Gian Piero Ventura’s daft tactical and formational choices proved fatal as Spain put Italy to the sword Saturday evening 3-0 at the Bernabeu.
Saturday evening’s rout of Italy saw Spain hand the visitors their first international qualifying loss since 6 September 2006 versus France. A rejuvenated Spanish side – led by Real Madrid spark-plug Isco – fleeced the Italians in impressive fashion 3-0, putting an abrupt halt to their 56-game unbeaten run.
The major 2018 FIFA World Cup Group G qualifier had been circled in red on the calendar since the very beginning. Ventura was given three months to prepare his Azzurri side for this colossally important fixture and skipper the Blues into position to battle for top honours. Moments before kick-off however, Italian supporters realized those hopes would soon be laid to waste as they were destined for disaster at the Bernabeu once manager Gian Piero Ventura selected the 4-2-4.
Early in proceedings, there were clear indications that David Silva, Isco and Marco Asensio as a ‘false 9’ would be too much to handle in the final third. Disorganized and under fire, Italy’s central defenders Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci looked static, scrambling for solutions to combat Isco’s brilliance all night. On the ball, the 25-year old’s evasiveness to beat his man and advance play forced Italy into retreating, and was ultimately the driving force manager Julen Lopetegui’s looked for in controlling the tie.
Out wide, Leonardo Spinazzola and Matteo Darmian provided little to no aid in the attack, though the right flank showed brief glimpses of promise with Antonio Candreva’s occasional daring runs into crossing positions. But, for the most part, the two offered little threat for the Spanish defence.
Lacking balance, creativity and the ideas required to break down a dangerous Spanish side, Italy’s midfield pairing of Marco Verratti and Daniele De Rossi was upstaged, struggling to settle into any sort of rhythm. Frustratingly so, all night, the Barcelona duo Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta closed down and capitalized on their manpower in the midfield, overwhelming with numbers from the opening whistle. In some respect, this game-plan took a similar page from Antonio Conte’s playbook which successfully toppled Spain last summer at Euro 2016 with a loaded 3-5-2.
Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile’s well-timed runs were seldom met with a look, let alone a pass, from Verratti or De Rossi, and service to Lorenzo Insigne never arrived, all but ruling out a second half comeback for the Italians.
Collectively, the entire eleven failed to deliver a performance deserving of a top finish in the group, and mentally, were off the mark. Even captain Gianluigi Buffon, who made his 170th career appearance for country, placed 6 men in the wall which played a part in positioning himself further to his left and unable to reach Isco’s free kick. A smaller wall would’ve put him in more of a central position and increase the odds of denying the attempt. Buffon was not customarily sharp, which tells you it wasn’t to be in Madrid.
The brand of football Italians had come to play under Ventura was not displayed, and the boss shoulders most of blame for the gambles last night that meant the Azzurri’s demise. Now, Italy reflects on the defeat and returns home to host Israel on Tuesday, entering the Stadio Città del Tricolore in must-win mode. With Bonucci suspended for the match after receiving a yellow card in the first half, and Spinazzola out with an injury, Ventura will reach into his player pool for reinforcement. Spain were advantageous in possession, in the final third, and ultimately, made the Italians pay for Ventura’s daft formational decision.
On the hot seat after being outclassed by the Spaniards, it’s time for Ventura to put out the fire fast, and get this ship back on course towards qualifying for Russia.