Italy vs. Spain: Preview

Italy and Spain come into Euro 2012 after polar opposite results at the 2010 World Cup. Spain were crowned champions, while Italy finished last in arguably the tournament’s weakest group. The Spanish returns much of its team from South Africa, while Italy has a bevy of fresh faces, having finally said good bye to most of the greats that helped win the 2006 World Cup.

Here is what the starting lineups could like this Sunday. This presumes Italy lines up in a 3-5-2 and Spain lines up in a 4-2-3-1 (Spanish formation based on projection from Zonal Marking).

Here are some things to look for Sunday:

  • How Will Italy Play with 3-Man Defense?- If Prandelli does opt to play in a 3-5-2, it will mark a sudden change for a team that has played its recent friendlies and qualifiers in a 4-3-1-2. While the players have no significant experience playing together for Italy in this shape, center backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, as well as wingback Christian Maggio played in a three-man defense for their clubs during the Serie A season. Therefore, there is some familiarity there. As a side note, if Italy does play a 3-5-2, it will be the most drastic tactical shift away from the 4-2-3-1 that will presumably see the most use in Euro 2012.

  • Spain’s fullbacks-Given Spain’s formation, and Iniesta and Silva’s tendency to cut inside, the Spanish could struggle from a lack of width, and could look to their fullbacks to rectify this problem. They should have less space than they would have had Italy played in a 4-3-1-2, as they will now have to contend with marauding forward runs from Maggio and Federico Balzaretti. Still, the Spanish fullbacks will be asked to come forward, and the injury to center back Carlos Puyol will complicate matters in this regard. The injury has forced Sergio Ramos, someone who certainly could have been relied on to bomb forward from the right back position, to play central defense. This will leave it to projected starters Alvaro Arbeloa and Jordi Alba. It will be interesting to see how these relative newcomers to the Spanish side impact the match.

  • The De Rossi Factor-The fact midfielder Daniele De Rossi will be lining up as a center back is one of the most glaring aspects of the Italy lineup. Still, De Rossi has played the position before for his club Roma, so it is not completely foreign. However competent he proves to be in defense, however, the Italy midfield will miss his forward runs and his tenacity.

  • How Will the Italy Defense Handle Spain’s Attackers?-The difficulties a three man defense faces against a single striker formation have been well documented by tactics writers, including Michael Cox. The crux of the problem is that one center back is surplus (with one man marking and the other sweeping), and therefore there will be deficiencies elsewhere on the pitch. Spain, while fielding Fernando Torres as a lone striker, will also feature wide players getting high up the pitch and coming inside. So who for Italy will mark Iniesta and Silva? Relying on the center backs to take this challenge will leave 3 vs. 3 at the back, but relying on the wingbacks to do it could drag them deep and inside, reducing Italy’s threat down the flanks. How Prandelli chooses to handle this situation could go a long way in deciding the match.

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