Match Analysis – Finland 1-2 Italy
Italy made it six wins from six in Group J with 2-1 win over Finland in Tampere, taking them a step closer to the European Championships. Ciro Immobile scored his first International goal in 10 games before Teemu Pukki equalised from the penalty spot. Italy were then awarded a controversial penalty of their own in the 79th minute, which Jorginho slotted home. From there, Italy saw out the game with ease, leaving them top of the group with maximum points, whilst Finland lie second with 12 points.
Finland lined up in 5-4-1 formation, opting for a more defensive set up than in their 1-0 win over Greece three days earlier.
Italy responded to their disappointing display in Armenia by making five changes, but keeping the same 4-3-3 formation. Florenzi, Romagnoli, Veratti (suspension), Bernardeschi and Belotti were replaced by Izzo, Acerbi, Sensi, Pellegrini and Immobile as Roberto Mancini freshened up his eleven. Emerson started at left back for Italy, however he was forced off with injury after seven minutes, which saw the introduction of Florenzi at left back.
Finland started the quicker of the two sides as Italy’s midfield took time to settle. Looking to press Italy high early on, Finland were able to expose Italy’s new defensive partnership twice in the opening ten minutes. Their best opening in the open passages came from winning the ball high up the pitch and catching out Italy’s higher defensive line. As shown below, Italy’s high line left space in behind Bonucci, who wasn’t able to cope with the runner from the left wing. With Izzo switching off, this allowed Lappalainen to drift in from the left wing and in behind to latch onto a clever through ball. Bonucci recovered well to clear on a bad touch, however it was another warning sign for the Italian defence following Thursday where a goal had been conceded in similar circumstances. Pukki also found space in behind minutes later, and although Italy did settle after these early worries, the last two games have shown a worrying trend of Italy starting slow at the beginning of halves and struggling to deal with a counter attack. The introduction of Acerbi at centre back has helped alleviate some of these worries, as he looked more comfortable alongside Bonucci than Romagnoli did on Thursday, however as they come up against better opposition, particularly with more pace in their attacks, it is definitely an area that Mancini will need to look at.
Italy’s best attacking threat often came through the left-hand side. Florenzi, the early replacement for Emerson, took up a very high position throughout the game, looking to occupy the Finnish right back. As a result, this allowed Pellegrini to drift inside and find space between the centre halves, as well as look to make runs into the box. This was effective as it allowed Florenzi plenty of space on the wing, as well as giving options in the box when crossing from the other flank. An example below shows how Pellegrini (No. 7) has drifted inside to occupy the full back, allowing Florenzi to make a late run into the box unmarked. The cross subsequently found Florenzi who was unable to finish, however it was an indication how Italy looked to overload the box to create chances.
The heat maps below highlight how high Florenzi looked to play, and how his positioning allowed Pellegrini to drift inside and occupy one of the three Finnish centre backs.
Although Florenzi did leave a lot of space in behind, Italy’s defence coped well, and the positioning of right back Izzo (No 5) helped alleviate these worries. He acted as a third centre half when Italy attacked down the left to avoid them being caught out at the back, an area which Armenia had capitalised on in the previous game.
Stefano Sensi impressed in the first half, and it was he who helped change the momentum of the match after Italy’s slow start. He led the high press to win the ball back and force Finnish mistakes on the ball, whilst looking to increase the intensity on the ball. He took on a number of long-range strikes and was unlucky not to score, in particular forcing a fantastic save from Finnish goalkeeper Hradecky.
With Jorginho sitting deeper behind, he offered protection to the back four when Italy decided to press, and Sensi and Barella’s defensive contribution was shown by the combined 25 duels they won. The press forced Finland to go longer towards Pukki, who cut an isolated figure as the half wore on, as Bonucci and Acerbi dealt comfortably with him.
Italy dominated possession (60%) throughout the match, and this largely down to the performances of Jorginho and Barella in the middle of midfield. Jorginho moved the ball patiently, completing 78 passes at 91% success, allowing Barella and Sensi to link the play further forward. Barella’s performance also stood out, completing 65 passes in the game, one of which key, whilst he demonstrated his ability to drive Italy forward, completing six dribbles throughout.
The opening goal for Italy was indicative of how they’d looked to create 1v1s out wide and cross. A long pass from Jorginho found Chiesa who had isolated his full back, allowing him to beat his man and cross. As touched on previously, Pellegrini had drifted inside with Florenzi high up the pitch, essentially leaving Italy 3v3 in the box.
Pellegrini’s movement dragged away a defender allowing Immobile to slot between the two at the back post, whilst Florenzi’s positioning high meant that the full back didn’t come across to mark Immobile as he was left to cover any deep ball to the back post. Although the ball was deflected to his path, Immobile took his goal well, and gave Italy the lead.
Following the goal, Italy then opted to defend deep and compact, and looked very comfortable in doing so. However, it was one moment of brilliance from Pukki when isolated up front that led to the penalty, with Sensi needlessly bringing him down when Italy had plenty of cover (shown below). Having dribbled with the ball for thirty yards, Italy should have dealt better with Pukki, however it was the only chance they let up from going 1-0 up, a much more promising sign from Thursday.
Prior to the Finnish goal, Bernardeschi was brought on to replace Chiesa, and following the equaliser Mancini reacted by bringing Belotti on for Immobile. Italy subsequently upped the tempo, looking to play wide and overload the box once again, and it was as a result of this that they won their controversial penalty. Shown below, Italy committed a number of bodies to their attack, once again choosing to focus down the left. Finland struggled to cope, and the pullback found Bernardeschi who’s shot was blocked by a Finnish defender’s hand, although harshly resulting in a penalty.
Italy subsequently saw the game out comfortably, and instead of looking to sit on the lead like they did at 1-0, the fresh legs of Belotti and Bernardeschi pushed them on to find a third. Belotti was unlucky not to score, as Finland tired and made a number of mistakes, however it represented a professional performance from Italy in the last ten minutes as they made it six wins from six.
Representing a good win against an improving Finland team, it leaves them with six wins from six in the group. The slow starts will worry Mancini, however they looked much more solid at the back after they settled, whilst the balance in the midfield is beginning to settle. Jorginho looks suited to the defensive midfield role when Italy dominate the ball, whilst the performances of Barella and Sensi are of promise going forward. Finding the right front three will be Mancini’s next challenge, and the returning Insigne will be expected to help alleviate any worries up top, whilst prospects Zaniolo and Kean will have another chance after being left out for disciplinary reasons this time round. Euro 2020 awaits Italy bar a minor miracle, a much-needed response after their disappointing qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup.