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Monday September 9 2019
Italy Finnish the job

The Azzurri made it six wins out of six in Euro 2020 qualifying and Elio Salerno explains some of the tactical adjustments made to beat Finland.

Roberto Mancini’s Italy took a giant step toward qualification for Euro 2020 with a hard-fought victory over Group J rivals Finland.

He chose to make five changes to the team that had beaten Armenia three days prior. Lazio centre-back Francesco Acerbi made his competitive debut for Italy with Armando Izzo, Stefano Sensi, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Ciro Immobile completing a much changed XI.

The match began in frantic fashion with hosts Finland feeding off a lively atmosphere. Markku Kanerva’s team hunted the ball and went on the attack, setting an intense pace in an attempt to catch Italy off guard. Prior to retreating into a defensive block, Finland pressed intently at every opportunity, preventing Italy from settling into their passing rhythm.

Mancini continued to deploy a 4-3-3 that transitions into a shape that resembles a 3-3-4 when in possession. It is a pattern that we have seen regularly during his reign. The Italy boss yet again chose a conservative right-back in the form of Torino man Izzo. Using a player at full-back that is more accustomed to playing centrally is becoming somewhat of a trend against a trickier opponent. This move allows Mancini to maintain maximum width high up the pitch whilst offering the team defensive balance and protection centrally.

Leo Bonucci and Acerbi assisted Izzo in morphing the back four into a three. Federico Chiesa and Alessandro Florenzi provided width, Jorginho sat in the base of the midfield flanked by Nicolò Barella and Sensi. In the final third, Immobile played as a lone striker with Pellegrini drifting inside to support, helping to create positional superiority for Italy and offer an option in-between Finland’s defensive lines.

It took the Azzurri a little over 20 minutes to really get going. Up until that point Finland’s 5-4-1 had looked resolute. Forcing Italy to play in front of them and across the pitch, they blocked up any space to progress the ball vertically. Jorginho was squared off by a narrow midfield four with Barella and Sensi finding space hard to come by, as they stationed themselves ahead of the Chelsea midfield man.

Italy’s midfield were forced to rejig. Their triangle adjusted into a slightly flatter trio and this tweak began to open up the game. The wider positioning of Barella and Sensi forced Finland’s midfield to defend in a flatter line of four. Suddenly, La Nazionale looked more fluid, spaces were opening up and their passes began to find dangerous areas with more frequency. Pressure was building, Pellegrini found himself with more freedom and with the help of Sensi, Italy were now penetrating the Finnish block and getting at their back five.

Captain Bonucci was now operating on the halfway line, his team were dominating territory and the ball. Italy had pressed well and went man-to-man against Finland’s back three. Forcing them into longer diagonal passes towards the side-line that allowed the boys in blue to defend high, get pressure on the traveling ball and force turnovers. By the break, the four-time world champions were in control and despite going close, had been unable to find the breakthrough.

The opening stages of the second period continued in much the same fashion and it wasn’t long before Immobile grabbed his first Italy goal in two years. Chiesa – who had been quiet until that point – finally found himself isolated out wide with space to operate it. A well delivered cross found Immobile’s head and Mancini’s team had a deserved lead.

Finland rarely threatened all evening, but under 15 minutes later found a way back into the game via a penalty. Possession was cheaply conceded by Sensi deep in the Italian half and a rash recovery challenge gave the home team a chance to level the match. In form striker Teemu Pukki took his opportunity from the spot.

Italy have shown defensive weakness in recent games when play has been in transition, an area that the midfield specifically has struggled with, and here again we saw moments where that vulnerability was evident.

Jorginho coolly restored Italy’s advantage through a dubious looking penalty with a little over 10 minutes left on the clock. His teammate Barella was particularly impressive in the second half as his all-action display dominated proceedings. Excellent in possession and under pressure, he showed his full range of qualities, including his energetic and aggressive ball winning skills.

The Azzurri had chances to extend their lead on the counter as Finland went in search of draw, but the Italians never found a third and instead saw out the game, taking home three important points. It has been another successful international break for Mancini and his players continue to show signs of growth. The team now has a pattern of play, there are options and lots of technical quality in midfield with more potential to add to this group, especially in attacking areas. Should the Italian CT choose to utilise the talents at his disposal, he could help Italy find another level.

Have your say...
the pun alone would warrant the writers immediately expulsion from sports journalism.

As for italy first qualify than start talking about making a step forward. This is still a team which lacks real star quality especially up front and in the midfield. However considering isco asensio aren't getting a game for spain because of injuries or germany seeing ozil muller draxler failing at their club sides star power may not be as decisive as it used to be.
on the 10th September, 2019 at 7:07pm
I like what im seeing and feel quietly confident going into the Euros. The defence is strong as always and with Sensi + Barella having a year under Conte we could be going into the Euro with one of the best midfields there. The attack still needs work but if Belotti can stay healthy anythings possible. Bravo to Mancini hes done a fantastic job and brought belief and a winning mentality back to the azzurri. Forza Italia.
on the 9th September, 2019 at 4:26pm
Italy looked good against Finland, and still managed to win against Armenia. It's fun to look forward to Azzurri games again!

Both penalties looked soft, but glad Italy got one for the win. It was deserved.
on the 9th September, 2019 at 4:15pm
I am liking this new Italy, reminds of how Italy used to be, fearless and controlling games. And as pointed out here, usually we struggle in the Sept games, Italy of old, would maybe won one, draw one, or lose one, won one, etc etc. Not sure why the change upfront. I don't rate Immobile, he's never really performed for Italy.
Yet we have come along away since Mancini’s debut against Saudi Arabia and France, in a short period of time.

Anyway six points, so I am a happy fan!
on the 9th September, 2019 at 1:39pm
Finland played tactically too defensive and should have stick their normal formation. Finland has 3 high class players (Pukki, Kamara, Hradecky), but other players are way too average and this level where Italy is, is way too high for them. Hopefully Italy plays all qualification games with good attitude and if they play then Italy surely has won all games of qualification. Italy was way better and deserved win, hopefully Finland qualifies too.
on the 9th September, 2019 at 11:06am
Lets not forget that in Sept Italy never really play well and last night there was only 1 team that wanted to win and that was Italy!The only negative is that we must start to play from the start and not do it after 15 min or so.Other than that,I really enjoyed the game.We were very unlucky not to have won the game by much more.Their keeper was fantastic as he kept them in the game.Goals will come and I can see us doing well at the Euros. Ale` Forza Italia sempre avanti batteremo tutti quanti.
on the 9th September, 2019 at 10:13am
In all honesty Mancini has done a great job so far no one can deny this
on the 9th September, 2019 at 10:11am
I'm impressed with the intensity the guys showed, especially against a nordic team which usually makes us suffer, but amazingly we looked the stronger/aggressive team for once.
This is a well rounded group Mancini has. Good technical ability, youth, athleticism etc (no superstars though).
I just hope Bellotti stays fit, because Immobile will never be better than 'serviceable'.
on the 9th September, 2019 at 9:40am
When was the last time that we won our first 2 games of the season? And when you take into account that it was 2 tricky away games & the number of changes that Mancini made last night, there is cause for encouragement.

I really like our central midfield options - I genuinely don't think that we have ever had as much depth (with regards to technical quality) as what we have right now.

The attack remains a concern. There needs to be more precision & composure, but hopefully this will improve.
on the 9th September, 2019 at 9:40am
Struggled in two away games against teams we just should not be struggling against.
on the 9th September, 2019 at 9:05am
Bravo Italy!

We might not be at the level to test the best when we get to the Euros yet, but at least we will get there unlike the World Cup.

I think this team with Mancini is the best we have seen for a long time, even if they do have an odd poor game like the Arminian one. This time they had a trickier opposition but upped their game.

I have high hopes that maybe, just maybe we will hit top form with this younger Italy team by next summer and be the dark horse of the tournament.

Forza Ital
on the 9th September, 2019 at 8:08am

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