Women’s International Friendlies 2022/2023: How Austria exploited Italy’s high defensive block weaknesses – tactical analysis
Italy faced Austria at Stadio Guido Teghil in Italy on November 11, and they lost the match 0-1 prior to their match against Northern Ireland. On the other hand, Austria will host Slovakia for their second match of this international break following a boosting win against a very good European team.
The result was a little bit surprising, especially when knowing that the match was played in Italy. This does not diminish Austria’s merit and does not mean that they are weaker than Italy. On the contrary, Austria showed during the latest WEURO 2022 that they are a very talented and solid team that can disturb any opponent, including the title holders, England, when they played against them during the group stage. Nevertheless, Italy were the favourites to win in this friendly encounter since they played at home and knew that they have more quality players in their squad.
In this tactical analysis article, we will discover what led to Italy’s loss from a tactical perspective while exploring Austria’s attacking tactics and how they were able to win against a tough Italian team in an away game. The analysis will begin by presenting both teams’ line-ups.
Italy’s head coach Milena Bertolini preferred to start the match according to the 3-5-2 formation with Francesca Durante as a goalkeeper, Elisa Bartoli, Elena Linari and Maria Luisa Filangeri as the three centre-backs, Martina Rosucci, Arianna Caruso and Aurora Galli in midfield, Juventus’ Lisa Boattin and Barbara Bonansea as wing-backs while the attacking duo was formed of Milan’s Valentina Giacinti and Inter’s Elisa Polli.
On the other side, Austria’s head coach, Irene Fuhrmann, opted for the 4-1-4-1 formation with Manuela Zinsberger as a goalkeeper, Laura Wienroither, Carina Wenninger, Marina Georgieva and Verena Hanshaw in defence, Sarah Puntigam as a defensive midfielder, Laura Feiersinger and Sarah Zadrazil as central midfielders while Julia Hickelsberger-Füller and Barbara Dunst played on the wings and Nicole Billa was the team’s striker.
Italy’s defensive weaknesses and Austria’s solid attacking performance
Bertolini mixed her starting line-up with experienced players and less experienced ones such as Durante, Filangeri and Polli. These players do not have plenty of international experience and the head coach thought that this was the best opportunity to give them some playing time and have an extensive idea of their abilities within the team. This experimentation was not too impactful in terms of goalkeeping as Durante showed a lot of confidence and skills in goal. But on the defensive aspect, the team struggled to remain compact at the back and conceded numerous dangerous opportunities from Austria.
Durante was able to make a decisive save during the first half when she succeeded in saving a clear goalscoring opportunity in the 34th minute. But at the same time, this action highlights a marking problem and a lack of organisation regarding the defensive block and their advancement.
In fact, the following picture shows how Italy’s defensive line was too high when Julia Hickelsberger-Füller was about to receive an excellent through pass at the back of the whole defensive line. Füller needed to be marked in a more efficient way in order to prevent such penetrations that could have easily led to conceding a goal. Playing with a high defensive block and not paying attention to such key passes can lead to heavy problems exactly like what happened during this action.
Durante however was outstanding in saving such a dangerous opportunity despite being put in a complicated situation as the following picture shows. She was put in a one vs one situation with Füller and the latter had plenty of time to think about her decision and prepare for the shot since she was not marked at all when she was running towards the goal. Nevertheless, Durante was focused and reactive enough to save Füller’s shot, showing a lot of confidence in her abilities.
Following this chance, Zadrazil was able to serve Füller with an excellent key pass at the back of Filangeri. In fact, it was a pass that broke the whole defensive line and reached Füller in the perfect place to meet the latter’s run. Italy’s defence could have been more attentive in this situation and playing with a lower defensive block could have prevented the team from conceding such big opportunities against players like Füller and Zadrazil who adore spaces.
It is true that Filangeri attempted to intercept the through pass with a sliding tackle but she was not able to do it because the ball was a little bit distant from her. The credit therefore should go to Zadrazil for the excellent idea and the accurate execution, and more importantly, Füller’s attacking effort throughout this match is worth to be highlighted.
Füller was able to finish the action with great style as she scored the single goal of the match with cold blood in front of goal and with a lot of precision and style, giving no chance to Durante to save the ball. The following graphic highlights Füller’s performance and attacking efficiency in this match even further as she shot twice on goal and scored the deciding goal of the match.
Italy tried to react immediately after conceding the goal but failed to concretise their chances and finish them well. They were able to reach the box several times but didn’t manage to threaten Zinsberger’s goal. In reality, Italy were able to shoot 15 times but they shot on target only twice, which explains the team’s finishing issues. Nevertheless, the team applied a lot of high pressing on Austria’s defence in order to prevent their progressive build-up from the back and they were often able to disturb Austria in that phase as the picture shows in the following example.
Italy were able to intercept passes and regain possession so often but failed in finishing. During this chance, Polli received a pass in a very suitable area to shoot. Yet, she shot the ball centrally and without putting the necessary amount of power into it. The same occurred with Giacinti as well even though the latter is known to be a good finisher who doesn’t lack international experience. Therefore, she can be blamed more than Polli who started her first international match.
Giacinti, however, was able to make some very dynamic movements inside the box and Bonansea was always ready to serve her from the right wing where she created some danger. In the following action, Bonansea provided an accurate through pass with the exterior part of her foot to meet Giacinti’s off-the-ball movement. The latter was able to control the ball and shoot but once again, her shot was not well angled to confuse Zinsberger who deflected it.
Apart from these misses, playing Bonansea on the right wing doesn’t seem like the best decision to make since Juventus’ player is known to be more dangerous from the left wing. Putting her on this right wing would surely limit her options and prevent her from penetrating and shooting with efficiency.
Italy failed to pass Austria’s test and were not able to keep a clean sheet or score goals prior to their encounter against Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, this match will serve a lot for Bertolini in order to identify the team’s weaknesses and aim at changing and improving what went wrong both from an attacking and a defensive perspective.
On the other side, Austria will have to build on their solid performance and aim at extending their win series because that will help the players gain more confidence in their abilities and build more chemistry between each other on and off the pitch.
Playing against a relatively weaker team like Slovakia will surely help Austria continue their winning streak and why not extend it until the end of the next international break?