Flames erupt in the Circus Maximus. Rome’s largest sporting venue forms a mile-long track of timber, and its seats provide the ultimate fuel. Within minutes, flames spread the entire length of the Circus.
Two thirds of Rome was destroyed after the nine day fire in July, 64 AD. So were the Italians after the 0–0 with Sweden in November 2017. Missing the World Cup in Russia felt odd as Italy hadn’t failed to qualify for the World Cup since 1958.
Reconstruction was needed and it was already in the making way before that damned night in Milan. A new breed of Italian players were coached to think for themselves, guided by a certain set of principles. That led to multiple finals in the Under-19 and Under-17 Euros.
Moving on to today’s Rome, the technically developed breed is looking to tread the same path but with a different end-result. The demolition of Turkey kept them on track and the next test was a visit from their northern neighbors Switzerland.
Roberto Mancini’s Italy maintained their 4–3–3 shape out of possession that transforms into a 3–2–4–1 when in possession of the ball. Leonardo Spinazzola pushes forward down the left wing as Lorenzo Insigne moves inside to the left channel, mirroring the position of Nicolo Barella in the right channel.
It was one phase prior in the attack though where Italy’s breakdown of Switzerland started. Remo Freuler and Granit Xhaka’s marking and pressing duties were used against them on the night as Italy’s build up constantly lured them up or split them apart, before utilizing the space created behind them or in-between them. With the duo split to mark both Barella and Manuel Locatelli, Italy’s defenders sought to play the pass in the space in-between the Swiss duo…..
…..for the dropping forward who was usually Ciro Immobile. The aim was to get the ball behind Freuler and Xhaka into a player that can link the play and then….
……the next phase of the attack can continue. Here, after Immobile linked with Jorginho and Barella, the Inter midfielder was in a position to find Immobile’s run if not for Fabian Schaer’s interception.
The other method Italy used in their build up was that when Xhaka and Freuler pushed forward to press, an Italy player other than the three forwards — who were pinning Switzerland's defence — moved into the space behind Xhaka and Freuler. In this example it was Spinazzola who was moving into the space behind the Swiss duo with Xherdan Shaqiri a couple of yards behind. Once Bonucci played the pass out wide into Domenico Berardi….
……Spinazzola was in the correct position with Xhaka, Freuler and Shaqiri in no man’s land. Unfortunately for Spinazzola, Berardi opted to play the ball into Immobile….
…..which still could have utilized Spinazzola’s perfect movement, had Immobile controlled the ball better. Italy lost possession here, but they figured out a way to create space inside Switzerland’s shape from where they can be dangerous.
Freuler and Xhaka were constantly moved up or split up to get an Italy player behind them or in-between them on the ball. An example here shows only Freuler marking Locatelli with Haris Seferovic putting Jorginho in his cover shadow.
However, in a blink of an eye Barella drops moving Xhaka with him and Jorginho pushes forward to attack the space behind Xhaka and Freuler who are currently inside the trap. The Swiss duo are high up the pitch to mark Barella and Locatelli, but that’s exactly where Italy want them with Jorginho attacking the space behind them.
Bonucci’s long pass found Jorginho, but Seferovic had to foul the Chelsea midfielder to stop the attack. Again, Freuler and Xhaka were taken out of the equation.
Another example here sees Locatelli assisting with the build up with Freuler breathing down his neck. Gianluigi Donnarumma played the ball into the midfielder, who then passed it to Bonucci….
……Barella also dropped attracting Xhaka with him but it was Jorginho who kept his position throughout this move. Placing himself in a position to be behind Freuler and Xhaka once they move forward with Locatelli and Barella. Bonucci then found Jorginho through the Swiss players….
……and an Italy goal-kick turned into this.
Another feature of Italy’s attack in the game was Locatelli’s late runs from midfield. He usually waited for a Swiss defender to be out of position, before attacking the space that that defender vacated.
Early on in the game he could have assisted Immobile to open the scoring after Insigne found his run behind the defence. Xhaka though, made sure the ball fell safely for Yann Sommer.
Locatelli’s runs and the elimination of the Xhaka-Freuler axis combined to tear down the Swiss structure. An example in the second half shows Xhaka and Freuler in a good position….
…..that’s before Donnarumma played the ball wide for Giovanni Di Lorenzo. When that pass was played, Barella sprinted towards the touchline. Taking Xhaka with him and stretching the axis. Furthermore, Jorginho was calling for the ball, but he wasn’t behind or in-between the Swiss duo and that’s why Di Lorenzo took the right decision to not pass the ball to Jorginho.
Instead, he played it into the space in-between. Berardi, who was man-marked by Manuel Akanji, dropped into that space and dummied the ball….
…..resulting in the ball reaching Immobile. The striker dropping to assist dragged Schaer up with him and that’s where Locatelli made his run.
Immobile then found Jorginho, before the midfielder played the ball into the space ahead of Locatelli.
Again, this was a free-kick on the edge of Italy’s box that turned into the situation below.
The other instance was Italy’s first goal. During the build up, Xhaka and Freuler were high up the pitch, triggering Italy to find a way behind them. Bonucci circulated the ball backwards, trying to reach Spinazzola out wide.
As Francesco Acerbi played the ball into the left back, the latter quickly whipped the ball inside the field to not give Xhaka and Freuler time to retreat.
There were two Italy players trying to position themselves behind Xhaka and Freuler. Immobile dropped deeper while Barella made an angled run into the space. Neither won the ball however, as it bounced in-front of Immobile.
Luckily for Italy, Schaer hung the ball up in the air and Immobile leapt high to win the header. Because Xhaka was trying to track back, he left Locatelli free and the header fell for Locatelli. The midfielder quickly switched play to Berardi towards the far right…..
……before making a late run inside the box to meet Berardi’s cross.
It’s still early in the competition and the Italians wouldn’t want to do a 2008 Netherlands. Regardless, this was another impressive display from them. The build up was intricate and effective, while the pressing in the first half totally annihilated the Swiss when they were on the ball.
Rome was built again after the fire, looks like the Italy team too.