Wednesday June 15 2016
Italy's problem with passing

The Azzurri's major weakness is passing, but Andrea Tallarita believes it's not without solution.

Italy's assertive 2-0 victory over group favourites Belgium belies the uncomfortable truth that the Azzurri are not very good at the basic skill of passing. The number of times that a promising play petered out because the pass simply couldn't find its man was frustrating, and the same holds true for crosses.

Everyone knows, of course, that passing isn't the corner-stone of Italy's game anyway. Unlike the tournament's four or five notorious favourites, they have little use for possession and they don't employ a playmaker in the midfield. It is therefore hardly surprising that they should have completed only 392 passes in their first game against France's 519, Germany's 661, Spain's 681 or Belgium's own 513.

But let us not mistake quantity for quality. The fact that they are performing less passes doesn't mean that they should be performing them less well.

Italy's pass completion rate in their first game was 76 per cent, against 89 per cent for both Germany and Spain. This means that the Azzurri were flunking one pass every four, while the title favourites missed one every ten. It's true that their average pass length was longer (19.21m against Germany's 16.62m and Spain's 16.63m), as a consequence of playing more long balls, which have a lower rate of success. But the fact that Belgium managed an 84 per cent pass completion rate with an 18.79m average pass length should give us pause.

Italy's struggle to pass the ball properly translates into a lower number of chances created: the Azzurri totalled 12 shots on Monday, against Belgium's 18 (the same number as Germany and Spain in their respective games). The argument that Italy are a more conservative team and therefore aren't meant to create as many chances as these rivals holds true, but it misses the point that improving a team's productivity doesn't necessarily mean altering its identity or style. Italy could vastly improve their game, their chances and their odds of winning by marginally improving their passing rate.

In the (much-discussed) absence of good playmakers in the midfield, the obvious way of doing that would be to field Lorenzo Insigne, in just about any position of the pitch. Compared to Graziano Pellé, Antonio Candreva and Eder, last season he had a tangibly superior number of per game assists (0.27, to 0.2, 0.1 and none), key passes (1.49 to 1.03, 1.1 and 0.29), and chances created (1.76 to 1.23, 1.2 and 0.29). He is also a substantially better player in the one-on-one; there was one point, about 10 minutes into the Belgium game, when Candreva failed a dribbling that could have left him clear to cross into a box with four Italian shirts. This is the type of circumstance where Insigne shines.

Of course, fielding Insigne means altering the double-poacher couple that Conte is so fond of. The Napoli fantasista may be less suited to the type of one-two plays that Eder and Pellé were knocking off each other. Given his stature, he is also going to be quite terrible at receiving long balls.

This is the quid pro quo aspect of changing any player for another, but the trade-off may well be worth it. Insigne doesn't change Conte's system entirely, but he does lend it a new slant. With his unique creative outlook, the Napoli striker is undeniably the best tactical variant that Italy possess, and a player who provides exactly those qualities that Conte's team is currently lacking.

It's important for Conte to develop alternatives to his game-plan because the teams that are coming his way may just throw a spanner in his works. We described Italy as a unit designed to work best against free-flowing, possession-based opposition, but more likely to suffer against defensive teams. Judging by their game on Monday, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland are about as committed to defence as any team can be.

Sweden won't hold a high line that can be punctured with long overhead passes, the way Belgium did. They are unlikely to press forward, as they will be desperate not to forfeit qualification by a loss. They won't play gentle, and they may not play clean. Italy have the more talented squad, but their odds of scoring the first goal are not necessarily higher than their opponents'.

A number of tactical measures give Conte a range of options. Switching Stephan El Shaarawy for Matteo Darmian – a modification that has already been tested – would give the team greater impetus on the wing, for example, against an opponent that probably won't attack that space too much.

If that is not enough, however, then giving Insigne some playing time is the best way to ensure Italy have a back-door out of trouble. If you think we are being overly apprehensive, then strap your seatbelts on for Sweden and Ireland. The ride is about to get rough.

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Have your say...
I share the same concerns, talent does count and tactics aren't everything. Not all teams will play like Belgium did, who just made it too easy with all the space they gave us. Better teams will keep it tight and take their chances and tbh if we're a goal down I'm not sure how we'll find a way back when Parolo, Eder and Giach didn't get a pass right all game. Don't forget Conte's struggles with Juve in Europe, same coach, better players, bad results. I hope he proves me wrong against Sweden.
on the 17th June, 2016 at 5:02am
Too many numbers and useless stats. This is football, not a business report, my friend.
Italy pass have less passes because they lack Pirlo, Marchisio and Verratti.

As for Insigne, he's the kind of player you field to crack defenses, not to instigate a passing game. He's too hasty for that.
on the 16th June, 2016 at 12:11pm
Italy had a 93% pass completion rate and 550 passes against England in 2014 birthing the short lived "Takitalia" catchphrase. We ended up humiliated.

I'll take some whining over the lack of passing in a 2-0 victory over passing the ball around and losing to Costa Rica.
on the 15th June, 2016 at 9:28pm
so many players have escaped sureshot bookings in the EC .. e.g Skertel for Slovakia lucky to escape second booking against Wales and in the just now in progress match of Fra V Alb Evra escaped one ......
on the 15th June, 2016 at 8:57pm
Belgium Coach Marc Wilmots sniped at Antonio Conte’s success. “The Italy Coach just has to rely on Juventus.”

Belgium Coach has lost it just like C. Ronaldo. He isnt concentrating on the next games, finding useless excuses and being disrespectful. Rep of Ireland will be ready to pounce seeing the mental status of the most important person - the Coach !!!
on the 15th June, 2016 at 8:53pm

same concern here.

on the 15th June, 2016 at 8:43pm
my concern is not the passing but Chiellini and Bonucci are on yellow cards and the new rules around them, another yellow then they could miss two games (last group game and last 16).. And we need both of them.

Forza Azzurri
on the 15th June, 2016 at 7:52pm
This is rubbish. It's just a sideswipe aim to Conte. You know full well that Marchisio, Verratti and Pirlo are all out. Do you really expect passing !? The Azzurri silenced all of you. So eat your words and let Conte play his games in peace and in his way.

I'd only like to see Florenzi steps in for Parolo, and see the left flank fixed, because Darmian is not in the form and De Scilgio is useless.

Or, I think Florenzi can play in the left flank.
on the 15th June, 2016 at 7:15pm
More useless drivel. Many of you don't seem to have learned a lesson. You are completely underestimating the Italian players. Except the Spaniards and maybe the Germans, no one else can pass the ball better than the Italians. But I understand the hate. Conte beat everyone relentlessly for 3 years and you got sick of it so now that he is the NT coach, you need to vent.
on the 15th June, 2016 at 5:22pm
Italy did not play a slow patient build up like the possession teams that you are comparing them to. When they intercepted they were playing quick, more direct passes, which are more difficult to anticipate and to control. More surprising was poor pass choice on occasion and poor ball control from the receiving player. They will have to play with maximum effort and concentration for the full match with this squad and that will be difficult it they progress.
on the 15th June, 2016 at 3:00pm
I could care less of our passing if the chances are created and the strikers do their part and finish them off. If Conte wants his team to be the possession dominant side he can do it easily. If you have been watching his Juventus you'll know. His tactic on the night surprises Belgium who thinks Italy are going to play slow passes at the back and wait for an opportunity, that wasn't the case, we did not wait for them to make mistakes, we brute force our way in and that's how we triumphed.
on the 15th June, 2016 at 10:30am
A very salient article. As good as Insigne is, he can be very inconsistent throughout a game. It depends on what you want. If you need someone to harass the oppositions deep lying midfielders then Eder is your man. I think that Insigne will be most effective as a sub & against tired legs. As for the passing, it's the short passes from the middle out to the wing backs that are really letting us down. Get them right & we'll carve out more opportunities.
on the 15th June, 2016 at 8:34am
It isn't surprising considering Marchisio and Verratti are out.
on the 15th June, 2016 at 7:35am
It will be interesting against the other's.Italy always seem to excel against the 'top' sides n struggle against the 'minnows' generally but I believe Conte will change tactics n prepare for these 2 differently albeit with the same will to win. Insigne could be n astute pick to unlock a rugged defense as Giovinco did against Norway.We all knew Italy would lose something when the more technically gifted player's were left out but in general(In England anyway) Italy r known 4 their good technique
on the 15th June, 2016 at 6:34am
It is important to have a plan B but I trust that Conte will. Some of the forward passing could have been better as misplaced passes high up the pitch were the only time Italy looked slightly vulnerable IMO but let's not get carried away by stats. Bonnuci's pass wasn't bad was it?? How many CB's could pull that off? Candreva made a few sloppy passes but generally his passing n crossing was fantastic(see the goal!)n he's so quick he doesn' always need to beat his man to make effective crosses
on the 15th June, 2016 at 6:22am
Who needs to pass when you defend, defend, and defend and rely on the long ball and counter attacks? That's the Italian way...
on the 15th June, 2016 at 6:07am

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