Calling Italy’s first leg performance of this World Cup play-off an embarrassment is probably an understatement. It says something about the Nazionale's history that they are nonetheless still considered favourites to qualify on Betstars, but is that optimism warranted?
Coach Giampiero Ventura did not help matters with his post-match comments showing a weak mentality. While players Lorenzo Insigne and Leonardo Bonucci seemed to transmit a more no-excuses, no-nonsense attitude, Ventura looked to deflect attention and criticism away from his own faults. Not only did Sweden play with more physicality and toughness, but also their early pressing and overall approach stifled the Azzurri throughout.
In building from the back, Sweden forced Italy into circulating possession from one end of the pitch to the other, with no choice but to have wingbacks Matteo Darmian and Antonio Candreva drop deeper in order to bring play forward. By doing this, Italy did not have the numbers in the midfield, nor the creative means to provide any sort of consistent flow of chances to strikers Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti.
Though the two lacked the necessary movement and runs to open more of a window to cause havoc, this Italy side suffered from the non-existent box-to-box profile that can link play between midfield and attack, which is why the visitors were devoid of any real chances – minus the missed header from Belotti.
Proof is in the post-match stats that Italy’s midfield five did not do enough and, essentially, isn’t the proper personnel type that can get it done. Italy outshot Sweden 10 to eight, but had only one effort on target, which saw Darmian hit the post.
As Marco Verratti sits out the second leg due to suspension, and Daniele De Rossi lacks the technical means to create, Ventura must shake up the midfield by starting Jorginho.
Rather than having De Rossi sit as the destroyer at the base, Ventura could insert Jorginho and another holding partner of his choice, use two wingbacks to stretch the field and insert a player like Insigne as a Number 10 behind two strikers. This could help Ventura get more from his midfield by allowing the Napoli star, and arguably the side’s most skilled player, link play and get on the ball often to create for those up front.
Moving off tactics and back on to the mental side of things for the Azzurri, their the mentality needs a facelift. ‘Grinta’ and passion were two of former manager Antonio Conte’s biggest focuses for his Euro 2016 side that, although did not have the same level of quality as Ventura’s current roster, battled for one another and showed the sacrificial attitude required to rise up in situations like these.
As we’ve clearly seen time and time again, Italy has the quality to play attractive football, but lack the right mentality and hunger to make it work. These come down to tactics and attitude, something each and every individual in the locker room must change come Monday if Italy are to stave off elimination and avoid missing out on the World Cup for the first time in 60 years. Otherwise, it’s curtains on the Italians at San Siro.