After Costa Rica’s shocking win over Uruguay, the second match of Group of Death produced an exhilarating contest between England and Italy. The Azzurri won 2-1, thanks to goals from Claudio Marchisio and Mario Balotelli. Daniel Sturridge equalized for England in the 38th minute.
A scintillating battle between the two sides was set up in the Arena Amazonia Manaus in which the side with tactical flexibility emerged as the winner.
Salvatore Sirigu started the game in place of injured Gianluigi Buffon. Giorgio Chiellini played at the right back position. Gabriel Paletta partnered Andrea Barzagli at the centre of the defence, as a result of which Leonardo Bonucci was left on the bench. Matteo Darmian was preferred to Ignazio Abate at the left back position.
Former Chelsea star Frank Lampard was benched and Jordan Henderson was given the nod. Raheem Sterling also started for England. Roy Hodgson fielded a young team.
England deployed 4-2-3-1 formation with Henderson and Steven Gerrard as the holding midfielders.
Italy started with 4-1-4-1 formation and changed to 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-2-3 over the course of the game.
Italy’s midfield –
As the game progressed and England forwards started to threaten Italian defence – Sterling’s 4th minute shot that hit the side netting, Henderson’s 5th minute shot that was saved by Sirigu – both Andrea Pirlo and Marco Verratti dropped deeper in order to guard their defenders and to support the wide players (Darmain was moving up and down the left flank). Pirlo and Verratti played sensibly by lunging forward now and then to cover up the space and provide killer passes. This also allowed Daniel De Rossi to charge higher up the pitch.
England were happy to sit back and defend. They did not press too much when Italy had the possession. They were quite comfortable in intercepting the passes and blocking the shots. As a result of which Italy controlled the game.
The mid field trio – Pirlo, Veratti and De Rossi also tried to provide long balls which created an unrest among English defenders. Here is table showing the pass combinations – It clearly indicates how these three players dominated.
Pirlo’s dummy in the 34th minute set up Marchisio, who slotted the ball into the right corner of the net. He had a pass completion rate of 95%, had one shot on target (remember that free kick?) and tackled only once throughout the game. He kept changing his positions thus making it very difficult to track him. He passed the ball to the players on both the flanks which allowed them to provide a number of crosses.
Matteo Darmian and Antonio Candreva –
Italy’s 1-0 lead lasted only 4 minutes. Sturridge equalized for England in the 38th minute. England started the second half brilliantly. England were searching for their second goal, when Candreva brilliantly crossed the ball to the far post which was headed in by Balotelli. This goal bought Italy back into the game.
It was not the first time that Candreva had troubled the opposition defenders in the match. He crossed the ball four times in the first half and thrice in the second half. England left back Leighton Baines was often troubled by Candreva. He even dodged Baines a couple of times to cut into the box. His performance was a top quality one.
Another player who drew my attention was the left back, Matteo Darmian. The Torino wingback was moving to and fro from Italy’s box to England’s box. He proved to be a major distraction. He provided a cross and also a goal scoring opportunity, when in the 33rd minute he moved into the space behind Baines and Phil Jagielka to collect a Verratti driven ball and passed it onto Mario who headed it wide (yes, just like Juan Fran escaped from Eden Hazard’s tight marking in the 44th minute to pass the ball to Adrian Lopez who volleyed it home to equalize for Atleti at Stamford Bridge).
Darmian and Candreva also involved one – two passes a number of times.
Raheem Sterling –
According to me the best English player on the pitch was Raheem Sterling. Mainly because of two reasons –
1. Given his age is just 19, it is a great achievement to play against the legendry regista, Pirlo and his equally talented team mates.
2. He was the one who provided the long ball to Wayne Rooney, who crossed the ball to Sturridge. He was the creator of England’s only goal.
He was a pleasure to watch. He was asked by Roy Hodgson to play in between Rooney and Dani Welbeck and he did it very well – Roaming around to collect and pass the ball, dribbling around some of the most experienced players, he became the fulcrum of England’s attack.
All his passes were directed to the centre of the box, in search of his Liverpool team mate Sturridge. He took on the opposition 7 times and was successful 4 times. He was a constant threat – had 4 shots on target and provided 7 crosses.
1. Welbeck (out) – Ross Barkley (in)
Sterling was pushed to the right wing and Barkley played as central attacking midfielder
2. Henderson (out) – Jack Wilshere (in)
Attacking move. Wilshere was permitted to move forward.
3. Sturridge (out) – Adam Lallana (in)
Lallana was bought in for injured Sturridge (cramp). Lallana played on the left wing and Rooney moved front as the lone striker.
1. Verratti (out) – Thiago Motta (in)
To stabilize the midfield by addition of a defensive midfielder and tighten the defence. Italy then changed their system from 4-1-4-1 to 4-2-3-1 and sometimes to 4-1-2-3. Space between the defensive and midfield lines were reduced.
2. Balotelli (out) – Ciro Immobile (in)
An attempt to get a goal from the Serie A top scorer.
3. Candreva (out) – Marco Parolo (in)
Another defensive midfielder to stop England from equalising.
England were energetic, played shoulder to shoulder with Italy. Italy were defensively sound. Italy made 17 clearances to England’s 5, that is nearly three times more.
Look at the graph carefully – England made very few interceptions and tackles in their defensive third and in the midfield region – Italy on the other had committed themselves and tried their best to claim back the ball.
This made a huge difference. Less tackling means more time for the opposition on the ball, more time to act – the converse of this is taught by soccer coaches all over the world – not to give time and space for the opposition. Atletico Madrid played using this basic rule and they won the La Liga and reached the Champions League Final.
Best Performance – Antonio Candreva