Group winners Italy face China, who came third in their group, in the last 16 of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Italy come into the match as favourites following impressive wins over Jamaica and Australia, while China secured a victory over South Africa and a draw against Spain.
In this tactical preview, we examine what will be an interesting match with both sides fancying their chances of progressing, Italy will be expected to dominate the match with their superior technical ability. The Chinese side will look to counter this by deploying tactics similar to that which they used against Spain.
China’s attacking threat
China have looked to create scoring opportunities in this tournament by generating 1v1’s in wide areas of the pitch. The use of overloads in central areas has been a key component of this attacking strategy. With Li Ying and Wang Shanshan, operating as a front two, one of them will stay high and occupy the two centre backs preventing them from stepping forwards to follow the other, who will drop into space between the opponent’s midfield and defence, thus generating a central overload.
As their opponents are drawn towards the centre of the pitch, this leaves the wide players, normally Wang Shuang (on the right side) and Gu Yasha (on the left) with a 1v1 against the oppositions fullback. The Chinese fullbacks, Han Peng and Shanshan Liu, both look to support their respective wide player when the ball is in the final third of the pitch. this is a potential area that China can cause Italy problems due to the Italians’ narrow defensive shape.
Vital to this ploy is the ability to play longer passes into the wide spaces once the spaces have been opened up. To play these passes, the player on the ball requires sufficient time and space to effectively switch the play. Against South Africa, China were able to maintain a presence in the wide spaces thus enabling them to quickly switch the ball from one side of the pitch to the other.
Italy’s defensive shape
Out of possession, Italy are very compact horizontally, focusing on preventing the opponents from advancing through the centre of the pitch. They allow the opposition to play the ball into wider areas of the pitch before pressing them with the aim of regaining possession. This tactic proved particularly effective against Jamaica where they won possession in the wide area before counterattacking and winning a penalty.
This provides an interesting matchup as China prefer to attack using the wings, while Italy look to force their opponents into these areas. This may well prove to be a key battle in the outcome of this match. If Italy are able to successfully implement their defensive strategy and win possession in wide areas they will be able to nullify one of China’s main attacking weapons.
Italy’s high press
The Italian side presses high up the pitch aiming to win the ball back in the opposition’s defensive third. Whether it is Sabatino or Girelli occupying the central striking role for Italy, they will aim to prevent passes through the centre of the pitch. In their match against Brazil Italy adapted slightly to allow the Brazilians more possession of the ball but still positioned their defensive line high up the pitch. However, in this match, it can be expected that Italy will press more aggressively against China, similar to how they pressed Jamaica.
In their match against South Africa, China struggled to create opportunities in wide areas due to the change of shape that South Africa used. They showed their adaptability by playing longer passes from defence into the strikers, bypassing multiple defenders, therefore enabling the strikers to lay the ball off into one of the wingers in advanced positions. This slight change in approach proved to be effective as they were able to get their dangerous players on the ball.
China to sit deep?
Italy will look to build from defence in this match which could see China adopt a strategy similar to that against Spain, whereby they sat deeper and allowed them to advance up the pitch. In the match against Spain, China attempted to block passes into central areas of the pitch, which they struggled to do.
Jamaica attempted to use a similar approach against Italy in the group stages without much success. Italy were able to exploit the spaces between the opponents’ defensive structure similarly to how Spain were able to manoeuvre the ball around the Chinese defence.
If China choose to sit off defensively they will look to exploit the spaces left with quick counters. Again this was an area in which they struggled in their match against Spain, as the Spanish midfielders applied high pressure on the Chinese midfielders, thus preventing them from having time and space with which to play longer passes into the strikers.
In what will be an interesting match Italy will look to control the match through their build-up play, with China looking to exploit the spaces left when Italy advance. The counterattacks of China may prove important and it will be imperative that Italy control these situations.
The focus of the Chinese side is on attacking through the wings, with Italy preferring to allow sides to play into wide areas before pressing them. This will be a key tactical component in the outcome of this match, as whoever is best able to dominate these areas will surely secure victory and a route into the quarterfinals.
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!