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Italy v Germany: How Italy can ,and probably will, Beat Germany

Antonio Conte has taken an underwhelming Italy side into the quarter-finals of Euro 2016. He has established an extremely potent defensive structure. The Italians also play quickly on the break when the attacking team loses possession. Meanwhile, Germany have most people’s vote for the best team in the tournament so far. The current world champions are considered favourites, but upon closer inspection, one may have a strong case for the Italian bulwark to continue repelling opponents.

Italian Formation

Italy did so well against Spain because they forced them into a central squeeze. They eliminated the dangerous width that might have exposed them. Spain can work both centrally and in wide spaces, having an overlapping fullback that hugs the touchline regardless of where the ball is. Often, this leaves a man unmarked running through on goal, (see just about every Jordi Alba goal ever).

But Conte’s deployment of the 3-5-2 formation nullified that. The formation is at it’s best when it can easily transform between a 5-3-2 and 3-5-2, with the most important position being wing back. If the wing backs are disciplined enough to contribute defensively, then the formation will offer defensive solidity both on the flanks and in the middle. Those wide players can often add to the attack when breaking, with one racing down the flank in support, while the other tucks inside and makes the defensive line a solid bank of four.

Pincer Like Defence

Another key element of this signature Italian defence is the ability to negate the opposition attack through organisation and overload. These two concepts force opposing teams into an impotent “U” shape. As a result there is limited penetration and the isolation of key forward players. The “U” shape can easily be recognised when the opposing team is recycling the ball back and forth across the defensive line with no passes through the middle of the pitch. This is as a direct result of the overload created by the three central midfielders. The central midfielders shift and hunt in packs, either blocking passing lanes or actively trying to get the ball back as the entire team shifts depending on possession. Leonardo Bonnuci has been the exemplary megaphone that organises the whole team through communication, creating a singular defensive unit.

The overload also forces teams like Spain, and here, Germany, to occasionally bypass the midfield and send the ball long. This creates an ideal situation for aerially dominant players like Chiellini, Barzagli, and Bonnuci.

In Summary

The Italian deployment of the 3-5-2 is proving impenetrable. The space in the middle is suffocated by a five midfielder system. It tends to be incredibly organised under the three captain-like Italian stalwarts at the back. The midfield overload then creates defensively favourable situation against tricky wingers that would seek to create chances in one-on-one situations. However, bypassing the midfield and playing it directly to an aerially astute central striker would also pose a problem, as they could have limited space to control the ball.  They would also struggle against multiple quality defenders. Germany will have to do one of the most difficult things in football in order to progress; play quickly and intelligently through the lines.

Theoretically, Germany could use a 3-4-3 formation to combat the defensive solidity of the 3-5-2, but realistically they don’t possess the players to execute the key tactic correctly. The advantage of playing the 3-4-3 against the 3-5-2 is that the three forwards can occupy each of the central defenders while overlapping fullbacks occupy the wide players. This would then pit a three-man midfield against the four of the 3-4-3 system. The issue with this is that it would leave only one central defender at the back. If the opposition gained possession in a dangerous forward position, the defence could be wide open. Germany would struggle to implement this formation however as Kimmich or Höwedes are already susceptible to counter attacks because of their limited pace. Converting to such a system that would be more exposed by a counter would be ill-advised.

It is for these reasons that one could see this underdog of an Italian team progressing even further into Euro 2016. Particularly as the Germans have yet to beat the Italians at a tournament finals.


Italy’s defender Giorgio Chiellini (L) speaks with Italy’s forward Citadin Martins Eder (R) during a training session at the team’s training ground in Montpellier on June 29, 2016, as part of the the Euro 2016 European football championship. / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO        (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)


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