As both teams are set to progress into the round of 16 with Italy’s spot being guaranteed, this preview will cover how both teams will play against each other and how they will be playing against future opponents at Euro 2020. The teams selected in this preview are likely to be the teams that start for the remainder of their respective tournaments, with the exception of one or two players.
Italy are expected to be without Chiellini, so Acerbi will take his place. Acerbi is a natural left footed player and came on against Switzerland for the now injured Chiellini, leading us to believe he is trusted more than Bastoni. Bastoni is obviously a fan favourite; arguably one of the best defenders in the world at the moment, but it seems unlikely that Mancini will play him. Italy will want to win or draw this game as it will guarantee their top spot in the group, giving them an easier opponent in the round of 16, being the second placed team in group “C".
The Welsh team we have selected is the strongest team that they can field. The first game of the tournament saw Wales draw to Switzerland but their second game against Turkey was a much more convincing performance, with a slight change in style of play. Wales switched from a very flat back four against Switzerland to a back three when in possession, encouraging Roberts to take a more advanced role, relieving him of defensive duties.
Italy’s attacking structure resembles a 3-2-5 shape. The three central defenders will be the two centre-backs and the opposite fullback to the one on the attacking side of possession. So, Di Lorenzo would tuck inside with Spinazzola advanced. Both fullbacks are capable of doing this, but Italy have focussed the majority of their attacks on the left side often lead by Spinazzola and Insigne.
The midfield will see Jorginho in the deepest position, likely recycling possession and moving the ball to players like Locatelli and Barella, while the aforementioned midfielders have roles dependent on the side of possession. If the ball is on the left Locatelli will remain in the left half-space with the responsibility of switching between a pseudo number ten role and number nine role with Insigne. The same idea applies to Barella on the right with Berardi. This is how Italy forms their “front five.” The fullback on the side of possession joins the attacking line, along with the ball sided wide forward or midfielder, Immobile, the opposite midfielder to the ball sided one, and the final starting wide forward.
The left side will likely continue to be the focus of the Italian attacks as Wales are especially weak on this flank. As mentioned above, Roberts is afforded the luxury of shirking defensive duties when his side is in possession. This will leave Wales vulnerable in transitions in an area in which Italy has thrived. Additionally, Bale is not renowned for his defensive duties. His role has him starting on the right with freedom to cut inside to a more central area, further weakening the left side.
Wales will continue to defend in their deep 4-5-1 block as they have in the previous two games when out of possession. The key battles will likely include Allen vs Barella and Morrell vs Locatelli. Both Welsh players will need to man-mark their ball sided Italian counterpart if they are to stop Italian chance creation. Turkey and Switzerland both failed to defend in a more zonal oriented manner, meaning that the players tasked with marking Barella or Locatelli when they were within their reach often failed, or followed them for too long leading them to be dragged out of position by the Italians. Should Wales use dedicated players to man-mark Locatelli and Barella, it may delay or nullify the effectiveness of the fluidity in which Italy has become synonymous with thus far at Euro 2020.
Wales have gone under the radar at Euro 2020 but shouldn’t be underestimated. Their attacking structure also resembles a 3-2-5, similar to Italy and other teams at Euro 2020, only with a few variables. The first variable being that Wales will play with both Allen and Morell in the central space, while only Jorginho plays in that role for Italy. This will allow Wales to better handle the aggressive pressing led by Barella, Locatelli and Jorginho, as well as other pressing teams Wales may come up against in the round of 16, presuming they do qualify.
By using both Allen and Morell in the central spaces, Wales will be able to press the three Italian central midfielders better. This is not without issues however. Berardi or Insigne will likely be tasked with staying wider when out of possession, more specifically, in the space left behind the advanced Roberts or the space left vacant by the shifted Davies. James will not be able to provide adequate width in attack and cover in transition should Italy decide to attack his flank, leaving Davies to defend one versus one against Berardi. The same can be said for the opposite flank with Roberts being too far up, leaving Mepham to defend one versus one against Insigne.
The defending “three” will be Mepham, Rodon and Davies who will tuck in from left fullback to left centre-back when Wales are in possession, while Roberts acts a more traditional right winger, with Bale cutting inside the right half-space or central area.
The defensive issues will reveal themselves in transitions, but going forward Wales have been exciting. Bale looks much stronger in this right sided, more creative role. There seems to be less pressure on him to beat his marker one versus one with pace and skill while instead he can dictate play from the right half-space. James will have chalk on his boots from the first minute of the game, so James will either force Di Lorenzo to mark him in the wide areas, creating space for Ramsey to run into, or Di Lorenzo will not mark him at all, in which case James will be the recipient of passes into the left wide area.
Aaron Ramsey should have had a hattrick against Swtizerland and that form is expected to continue. His runs often come from the left half-space or are made into the left half-space. Di Lorenzo and Bonucci are more than capable defenders, but the pace and positioning of both James and Ramsey is not to be underestimated. It can cause Italy trouble should Wales earn a sustained amount of time in possession.
Both teams have played great football thus far. Their tactics are unlikely to change dramatically for the rest of the tournament and will present an entertaining game when they meet. With that said, Italy are still favorites to win this game. They have not conceded a goal yet, maintain possession in a progressive manner and press like mad men to win the ball back once it’s lost. Wales are exciting to watch when in possession but it’s unknown how much quality possession they will end up getting. This is Italy’s strongest opponent so far. Expect a close game with Italy ultimately winning it.
I’m a Canadian soccer/football coach and analyst with a bias towards Manchester City. Follow me on twitter for more football content @CamH___