli’s power in the air.
However, Bergamaschi and Boattin’s attacking contribution should be monitored to not leave the defence empty in counter-attacks and not let the two centre-backs in numerical inferiority against Isreal’s attacks. And one of the midfielders should be instructed to cover whenever a space is left behind to not allow Israel to exploit that.
Italy will have to play attacking football in order to surpass Israel’s challenge and qualify to the Euros without having to play the play-offs. And while doing so, they should keep their balance to not concede goals that could make the mission more difficult. And on the other hand, Israel will play to win or at least draw in Firenze and the fact that there is no more pressure on them will make of them a difficult opponent to beat.