THE glamour tie of the Last 16. Gavin Horsfall (@GHorsfall) previews Italy v Spain.
Italy v Spain | Monday 17:00 | BBC One
First place in Group E was already assured for Italy by the time Robbie Brady put Ireland in front on Wednesday night, eight changes to Antonio Conte’s starting lineup were probably justified after the the Azzurri’s workrate was extended in both the wins against Belgium and Sweden and they already knew their Last 16 opponents would have had a day’s extra rest ahead of Monday’s tie.
A match against Spain does of course bring about a replay of the 2012 Final in Kiev where a rampant Roja went two up before half-time and added another two before retaining their trophy.
Vicente Del Bosque’s side probably feel a closer fit to that 2012 victory, it’s still nice footbal to watch, it’s still difficult to get the ball off them and it’s still a side that despite a loss to Croatia, is full of players used to winning.
Italy weren’t far off them four years ago but it feels different now, both Belgium and Sweden had more possesion in the group stage while Conte’s side averaged 7km more ground covered than their opponents over both those games.
Without Pirlo and Marchisio there’s not the control in the middle of the park and while Conte outfoxed Marc Wilmots in game one, he’s a longer price to do the same to Del Bosque here.
Formidable Italian defences are nothing new of course but only four clean sheets in qualifying (two against Malta) suggests there are vulnerablilites, Belgium and Sweden both got success when breaking quickly suggesting Chellini and co who are not quite as happy when running back to their own goal, it was a similar story in qualifying against Norway, Azerbajan and Bulgaria.
Spain’s pressing style in midfield should ensure Italy are overly-cautious when it comes to losing possession. Croatia set the blue print for beating Spain, high octane football breaking at pace, whether Italy are suitably equipped to do the same is doubtful.
No doubt that Spain enjoy the most possession then but where’s the bet? Games in this tournament average just over four offsides per game while games involving these two average just 3.5, that figure is heavily weighted towards Spain though after they saw the flag raised seven times against Spanish players as they struggled to break down Czech Republic.
Morata and Nolito look like they are on the move everytime Spain get possesion and between them they have notched up more offsides than Italy have seen all tournament.
Sweden were derided for their lack of efforts on target but they were caught offside four times as they looked to break quickly against the Italian defence.
An early goal probably goes against us here but if Italy keep it tight then Spain will look to work the margins, covering the 1.5 offside handicap looks the play.
Italy v Spain – Over 1.5 Span offsides (13/10 Unibet)