Arnold Clark Cup 2023: How England’s convincing attacking performance highlighted Italy’s issues – tactical analysis
The Lionesses faced the Azzurre in the Arnold Clark Cup’s third match of the 2023 edition, hosted by the Football Association in Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes, England. The latter won the tournament after finishing at the top of the group which includes Belgium, Italy and South Korea, while Belgium finished second, Italy third and South Korea held the last spot with no points.
The competition served to assess the team’s strengths and weaknesses so far ahead of the Women’s World Cup as it also helped head coaches try their desired tactics and experiment with their ideas during this friendly tournament.
In this tactical analysis article, we will be providing an analysis of what Italy Women need to improve and what they are already good at while also reserving a part that analyses England Women’s performance and explores their key strengths and weaknesses ahead of the big event.
Lineups and formations
Sarina Wiegman opted for the usual 4-3-3 formation with Manchester City’s Ellie Roebuck as a goalkeeper, Manchester United’s Maya Le Tissier, Jess Carter, Alex Greenwood and Niamh Charles in defence, Keira Walsh as a defensive midfielder, Laura Coombs and Jess Park as central midfielders, Lauren Hemp and Katie Robinson as wingers and Rachel Daly as the team’s striker. This line-up included a mix between the team’s usual starting players and players who appeared less with the Lionesses such as Park, Charles, and Robinson.
More importantly, Wiegman gave a second opportunity to Daly as a striker after a long period of using her as a full-back with the national team previously. After her start as a striker against Norway paid off since she scored a goal in that match and convinced Wiegman, perceptions about using Daly only as a full-back with the Lionesses started to change and Wiegman tried Daly as a striker once again against Italy. The former Houston Dash forward didn’t fail Wiegamn’s expectations and confirmed her great run of form as a striker with Aston Villa this season by scoring two goals against Italy and highlighting her outstanding finishing abilities to Wiegman.
On the other hand, Milena Bertolini preferred to start the match with the 4-2-3-1 formation using Milan’s Laura Giuliani as a goalkeeper, Valentina Bergamaschi, Martina Lenzini, Cecilia Salvai and Lisa Boattin in defence, Aurora Galli and Martina Rosucci as central midfielders, Manuela Giugliano as an advanced playmaker, Valentina Giacinti and Barbara Bonansea as wingers while Juventus‘ Cristiana Girelli was the team’s striker.
It is true that Bertolini made some creative changes in this lineup such as playing Giacinti as a right winger, Giugliano as an advanced playmaker and most of all, switching the team’s formation. In fact, Bertolini has been changing the team’s formation a lot recently and she isn’t using one fixed formation. She used the 4-1-4-1, the 4-4-2 and the 4-3-3 formations during Euro 2022. Afterwards, she used the 4-3-3 and the 4-2-3-1 during the qualifications before switching to the 3-5-2 in the friendly games that preceded the Arnold Clark Cup. This can be understood as a positive and a negative tweak at the same time as Bertolini trying to find the most suitable formation for her players’ form and abilities ahead of the World Cup. But in the meantime, this can be seen as being unable to impose some clear defensive and attacking ideas and movements to follow.
Moreover, if Bertolini is going to opt for the 4-2-3-1 formation for the World Cup games, which is a very good formation that matches Italy’s players’ characteristics, it would be more beneficial for the team to keep using the same formation for the upcoming matches that precede the tournament in order for everyone to get familiar with their roles, positions and required movements within this formation.
Italy’s defensive issues and encouraging attacking signs
Italy’s performance in this match against England was very informative in terms of defensive weaknesses. It showed that the Azzurre will have to work much harder in order to be able to minimise, alleviate and ultimately stop the attacking danger of teams like England.
Italy’s defensive line committed numerous errors during this match and these were mostly individual passing or concentration errors that could have cost the team a heavy loss. For example, Salvai wasn’t able to resist Daly’s high pressing in this action and complicated things for herself instead of passing to the goalkeeper or clearing the ball away. Instead, she preferred to pass the ball to her teammate and wasn’t able to provide an accurate or powerful pass in order to prevent Daly from intercepting it. The latter, therefore, intercepted Salvai’s wrong and slow pass and shot the ball at goal. This could have been a goal if not for Giuliano’s excellent save. And that’s the only positive aspect for Italy in this action.
Being unable to resist a high press and failing to build up quickly from the back represents a huge problem for Italy since they suffer when they play against teams with organised high pressing and who have aggressive and quick players for that matter. The following picture just highlights how Italy’s midfielders were slow and how their actions were predictable and anticipated by England’s players.
Bertolini will have to work a lot with her players on finding quick solutions to high pressing if they plan on passing the group stage during the next World Cup. Resorting to the building up from the flanks only or relying on long passes directly to Girelli would represent some useful alternatives. Yet, training and understanding of movements are key for such plans.
Italy conceded two goals from crosses and specifically due to not being able to mark England’s striker Daly in the needed way. At the moment of the cross, Daly’s marker was standing behind her and was relatively passive in chasing Daly and disturbing her to not be able to put the impact she wanted on the ball. In fact, the lack of disturbance and the fact that Daly wasn’t strictly marked during this cross helped her coordinate her body perfectly to execute her header in the way she wanted.
Improving the defenders’ one vs one marking especially during crosses and set-pieces would surely help the Azzurre concede less in the future.
From an attacking perspective, Italy showed some positive signs in this match and Bertolini’s idea of playing Giugliano in an advanced position as well as starting with Giacinti as a right winger paid off as the latter’s movements were unpredictable and she was often alternating positions with Girelli to create some marking confusion within England’s defence.
Moreover, the team showed that they can be dangerous at times since they were able to score a goal and had some opportunities to add a second. The following picture shows clearly how Italy are capable of reaching England’s box and in this opportunity, it was Giacinti’s movement towards the box that created the danger. Bonansea waited for the right timing to provide the key pass yet her touch wasn’t accurate enough for Giacinti and the chance was missed. This means that working on key passing and on final touches can make Italy a very dangerous team from an attacking point of view.
England’s convincing performance
Despite resting some key players like Alessia Russo, Ella Toone, Chloe Kelly, Lauren James, Millie Bright and others, England confirmed once again that they have a large squad depth and that they are capable of being dangerous yet compact at the back even when making some changes. This will be very important for Wiegman during the World Cup since it would allow her to rest players without affecting the team’s performance.
Against Italy, the Lionesses played intelligently and were able to score using crosses and Daly’s two excellent headers. They are able to alternate their attacking plans and switch from crossing to Daly to penetrating by Hemp and Kelly or one of the other wingers.
Moreover, they can always rely on Toone’s key passing inside the final third and during counter-attacks especially when she plays with Russo since the chemistry between the two is excellent. As you can see below, Daly’s second goal of the match was scored purely thanks to her goalscoring talent. Italy’s defenders were positioned correctly and were marking her, yet Daly was still able to jump higher than them and direct the ball in a magnificent way to put it inside the net from the opposing angle.
The team will have to be more attentive in defence though because conceding unnecessary goals can put them in trouble against more powerful teams. Almost the same type of error that Italy’s defence made during Daly’s first goal, England conceded a goal due to bad and passive marking, as the example shows. Staying behind the opposing player when the opposition have the ball doesn’t make any sense and can always cause trouble to the player committing such a positioning and marking mistake because this opposing player will always have the advantage on the ball in this case. And that’s exactly what happened during this action.
Overall, this match was an opportunity and a test for both teams to know what level they reached so far in their World Cup preparations as it was also a chance to test players and tactics. It is true that England were able to win and convince, yet Italy didn’t put in a negative performance and were able to disturb the Lionesses during some moments in the match. And more importantly, they were able to further spot their strengths and weaknesses and especially what needs to be improved quickly.