SERIE A: Inter shows how defence wins games, Inter v Juventus match analysis

Inter has shown great character to overcome Juventus in what was supposed to be the last match in charge for Frank de Boer. After poorish start to season Inter lost at home to Hapoel Be’er Sheva in Europa League and in a game that Massimo Allegri described as “real test of Juventus’ title ambitions”, they had to face reigning champions in Derby d’Italia.

 
While Ivan Perišić was doubtful as he got minor injury during the week, de Boer had rest of his preferred squad available. Eder filled the Croatian winger spot and Dutch manager was good to go. On the other side Allegri rotated his Champions League squad as both wingers, Evra and Alves, were substituted with Liechstensteiner and Alex Sandro while Lamina was replaced with Miralem Pjanić and Higuain with Mario Mandžukić. In defence Allegri decided to shift Barzagli for Benatia so five out of 11 new players found their way into the biggest match in Italy.

 
While both teams went out fairly cautious, Inter seemed more determined to close down their opponents. Although they didn’t press all over the pitch they did prevent easy distribution from the back.

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First part of game plan for Inter was to disturb short distribution from Buffon. Next phase was good team pressing in middle third and quick direct attacking once on the ball

Above you can see how de Boer tried to minimize attacking threat from front. All easy passes are blocked off or, at least under immediate pressure. This forced Buffon to play long balls which were lost quite frequently.

 
Aside preventing easy transition to middle third, Inter also disrupted the rhythm of their opponents rendering them unsure of their game plan.

 
This, combined with good team pressing in middle third, put pressure on Juve players which resulted in a lot of misplaced passes and lost second balls. At same time, it offered opportunities on the break for Inter.

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You can see how well Inter worked off the ball. They executed de Boer’s plan perfectly as they won possession twice more than opponents. If you add the interceptions Inter was again on top with 14. Particularly satisfying was interception by Candreva in 78th minute after which hosts scored the winning goal through Perišić’s header

Above you can see the diagram of lost possession for both teams between 15th and 70th minute and it clearly shows how well Inter pressing worked as they managed to force Juventus into losing the ball 14 times. If you add the interceptions which are also result of good team pressing it gets even worse for current champions. Inter losses six balls but manages to get it from their opponents 14 times. Including the 78th minute interception from Candreva who finds Icardi that crosses the ball for winning header from Perišić.

 
All the match had nothing to do with attacking patterns but was won and loss without the ball. Inter aggressiveness is shown in fouls made as well. They went particularly hard especially on Dybala who gets tackled hard in the first minutes just as a warning he will not be allowed to move freely.

 
De Boer did very good to motivate and pump his players for the match and they had responded very well in a difficult moment for the team. Dutchman’s first idea was to prevent Juventus from moving the ball freely and his team followed him brilliantly. They closed down goalkeeper short distribution and then went hard as a team on closing down the midfield.

 
Any attacking from Inter was secondary as they relied mainly on long balls down the wings or, equally quick, direct passes to Mauro Icardi. However, they never committed huge numbers forward as their plan was to wait for Juventus and go quickly forward.

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When they got on the ball, Inter forced a lot of quick forward balls either to one of the wingers or directly to Mauro Icardi

Above you can see such quick transition where ball gets to either full back who then goes for quick direct ball to winger. Juventus was good as always in transition so these balls were largely dealt with. What really killed them off was losing possession.

 
To conclude, both teams went on the pitch with idea not to lose the game. However, it was Inter who had more will and character on the night and they knew how to stop Juventus from building up their passing game. From there they relied on quick transition and direct attacking.

 
Although Juve scored first, Inter kept plugging and showed great determination to overcome difficult situation the club got in. Massimo Allegri didn’t have an answer to opposition’s pressing and usual game plan of combinations on right side with Dybala didn’t work as team struggled to get the ball there. They did muster a trademark goal when Liechstensteiner scored after a switch of attack from right to left, but those situations were too few to overcome determined Inter side which deservedly came from behind showing some great team spirit.

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EURO Italy v Germany: How Loew stopped Italy, an analysis

Highly anticipated Euro quarter final between Germany and Italy didn’t disappoint even if only one goal was scored from open play and the game itself dragged through the extra time and then penalties. In the end Simone Zaza, who made more steps running up for penalty than in actual game, together with Pelle, Bonucci and Darmian sealed the faith of Italy while Jonas Hector brought Die Mannschaft through to the semis.
It wasn’t only the name and reputation of the teams that made the game intriguing. That little bit was added up by two managers who were up against each other and were expected to make few surprises for their counterpart. In the end it was JoachimLoew who came up with tactic that mirrored his opponent to cancel Italy out of the game. Conte had little space for manouver as, already mediocre individual quality of his players, was furtherdepletedd by injuries to Candreva and De Rossi while his back upThiago Motta got suspended.

German manager stated after the game he decided immediately after Italy v Spain match how his team is going to confront Italians. Easier said than done. It was a surprise when official team sheets for Germany came out with positions marked on the pitch. It is always a risk for manager to change the shape of the team in just four days and for such an important game. However, Germany showed its versatility and individual class to adopt so well and counter the team that masterfully countered everyone else, including the defending champion Spain.

Germany had a plan to defend three different situations when Italy had the ball and they all had the same goal. Prevent the ball easily reach either of the forwards.

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First rule of playing against Conte: Don’t let them easily move the ball forward

At goal kicks Joachim Loew set up marking tasks to block passing lanes but also to immediately pressure any player Buffon would hastily pass the ball. This forced Italian goalkeeper to punt the long balls forward where Germany had numerical advantage to win any second balls.

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Second rule of playing against Conte: If they get on the ball in defence, mark the strikers tightly and cover passing lanes to middle zone

Once the ball reached Italian defensive line, and if his team wasn’t able to press immediately, they went to block passing lanes into the middle zone from front. Lot of credit has to be given to Mueller and Gomez as well as Oezil who was joining them in this. You can see above how they looked to cover the midfield letting the Italian defenders on the ball. Although Bonucci and Chiellini are exceptionally dangerous when they are allowed time and space to pick the pass this was fine as last line of German defence had time to man mark Pelle, Eder and Giaccherini who was often playing as third attacker making runs from deep. Wide players, Kimmich and Hector are in half spaces ready to support Kroos and Schweinsteiger as well as their direct match ups. This combination of man marking in last line of defence and passing lane block in the first line ensured two things.

Italy had eventually to punt the ball forward where Loew’s men had a spare man (Hummels in this case) and firmly marked opposition ready to get to any second balls, or risk making a mistake and lose position very deep in their own half.

However, whenever opportunity presented, Germany would press immediately the carrier of the ball with the aim to push him to sidelines and then gang up to take the ball and counter. This wasn’t particularly successful, however, you can see below they managed to tackle the ball carrier six times during 90 minutes of play and intercept it twice in Italy own half.

Even when on the ball Germany positioned itself on the pitch very high to congest the space for Italy forwards who need the space as they drop deep. This worked well for Loew as even when they lost the ball Germany could execute quick counter press to win the ball back high up the pitch.

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Third rule of playing against Conte: Even when you have the ball push high so if you lose it you can counter press quickly and deny space for their strikers who’d love to drop deep before spreading the play down wings

Although we didn’t see too much from Italy in the first half mainly because defensive phase of Die Mannschaft, elaborated above worked so well, Italy managed to show what happens when defence loses concentration for a moment on image below. All principles of German defence failed to kick in and in 43rd minute Italy was allowed unopposed possession in middle zone. Germany had a backup plan but even that failed.

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If all the above rules fail, set up the offside trap but take care of Giaccherini’s run from midfield

As Bonucci picked up a ball unopposed German defence pushed up to make an offside trap successfully leaving out of play Eder and Pelle. However, Kimmich fails to react in time and lags behind just enough for Giaccherini’s trade mark run from deep. Schweinsteiger has forgotten him and was moving out with defensive line to set up off side. Didn’t take long for Bonucci to spot that deep run as it is rehearsed move and hi lofted a long ball over the defence for Bologna midfielder to run on to. Despite a cut back and follow up shot by Sturaro Italy fails to punish rare mistake from German defence.

First half finished as a hard fought battle with Germany more in possession due to Italy playing a waiting game, similar to their first match against Belgium. Die Mannschaft countered this very well mimicking Italian shape and had more options in attack. However, that was cancelled out by great defensive effort from Italy.

While both teams were defending in very similar fashion, except Italy was less eager to press high up the pitch, they attacked quite differently. Above example from Italy is their typical move and their limited squad offered little diversity to what was seen before. It was either long ball from Bonucci to on rushing Giaccherini or for strikers who dropped deep to receive the ball and spread it to wings. If opportunity arose, they would quickly combine to get directly to goal. However, Loew had all those moves well studied and largely prevented.

Germany, on other hand offered much more versatility going forward. Frequent rotations of offensive players had Italian defence constantly on toes. Additionally, Germany didn’t hesitate to move both outer central defenders, Hummels and Hoewedes, up the pitch where Hoewedes would often overload right side with Schweinsteiger, Mueller and Kimmich while Kroos was dropping deeper to help out Boateng.

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Even if Germany pushed their center backs forward, they only broke Italy on penalties

Above you can see how far Hummels went to create overload, same happened on the other side where Hoewedes would go high (although, not with the ball). This high positioning of center backs drained slowly drained the energy from Italian team that had to defend and keep concentration high throughout the match. Finally, Germany scored due to overload on left and cut back for Oezil who wasn’t tracked as he was running from deep.

Italy was lucky to equalize fairly quickly from a lucky penalty but the game essentially change little from second half till the end. Germany was ever more dangerous with numbers and towards the end of 90 minutes Italy switched to 5-4-1 with Eder dropping back to cover for German CB’s going forward.

There were few key areas that shaped the game. First, Joachim Loew who decided to mimic Italian shape in order to cancel it out and, consequently, Germany defence from front. Both teams defended extraordinarily well but Germany did it so well that they defended even when they had the ball. Pushing central defenders high up the pitch allowed them to regain possession quickly with counter pressing when they lost the ball and also provided them with more players in offensive zone to control the possession tiring Italy out.

In the end, limited Italian talent stifled Antonio Conte and his ability to change anything in a way he attacked, he made most with this squad and only penalties denied Italy the chance to progress to semis beating current World Champions.

EURO2016: Italy – Spain 2:0, analysis: Conte makes two key moves

First big match in knock-out phase at EURO saw an extraordinary clash between Italy and Spain that, as today newspapers notice, finished an era of Spain football dominance in Europe. Both teams came in after losses in final minutes of group stage last matches, however with different attitude. As one twitter user noticed, “Italy almost considers it bad manner to push in a match that means nothing to them”. Spain, however, the reigning champions have a mentality to win every match and win it with class. No doubt loss to Ireland meant little to Italians while Spain was a bit shaken after losing first time in Euro since 2004.
While Italy has already shown they can defend in the tournament while patiently waiting for a goal by long passes to two center forwards from defensive line, Conte came up with a surprise for Spain. A surprise Furia Roja didn’t recover until about 70th minute.

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Unlike previous games, Italy  actively searched to retain the ball in own defensive third to negate possession to Spain and did so perfectly

In group stages Italy had 51 pass in defensive third, however, for match against Spain they upped the passing in front of Buffon goal by 20 per cent. More over, they had 4 misplaced passes on average in that zone during group stage. However, in the first knock out match against Spain famous for their pressing from front, they didn’t have a single misplaced pass.

This was a huge surprise for Spain and completely threw them out of their comfort zone as they are not used being unable to recover the ball, and what was even more hurting, they aren’t used not having the ball longer than it is required to take the throw in.

That was exactly what Conte was hoping for when he decided not to shy off from possession battle, a practice no manager had tried since Inesta took that number six shirt in Spain dressing room a decade ago.

This back third possession trick Conte pulled out served two goals. Firstly, Spain didn’t have the ball and couldn’t hurt Italy with their possession. Second goal of Conte’s approach came as a result of well achieved first goal. Spain was obviously shaken from unexpected situation where they couldn’t get on the ball. As a result, as time passed they became ever more nervous, de concentrated and unsure as what the match will bring while they, as champions, should win nonetheless.

To make things worse for Spain, their opponents executed perfect pressing in offensive zone. Italy wasn’t as much interested in winning the ball high up the pitch (while that would surely be a bonus), but more concerned how to disrupt the distribution into the middle third where Spain attacks get formed.

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Disruption of transition into middle third, a second key aspect of Conte’s approach and a novelty compared to group stage games

Above you can see a typical situation where Spain isn’t allowed easy transition of the ball from defence into middle third as all passing options are covered. Instead, De Gea is forced into uncharacteristical punt. Key players here are two forwards who are marking Busquets and one of the central defenders while the other is picked up by Giaccherini or Parolo, depending on which side is the ball. At the same time Italian wing backs, Florenzi and De Sciglio are positioned to get in time to cover the full backs.

How effective this pressing was are telling the statistics. While in first half Spain averaged 196 passes in middle third during the group stages, against Italy they were missing roughly a third of those passes. Another fact is striking, while their passing average in middle zone during group stage was 93 per cent, against Italy Furia Roja was red of fury as they got only 85 per cent. This might still be very high for your average team. However, combined with 30 per cent less passes made, almost 10 per cent more mistakes and almost identical possession, it had to be frustrating. Even if players on the pitch weren’t aware of the numbers they felt them in their heads, in their feet and in their conciousness.

Key points of Conte’s approach to a match against defending champions were in this two things. On the ball, retain possession in defence to minimize opposition possession and off the ball, disrupt the distribution of the ball to middle third.

Once on the ball and through the Spain pressing Italian game didn’t significantly change compared to their group matches. They still went for direct balls to one of the center forwards, usually tall and strong Pelle who could hold up the ball and pass it either to his partner Eder or to one of the wing backs who would then put the cross in. Important roles while on the ball had Giaccherini and Parolo who drifted wide to further liberate space in the middle for dropping center forwards or to overload the wide areas and make life easier for overlapping wing backs.

Little really changed deep into the second half when after 70 minutes Italy started to drop off till the point at 80th minute when Conte essentially dropped wing backs to full back position for more solidity in defence. By that time Spain was already so disrupted they couldn’t do much. If you look at @11tegen11 diagrams you can see how much different Spain approach was. More due to Italian game than their volition. There was a huge hole where once stood links between Busquets, Ramos, Iniesta and Fabregas. Essentially, the link between defence and midfield, a famous half back Busquets was outplayed from the game compared to a match against Croatia six days ago. As a result Silva, Fabregas and Iniesta have much less ball at their feet while their attacking positions are higher in the lap of Italian block.

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Spain was denyed the middle third and it shows as the link between the lines, Busquets, is completely cut off  Diagram source: 11tegen11.net

Although famous for their movement off the ball and precise short passing, Spaniards were in disbelief after game developed so different to what they are used to and Vincent Del Bosque failed to adapt. In the end once again a tactical genius of Antonio Conte prevailed and it will be interesting to see how he prepares for Germany. Since Die Manschaft plays somewhat similar to Spain, it shouldn’t look too different either. However, Germany will have a strong tall striker to battle in the middle of Azzurri defence and much more diversity in their approach to final third compared to Spain.

IREvsITA passion and tactics win over tactics

“It is stuff dreams are made off”, said Robbie Brady after the match Ireland had, and did, win against sturdy Italy’s Conte side that reinvented “catenaccio”. Sides played a match in very different circumstances in Lille. While Ireland had to win or die trying, Italy already knew it was through, it was first in the group and no matter what, will play Spain in next round. The few doubts were only in the head of Antonio Conte who still wasn’t sure who is his first team left wing back and how to make Bernardeschi, a natural wide striker, play as a right wing back. That was the context that shaped the game.
Conte sent eight new players on the pitch searching for answers about his reserves and made little changes to his overall tactical approach to the match. He knew Ireland will have to come onto him and he was more than happy to let them do it. After all, it is the same scenario from the beginning and great win against Belgium that imposed Italy as a formidable opponent in the tournament.
Martin O’Neill, though, had everything to play for. It is rarely so evident when the players in the team occupy relatively different positions in offensive and defensive phase of the game.

 

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Majority  of Ireland went down left flank in the first half. You can see that by the ammount of work Italy had to do in that part of the field

 

Above is the defensive diagram for Italy in the first half. You can see all the work that had to be done on the side where Bernardeschi, Sturaro and Barzagli were operating. It is doubtful O’Neill was targeting especially Fiorentina striker who has been playing out of position. I’d guess it was just lucky coincidence as Ireland has Ward, McClean and Brady who are all left footed with prolific cross. What wasn’t a lucky coincidence was that O’Neill picked all three of them to overload the Italian right side and it was working well from the first whistle.

 

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Ireland attacking shape trying to overload left flank with three left footed players well adept at crossing

 

Although primarily a winger or left full back, Robbie Brady had a very distinguished role in the team once O’Neill set him to play as a central midfielder. He was constantly overloading the left flank allowing McClean to push further forward and occupy Barzagli. Depending on Brady’s movement, he would either drag away Sturaro or let Ward ping his deep crosses into the box. McCarthy played an important covering role for him, but also for Hendricks who was always surging in the centre midfield from the left wing leaving space for Coleman to widen the pitch and keep De Sciglio occupied on the far flank.

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Ireland passing and positional diagram shows important role Brady and Ward had in supporting each other and McClean

 

Lovely diagram from 11tegen11 (twitter @11tegen11) above shows the Irish game plan clearly. Players who have seen the ball the most have the biggest circle and you clearly see that Brady and Ward were the players looked for by their team mates. This overload created a lot of pressure on Italian right flank and produced numerous crosses into the box.

 

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Result of left flank overload is 14 crosses in first half that didn’t connect too often but kept Italy under constant pressure

 

Despite crosses weren’t connecting it still kept Italians on their toes. This pressure didn’t subside even when Ireland didn’t have the ball. They would press high up the pitch, once again compromising their “default” 4-4-2 shape. Long and Murphy were instructed to close down Ogbonna and Bonucci while McClean piled off his nominal left midfielder position and went closing Barzagli. Thiago Motta, Italian player designated for connecting the defence with midfield was kept in check by Hendrick while Brady was allowed to drop off and conserve the energy for other tasks.

 

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High pressing employed by Ireland to prevent long precise passing from deep and obstruct circulation to main link between defence and offense – Thiago Motta

 

The pressing forced some errors in possession for Italy but Ireland wasn’t able to use them to any significant effect. The same happened when Ireland had the ball in their defensive zone. Technical weakness of their defensive line showed every time they had to circulate it behind but Italians were more worried about their own shape so that went by just well for Ireland. In fact, everything went well for them as they had everything they wanted and planned except the goal.

Paradox is, Conte felt absolutely the same. Above all he was interested to see his reserve players in the game and how would Bernardeschi fare as right wing back. They were more than content to keep Ireland pinging the crosses into packed defence and concentrated on direct long passes to their centre forwards. The pattern from the first two games reappeared whenever Italy got the ball. It was either direct long ball to one of the strikers that went to flank just to be crossed back again, or long pass directly to one of the wing backs to the same effect.

 

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Whole tournament Italy played pattient game with direct passing from deep to forwards or wings. This was no different

 

As Conte had Thiago Motta instead of De Rossi in the line up he was happy Motta did the distribution alongside Bonucci. However, all these balls (39) failed to connect but Conte was perfectly happy with it. As in all previous matches he was patiently waiting for that right one. Except changing the personnel he really didn’t change anything in his overall approach and that continued in the second half.

Conte was aware Ireland has to open up more as the time comes and he was confident the team can weather the crosses and overload on his right flank. To up his chances in 60th minute he subbed Daniele Bernardeschi with Darmian who is more adept in playing defensively and that was his last defensive move.

O’Neill on the other hand had to do more as the time passed and ordered his right back Seamus Coleman to go more offensive. Attacks down the overloaded left died off and his approach was more balanced as Coleman also provided an option up the pitch.
Chasing the game O’Neil made several changes and shifts as the end was getting closer going all out attack in last 15 minutes when he brought Hoolahan. As soon as Conte sensed this he came out of his nutshell. Not that he changed his game plan but he first subbed Insignie for Immobile and after Hoolahan entered on pitch Conte ordered EL Shaarawy to substitute De Sciglio on left wing back.

He was right thinking those pacey offensive players will have more time and space once Ireland open and he was gambling theirs skill, and one on one ability, will give him opportunity to finish off Ireland that went gung-ho. However, despite sound approach it all went the other way as often does in football. The man with very special task Robbie Brady connected with Hoolahan cross.

What we can conclude in the end is that Conte anticipated exactly the game and played it very well. He was confident his defence could wait and soak the pressure. He anticipated once that happens Ireland will open up and then he swung his daggers with Insigne and El Shaarawy to finish them off. However, sheer passion and will from Ireland prevailed over cunning plan of Italian master tactician and rightfully so.

EURO 2016: Italy – Sweden post match analysis on Italy

After great display against Belgium, there was a lot of expectation on Italy to confirm the first win with another good performance. On the other side, Sweden failed to win the “easiest” game against Ireland and was under pressure to get at least some result before the last game with one of the tournament favorites Belgium.

However, Italian manager Antonio Conte didn’t succumb to hype and didn’t feel he needs to prove anything. His sole aim was in line with Italian tradition and that was to get the result and result he got. His counterpart on Sweden bench, Erik Hamren almost got what he wanted in what was labeled the most boring game of EURO so far.

I can understand that feeling, but games at this level often aren’t played for fans but for result and literally, in the end, Italy got it. Apart swapping Darmian with Florenzi Conte didn’t change anything in his game. If there was any significant change it was playing even more cautious than against Belgium when in possession.

While Bonucci often surged upfield with ball in first match, this time Conte ordered him to be more disciplined. After all, Sweden got only Ekdal and Kallstrom in central zone of midfield and Italian manager was satisfied with numbers advantage there. There was really no need to risk with Chiellini pushing forward when in possession as it was the case in match against Belgium who fielded three classy players in center field.

The other change in gameplan Conte employed was more pressing on opposition defensive line. While against Belgium he was satisfied to wait for a counter or a good long ball, Italy accepted the role of favorite in match against Sweden and pushed the defensive line a tad bit more. Not enough to compromise whole defensive shape, though.

In all other parts, the gameplan was identical to first match. It was all about long balls from De Rossi, Bonucci and Chiellini. They went either diagonally to wide players pushing high up the pitch or to Pelle and Eder. The idea was always the same. Once the diagonal ball went to flank it would be crossed in front of goal.

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However, those long passes largely missed the target as Pelle failed to cope with Swedish centerbacks which led to his substitution in the end. As shown in the diagram above. Italians had a bit more luck with diagonal long balls, but subsequent crosses were again out of reach for Pelle. In fact, only four out of 16 reached the target and two of them came after corners.

Italian game with the ball really wasn’t working as intended by the end of the half, but that was the same as it was in the match against Belgium until it actually worked and opened up the game. However, Antonio Conte was more interested in not losing the game than winning and he knew Sweden needs the points more. As he was sound in defense and Sweden was as much as impotent in attack as Italy, he decided to wait and play the game as he played against Belgium waiting for that long ball or that cross to finally connect.

lopta s  l boka na desni - ita

This is typical Italian attack after the long ball has been played either, directly to wide backs Candreva or Florenzi, or passed to them from centerfield. Arrow shows where could Italian midfielder move if they were really interested to keep the ball. However, that would mean compromising defensive shape and open up to possible counter-attack. A thing Conte really wanted to avoid even if that meant way less chance to threaten the Swedes.

It was a game where both teams weren’t really prepared to lose. Italy covered space and made futile any attempt from Sweden to effectively cross or pass vertically, while Italy felt secure they won’t let any goals in and happy to wait for their chance. That came very late and proved Conte was right while Sweden might have regret the points lost they really didn’t do enough to endanger opponents.