After almost a month of top-class European football, we’ve come to the last day and are left with two teams: reigning World Cup and European champions, Spain, and four-time World Cup-winners, Italy.
The last time these two faced off was in this very tournament, as they were drawn in the same group. That game ended 1-1, but many will be watching this match with much more intrigue as to which changes might be taken into affect for each team.
For Spain, their “False 9” tactic got them all the way to the final. Now although their 4-6-0 formation allowed them to control most of their games with ease, Spain’s most recent match against Portugal showed this formation's main flaw, and that is that you need to actually attack the goal to win the game.
It would be senseless for Spain to simply hold onto the ball for most of the match if they don’t plan on doing anything with it.
Much of the reason as to why they are not creating as many chances is because there isn’t a legitimate target man up front.
They tried and failed with Negredo upfront against Portugal, who was subbed off for Fabregas late into the game. Torres played well against Ireland, but that isn’t saying much considering Ireland's overall performance at this Euro. Fernando Llorente still hasn’t acquired Vincent Del Bosque’s trust to give him a single appearance for Spain this Euro.
If Del Bosque wants to threaten Italy on all fronts, he has to combine his tactics. The possession game will stay regardless, but there needs to be at least one man up front, and if they plan to play wide, that man is Fernando Llorente.
For Italy to get this far with the players that they have is a testament to their heart and determination. The installation of youth in the squad that have been led by Italy’s old guard (Buffon, De Rossi, Pirlo) leaves a perfect combination of players that has been led by an optimistic and talented coach in Cesare Prandelli.
Prandelli’s tactics of high press, attack and selflessness within the team have led them to an unbeaten streak against teams like Germany, England and Spain this tournament.
The only thing they have to do now is to employ everything they’ve done against every big team they’ve faced and multiply that by two against Spain.
Tactically, the high press has worked for Italy, but it’s necessary for the right players to be on the pitch. Ricardo Montolivo doesn’t need to be on the pitch against Spain. Italy already have creators in Andrea Pirlo and Antonio Cassano. He needs to be replaced by Antonio Nocerino so that he and Claudio Marchisio can run up and down the pitch, allowing Pirlo to work his magic (a similar tactic was employed by Juventus in their championship-winning run in which they used Marchisio and Arturo Vidal to pull attention away from Pirlo).
Elsewhere, there don’t seem to be any changes that need to be made against Spain. Of course, if Pirlo is being closed down too often, then Montolivo could make an appearance and carry some of the playmaking slack.
Other than that, all Italy need to do is carry the team spirit and confidence that they brought with them against Germany and dish it out in the final match of the Euro.