With every passing game at this year’s Women’s World Cup, the groups become more intriguing as the stakes get higher. Group C is certainly that. Italy blew the group wide open on Sunday with an impressive late comeback against a hotly tipped Australian side. The Azurre now find themselves in pole position to take top spot in the group. Their victory heaped pressure on the Aussies who beat Brazil last night to put the three teams on equal footing. A second consecutive Italian victory leaves them needing just a point in their final game to qualify for the knockout stages.
Jamaica, on the other hand, crashed back down to Earth with a defeat in their first ever World Cup fixture. A performance filled with energy, determination and incredible passion still makes this side a potential banana skin in a group where slip-ups are perilous.
This tactical preview takes a look at how Italy will seek to control the game using shape over possession. It also previews the potential tactical mismatches that Jamaica could exploit to cause an upset in Reims.
Italy will be expected to stick with their winning formula of using their preferred 4-4-2 formation. It was in this shape they masterfully overcame a one-goal deficit against Australia, after starting in a 4-1-4-1 system. One facet of Bertolini’s Italian side is their versatility within a 4-4-2, often adjusting shape to suit the narrative of the game. Italy will likely tweak their 4-4-2 base as the game progresses against Jamaica. With no reports of injuries and the opportunity to all but qualify on the night, the same starting 11 is expected to walk out for the Azurre.
It is unlikely Menzies will panic after Jamaica’s defeat to Brazil. Their 4-2-3-1 shape is a tried and tested formation that has brought the Carribean nation success so far. Jamaica will press high in their 4-2-3-1 shape, and drop into 4-3-3 as they defend deeper and look to break. The pace and power of Khadija Shaw will likely remain the focal point for the Reggae Girlz. The ‘Bunny’ played more like a lion in her last match, completing 73% of her dribbles. Menzies’ big decision going into this fixture is the inclusion of young Jody Brown. The winger is eager to make an impact at this year’s tournament and she might just add the quality that was missing against Brazil.
Italian game management
Though both teams tend to be on the lower side of the possession stats, there is differing tactical reasoning behind each approach. Italy who only saw 37% of the ball against Australia use their shape and stability within a 4-4-2 system to control their opponents without having possession. They opt not to engage with the opposition high up the pitch and instead draw the ball into areas they intend to pressurise.
The Italians allow teams to play out from the back and don’t engage. Instead, they allow the opposition’s attack to develop into more advanced areas of the pitch to create better counter-attacking opportunities. To ensure attacks are developed safely into their half, Italy block the passing lanes through the centre of the pitch. This forces opposition attacks to develop on the wings, which is easier to defend.
The 4-4-2 structure remains intact as they allow the opposition to build attacks in front of them. It is at this point Italy engage the ball and attempt to counter from this shape. The Italians allowed 11.2 passes per defensive action against Australia, demonstrating their comfort in allowing the opposition the ball.
53% of Italy’s ball recoveries happened in their defensive third. The two rectangles in the advanced wide areas show how many recoveries happened after Italy funnelled the ball wide, by blocking passing lanes to the centre. Very few recoveries occurred in central midfield, the place Italy protected the most.
A deadly counter
By drawing teams higher up the pitch in a controlled manner, Italy then exploit the spaces behind the advanced defence. Their transition relies on their defensive unit having multiple players around the ball. These can then be used as passing options as they counter.
In conjunction with the quick interchanges between the midfield as they uncoil like a spring in transition, the strikers make swift reactionary movements. To free themselves of their markers, an initial movement towards the ball is made. This drags the centre-back out of their defensive line or frees up a more direct pass into the striker if the defender decides not to follow their run.
If they do follow the run and move forward with the initial movement, the striker then spins in behind, and bursts into the vacant space they have just created. Like the picture above, the defender now has to recover into space they just vacated as the striker pulls away. In just a few seconds and one direct pass later, Italy are in behind their opponents, who despite enjoying a long spell of controlled possession, are now on the back-foot.
How Jamaica will cope
If the Jamaicans approach the game in the same aggressive manner as they did against Brazil they will be incredibly vulnerable to this Italian tactic.
Their 4-2-3-1 tactic involves an aggressive defensive back line which advances in line with the offensive press they implement. The centre-backs push up to reduce the vertical distance between the midfield and defence. The full-backs are also given license to break forward when the opportunity presents itself.
Though this yielded them 14 shots against Brazil and an xG of 1.02, they conceded 19 shots as a result. Once Jamaica lose possession this tactic renders them vulnerable. Their centre-backs are high and exposed, left deserted by an empty midfield in front of them. As a result, they become disorganised and frantic which leaves plenty of chances for direct passes in behind.
If Jamaica continue to operate an aggressive high press against the Italians they will play right into their tactical set-up. The Italian striker’s movement is too sharp and their counters too swift. Their clinical counters will punish the space afforded to them by Jamaican disorganisation in defensive transition.
Jamaican hope: Keeping it solid
Rather than playing into Italy’s hands, Jamaica may choose to operate a tactic that will stifle their opponents.
Italy who prefer their opposition to do the attacking, struggle when the impetus is on them to break defensive teams down. When in possession, their build-up play is slow and uses short passing to recycle the ball. The full-backs are offensive and overlapping, covered by centre-midfielders.
However, without any top class technicians, they often get bogged down as they rotate the ball. The strikers become isolated and they lack a midfield runner which would stretch a solid defensive structure. As a result, they can become toothless if they are the team dominating the ball.
If Jamaica can frustrate Italy by employing a low block and compacting the space between the lines, it will cause Italy problems in attack. Furthermore, Italy are particularly vulnerable against counter-attacking teams, so using their tactics against them is a perfect strategy. The pace and power of Shaw and Williams will create chances if Italy are drawn forward.
Counter from deep
Jamaica showed rare glimpses of this tactic in their opening game. However, it was offset by their over-willingness to press high. In the example above, Jamaica recover the ball from a low block. The ball is picked up by Williams who immediately has players making runs ahead of her.
She uses her strength on the ball to hold off a challenge from the approaching defender. She then drops the ball off whilst Shaw and others advance in transition. Williams then re-joins the attack, bursting into the empty space left by an advanced Brazil. Jamaica play direct vertical passes into Shaw who has the ability to link the counter together.
To employ this tactic, Jamaica must stay disciplined in their defensive shape and avoid the temptation to recover the ball higher up the pitch. If they can frustrate Italy and keep the scoreline close, they might just coax Italy forward enough to punish them on the break. Jamaica’s main talent lies in the front three, particularly Shaw, and by using this system they get the most out of their dangerous players without risking as much.
The flow of the match hinges on how Jamaica choose to approach it. Their gameplan against Brazil was admirable but ultimately left them with too much to do against higher quality opposition. If they opt to use the same system against a shrewd Italian side, don’t be surprised to see a similar looking scoreboard at the final whistle.
If, on the other hand, Jamaica embrace their underdog status and operate a more defensive counter-attacking system, they can stifle Italy and keep the score within touching distance. The Italians are on a run of ten games without a defeat (W8 D2) however and have the ability to adjust their system accordingly. Though it’s not fool-proof, it’s a plan that might just earn Jamaica their first World Cup points.
If you are following the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 then you will find our FREE tactical preview magazine the perfect compliment to the tournament. You can download it HERE – each nation is previewed and we also profile their key player and young player to watch. Enjoy!