TACTICAL football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) gives us the lowdown on Italy's latest Euro 2020 qualifying encounter with Greece on Saturday.
Italy v Greece | Saturday 12th October 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Italy host Greece on Saturday in Rome as Roberto Mancini’s side look to seal Euro 2020 qualification from Group J.
The Azzurri currently have a perfect record in qualifying, winning six from six, scoring 18 in the process and only conceding three goals.
Greece, on the other hand, have had a disappointing campaign, sat in fifth with just five points. A home draw with Liechtenstein last time out put to bed any realistic chances of qualifying.
The first meeting between these two sides ended in a 3-0 win to Italy thanks to goals from Nicolo Barella, Lorenzo Insigne and Leonardo Bonucci, and it is hard to see past a similar score line once again.
Approach and system analysis
In their last two fixtures, Italy lined up in a 4-3-3 as Mancini continues to search for the right balance to the side. The Azzurri rode their luck against Armenia in a 3-1 win, as the Eastern European side were able to exploit defensive weaknesses at the back.
Against Armenia, the Italians were exposed by a lack of pace, as Alexander Karapetyan gave the Armenians an early lead, before his red card changed the complex of the game. In particular, Alessio Romagnoli struggled, and his constant exposure led to his dropping for the game against Finland.
Armenia looked to pounce of any loose mistakes from the Italian midfield on a poor pitch, and with the full backs pushed high to provide an attacking outlet to allow the wingers to drift inside, it did leave them susceptible to the counter, as demonstrated by Armenia’s opener.
Following Karapetyan’s sending off, Armenia were forced deeper and deeper, and although they still looked to break, and subsequently exposed the Italian defence on occasions, Italy persevered, with two quick fire goals 15 minutes from time giving the Italian’s victory.
Against Finland, Italy adapted by changing the back four, and these amendmants helped secure what had been a shaky backline in the first game, as Italy dominated and put in a much more assured performance.
Missing Marco Veratti in midfield, the Azzurri also adapted well, with Stefano Sensi impressing up until his moment of naivety allowing Teemu Pukki to equalise from the spot. Italy controlled the game against a hardworking, structured Finland side, and I expect to see more of the same against Greece.
When going 1-0 up in this game, they sat back without ever being threatened bar one silly mistake, and they will have learnt from this ahead of Saturday’s game.
Italy can expose Greek weakness
Attackingly, Mancini is still searching for the right balance. What he does have is a number of attacking options heading into the game bang in-form.
Andrea Belotti has scored 11 in 13 games for Torino, whilst Ciro Immobile netted his first International goal in 10 games away at Finland, and has eight in eight for Lazio. Federico Chiesa is improving with every game he plays, and will be imperative to the way Italy look to attack against Greece.
As touched upon previously, the Azzurri look to push the full backs high, allowing the wingers to drift inside and allow the full backs to cross. Chiesa has been playing a similar role at Fiorentina this season, so it is expected to see him carry on where he has left off for La Viola.
Emerson Palmieri, then Andrea Florenzi filled this role very well at left back, with Armando Izzo playing a more reserved role against Finland at right back, helping to shore up the defence. Coming up against a back four missing both Kostas Manolas and Sokratis, Italy can be confident of breaking down an inexperienced backline, and will be looking to rack up the goals.
The Italian midfield is without Sensi who misses out through injury, however in Jorginho and Veratti they will be able to dictate the play with ease. Bryan Christante is expected to start, and will need to link the play up effectively in Sensi’s absence.
However Jorginho and Veratti offer an assured base to the midfield, particularly when up against Andreas Bouchalakis and Andreas Samaris. Bouchalakis, once of Nottingham Forest, is a tidy midfielder, but does lack the energy to get around the pitch to cope with Italy’s midfield.
If Greece opt to pack the midfield to alleviate this, Efthimis Koulouris up front could easily get isolated, and he doesn’t possess the ability to break and stretch the Italian defence to cause enough problems.
Looking at the Greek attack, they do possess Koulouris, who has four goals in nine games domestically for Toulouse. However, behind him the team has lacked cutting edge and tempo, only mustering seven goals.
Demonstrating this was the 80% possession they managed against Liechtenstein and 55% against Finland, but lacked the tempo to break down the rigid defences.
Although Italy will be more open, they looked a more assured unit against Finland, and it is hard to make an argument that the Greeks will get on the scoresheet this time out.
It is worth noting that at the time the Italian domestic season was only two games in during the last round of fixtures, and this element of rustiness had to be factored in to both performances, so expect to see a more free-flowing, fitter Italian side this time out as well.
The betting angles
As alluded to above, goals shouldn’t be an issue against an inexperienced Greek backline, especially given the form of strikers Immobile, Belotti and Chiesa. Offering little threat against an Italian backline improving with every performance, Italy to win ‘to nil’ appeals at 4/7 (Unibet).
Of the Italy strikers, both Chiesa (19/10 Betway) and Belotti (6/5 Sportingbet) being above evens does strike great appeal, and it is worth waiting till the line-ups are announced before settling on this market. However, Chiesa is the likeliest of the two to start is worth a punt on the goalscorer markets.