Sunday June 23 2019
U21s dangerously unbalanced

Luigi Di Biagio’s side Italy are on the verge of European U21 Championship elimination and Vilizar Yakimov thinks they’ve lost their balance.

Playing attacking football doesn’t always win you games. That phrase perfectly describes the situation of the Azzurrini in the European Under-21 Championship, as Luigi Di Biagio’s men demonstrated aggressive and at times even some mesmerizing football during their three games, but yet somehow are still on the verge of elimination.

That looked quite unlikely after Italy’s impressive 3-1 victory against Spain in the opening game, but the 1-0 defeat to Poland, as well as La Rojita’s two wins in the remaining games, mean that the Azzurrini now rely on other results to go their way.

While seeing Di Biagio’s team in the semi-finals is still possible, it seems highly unlikely, as there are only a few scenarios that would allow Italy to finish as the best second-placed team in the group stage.

Here it’s worth saying that the current format of the U21 Euros is far from perfect, as allowing only the group winners to progress seems a bit harsh and arguably doesn’t give the teams enough time to find their rhythm. However, regardless of the imperfection of the tournament, Italy cannot look for excuses, as the Azzurrini can only blame themselves for their current situation.

In fact, the defeat against Poland can serve as a lesson not only to the U21 team, but also to Roberto Mancini’s senior side and Serie A as a whole, as it shows that playing too attacking all the time doesn’t always work. It’s the first time since 2007 that Italy have failed to keep a clean sheet in the group phase.

That doesn’t mean we should boycott the rapid change of the game in recent years and go back to the catenaccio days - not at all. It just means that the Italian teams should show more flexibility and be very careful when adapting to the changes of the game.

Despite having 65% possession against Poland and playing the majority of the game in the opposition half, Di Biagio’s men were way too predictable up front and left themselves exposed.

Italy finished the game with 31 shots, compared to just eight for the Polish team, and yet still lost after a ricochet and a rebound from a freekick, which came after one of the many rash Nicolò Barella challenges throughout the tournament. The freekick came after the Poles managed to steal the ball from midfield and move it quickly into an advanced position for arguably the first time in the game.

Although the ricochet and the finish itself were rather lucky for Poland, we saw Italy conceding in a similar manner against Belgium. A stolen ball in the middle of the park, quick counter-attack and a screamer in Alex Meret’s top corner.

This shows that the Azzurrini are clearly vulnerable on the break when playing this brand of football and need to work on their transition from attack to defence. However, the high number of players that Italy puts in the opposition half makes the defending in those situations extremely challenging.

Italy registered 51 crosses against Poland, which averages under two minutes between balls flying into the box. At first glance this seems logical when Patrick Cutrone is leading the line, but it also means that you cannot afford all to have your midfielders to be in the opposition half all the time.

There’s little doubt that Italy’s best game was their opening one against Spain. However, if we look only at the stats, it actually seems like their worst one. While the Azzurrini registered 31 shots against Poland and 24 against Belgium, they managed only 12 against Spain. Di Biagio’s side also had less possession (42%), a lower pass success rate (83% to 86%), and fewer completed dribbles (8 to 16) compared to the Spaniards.

However, what they did have was variety and balance to their game. Against Spain, Italy weren’t attacking recklessly and were also comfortable at soaking in pressure, which forced the Spaniards to leave their backline exposed. That’s why the Azzurrini looked like the more dangerous team for most of the game and deservedly won.

Maybe we need to look a bit deeper into the words of the Spain captain Jesus Vallejo after the game, as he complained that Italy were playing “too dirty”. Well, as it turns out Italy’s “dirtiest” game also proved to be their best in the tournament so far.

With plenty being said in recent years about the need of a change and a more attacking approach, this change should not come at the expense of balance and flexibility. Roberto Mancini has so far done a terrific job with the senior side, but the Azzurrini’s struggles show that both the National team and the Serie A sides should be very careful when adapting to the latest trends in the game.

Have your say...
Italy was the best team in the group... the outclassed Spain and Belgium (who are awful) and Poland was lucky to ge by us in that game... tbey had one chance... and Meret should have stopped it

A very frystrating U 21
on the 25th June, 2019 at 10:44am
Di Biagio should be fired and go to juve 2 years ago.
on the 25th June, 2019 at 9:02am
@Maldini's Heir, on an individual basis no, but as a team? Absolutely. Plus, the side that has spent the last year or so playing friendlies was completely different to the one that played the last 3 games. It was put together very quickly & given no time to gel. TBH, the team played a lot better than what I was expecting, in all 3 games. It's a credit to the players skill & character that they were able to form a decent team in next to no time & this gives me hope going forward.
on the 25th June, 2019 at 8:34am
Continued. Poland or just an excuse to justify his poor choice of starters for that game. At any rate time for him to move on. As others have pointed out the teams have underachieved under his stewardship and ultimately the blame falls at his feet.
on the 24th June, 2019 at 10:03pm
So losing to Poland In a game Italy dominated has the double whammy effect of missing out on both the opportunity to play for the U21 Championship and the 2020 Olympics. I realize Kean and Zaniolo need to be disciplined but I wonder if they had started from the beginning of the Poland game if Italy could have scored an early goal and brought Poland out of their shell. DiBiagio makes it sound like their curfew violations were an ongoing problem resulting in their being benched to start the game
on the 24th June, 2019 at 9:58pm
Di Biagio, Di Biagio, Di Biagio!

4 tournaments and 4 squads capable of lifting the trophy each time and yet twice we went out in the group, and the other two we got smashed by Spain semi's and final. How he was not sacked ages ago is shocking.

Pre-tournament we all said only a poor manager could fail this team and it proved right. His tactical approach against Poland was all wrong, then Kean should've started that match, as should Tonali.

I hope we never see him near Italy again at any level.
on the 24th June, 2019 at 9:14pm
Did we get carried away praising this team?
on the 24th June, 2019 at 9:12pm
I think what needs to happen is Serie A need to show more respect to the younger players so they can actually develop the talent they do have and become great. What's the difference between Rungani and De Ligt; both young both play for the standout teams in their own country but Rungani hasn't played at all and De ligt is playing week after week at all levels.
Most of if not all of this team have players who don't play for their clubs how are they ever to improve running up and down warming up!
on the 24th June, 2019 at 11:43am
What is the situation with Pietro Pellegri does anyone know?. I would like to see us employ a higher calibre of manager across the youth levels in general. Also we need to find a way to get over the finish line in youth tournaments we get so close in so many yet never win them. Its a horrible way to go out of the under 21s we have played well in all the games, as is so often the case we don't have that clinical edge when it matters. I agree with "Luciano", we desperately need a goalscorer.
on the 24th June, 2019 at 10:15am
Kean and Zaniolo by the sounds of things need to take a hard look in the mirror, both big talents but without the right application they wont achieve their potential. Its highly likely to end in a draw tonight or a narrow france win both will see us eliminated. We only have ourselves to blame Di Biagio should have gone years ago, 3 tournaments he has failed in when we could easily with the squads we had have won it. We wont get a better chance to win the under 21 title than this year.
on the 24th June, 2019 at 10:11am
U20's tactic is perhaps the hope of Italy. Press the opponents from their own half or try to control the ball or shoot as soon as we get the ball.
on the 24th June, 2019 at 5:30am
The funny thing is Spain Attacking play vs Poland that basically knocked out Italy. One can argue Italy just didn't attack good enough vs Poland. Do this writer prefer Juve pragmatic approach in Europe like vs Ajax smh.
on the 24th June, 2019 at 4:23am
Well said anonymous 11. Italy should not be slaves to fashion and copy what other teams are doing. A good coach should always look at his current team backpack opposition and find a system that plays to his teams strengths and hides their weaknesses while it also limits the opponents strengths and exploits their weaknesses.
on the 24th June, 2019 at 4:17am
It's lack of flexibility sometimes. If a team stacks 10 men in their own half it's always going to be harder. Spain have been playing possession based football for some time they r used to it and their goal scoring ratio will be higher. It wouldn't hurt to add some counter attacking techniques to Italy's game also. Italy have been good at it in the past. I don't think we should just carbon copy Spain and everyone else's game. We should have our own style
on the 23rd June, 2019 at 5:58pm
I've seen a lot of football over the the last few weeks, the Under 20s, the Under 21s and the national team. We are in dire need of a goal scorer who can consistently put the ball in the net without needing twenty five chances! I don't think we are too far behind the other powerhouses of world soccer but without a goal scorer of quality we are destined for more disappointment.
on the 23rd June, 2019 at 5:47pm
The best choice for coach of the U21 squad is Roberto Donadoni. Right temperment, good tactics and did an excellent job for Parma and Bologna considering their players.
on the 23rd June, 2019 at 4:14pm
I read a few sentences then quickly went up to read the name of the writer and stopped reading as this guy continues to write rubbish on this site. Yeah playing attacking football is the reason Italy came second in the group. Italy under Mancini are doing very well so far and seem to be going in the right direction albeit they have not really played against any team of note while the u21's were not bad at all in terms of some individuals that will hopefully make the step up in class quality wise
on the 23rd June, 2019 at 1:41pm
2. If they had played the ball around deep with a hope of pulling Poland out it would not have happened. They needed some luck of an early goal like Spain to then progress. This did not happen and as the game progressed it was always going to be tougher. I have seen plenty of good from the Under 21's and feel the the Full National side has got a good future under RM with some of the youngsters being able to set up the grade. We have been unable to say this for a few years. Forza Italia.
on the 23rd June, 2019 at 1:07pm
1. Unfortunately Poland decided to place 10 players within their penalty area and to say The Azzurrini had no idea how to break them down is not true. They attempted crosses but with 10 Polish in the box and a number of Italian lads it was always going to be blocked. They attempted to dribble in but if the player beat 2 there was always another 3 to beat before a clear shot could be produced. Long distance shots were tried but again the numbers in the box unfortunately were going to be blocked
on the 23rd June, 2019 at 1:01pm
Very good points made by Juve Fan and Pinturicchio. Having an attacking ethos and being prudent in defence doesn't have to be mutually exclusive - Liverpool and City showed us this last season.

As for our under 21's, profligacy, Di Biagio's incompetence (also, is he too soft?), and perhaps the lack of classic midfield enforcer is what looks to have cost us.

Perhaps Gattuso is the coach we need to blend some organisation and discipline with the technical quality and dynamism that we have.
on the 23rd June, 2019 at 12:22pm
Terrible coach. He should never have got the job int the first place and certainly shouldn't have kept it this long after underachieving. The squad at the last championships was also excellent and underachieved. This time it is even stronger, at home and won't get out the group. Italy needs better coaching at youth levels to allow the transition to senior football.
on the 23rd June, 2019 at 11:30am
Whatever happens going forwards we have a great squad with some world class players and others on the path to becoming world class. On top of that we have a top manager to enhance the team rather than hinder it. I don't see anyone at international level better or more experienced than Mancini, sure Ancelotti, Klopp, Guardiola are incredible but that's at club level. All this suggests a promising future.
on the 23rd June, 2019 at 11:12am
Juve didnt play attacking football last season and yet it didn't stop them from conceding scrappy goals on the counter - just look at Ajax's first 2 goals over the CL tie.

You can't compare the seniors to U21. A better tactician would have adjusted the attacking style vs Poland, firstly by putting more men in the box around their wall of players - there isn't just one way to attack.

We aren't trend following we are playing to our strengths, unfortunately Di Biagio isn't a great manager.
on the 23rd June, 2019 at 10:31am
Di Biagio's time at the helm of the Azzurrini was supposed to have been over a long time ago, but it's not too late - irrespective of whether we crash out or win the tournament, he should be sacked.

His tactics are all over the place, half the time he doesn't even get the team chemistry right, and it's time (just like Juventus did) for a fresh outlook. There are quite a few coaches who would love to start from the Azzurrini level (Grosso, Gattuso), so new blood will help.

on the 23rd June, 2019 at 10:07am

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