Euro 2012 Final: How Del Bosque Won the Tactical War Against Prandelli
Spain have made history and Vicente del Bosque has completed his curriculum vitae. Three major international honours in six years cements this Spanish team as record-breakers, whilst Italy go home surpassing all potential expectations themselves.
The tactical battle between Del Bosque and Cesare Prandelli in this final was very different to the one they shared in Group C's opening—Spain retained their strikerless approach, but with a more direct twinge, whilst Italy have since switched from three at the back to four.
Let's break down the tactical battle and see where the game was won.
Direct, incisive Spain
The 4-6-0 strikerless approach has been maligned throughout the tournament as a negative, pointless system.
In its purest form that is far from the case, as Lionel Messi proves with Barcelona, but Spain have been using Cesc Fabregas in the "false-nine" role, and he has hardly flourished
It's a tough role to play, but it can only function if the player makes forward, incisive runs at the opposition.
With no obvious target for the Spanish midfield target, they are relied upon to make inch-perfect through-balls. That's not an issue for Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, the issue is there was no one making those runs for the first five games.
In this game, however, Spain bucked the trend. Fabregas and David Silva made good runs that caused the opposition problems. The first goal by Fabregas' willingness to run in behind the defence, something mostly absent from their first tussle from Italy.
The midfield diamond's weakness
Prandelli opted for his tried and trusted 4-4-2 diamond formation in the final—a predictable decision which it seems del Bosque had planned for.
Alvaro Arbeloa and Jordi Alba are used to being pushed high up as fullbacks, but Arbeloa in particular found himself higher up than ever before.
There is a certain spot on the pitch that, when caught at the right moment, can prove the Achilles' heel of a midfield diamond and Spain found it.
The Italian fullbacks are either too withdrawn or caught high up the pitch, whilst the narrow midfield can't filter out and protect the wide areas in time.
The result? This diagram shows you where Arbeloa was receiving his passes from his teammates, while the following image depicts an example.
From this point in the attack, Spain are in a dangerous position whilst also possessing the width needed to stretch the play for once.
Italy were hit time and time again in these areas, making them uncomfortable when retreating and unshapely when moving forward.
On the shoulder
Interestingly enough, del Bosque made the same switch in the second half as he did in Spain's group stage game against Italy—only this time, it worked wonders.
During the first game, Torres was brought on in an attempt to switch things up against a comfortable three-man Italian defence.
Rather that sit in a deeper initial position than Fabregas, Torres aligned himself right on the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini and forced the defensive line backwards.
He sprang quick counterattacks and had Italy reeling, forcing a Gianluigi Buffon tackle and a penalty appeal whilst also missing with two shots.
In this game, he came on and fulfilled a similar role. Positioning himself inside the flagging, injured Andrea Barzagli and the tired, out-of-position Ignazio Abate, he rinsed the left channel for one goal and one assist.
Congratulations to Spain for outclassing a very talented Italian side and proving to us why they deserve to make history.
They've attracted criticism throughout the tournament and have been labelled boring on more than once occasion. The truth is, no one has made them have to play anywhere close to their best, and while Italy didn't really stretch them today, they put on a show for us anyway.
This article has looked to explain exactly how Spain looked to get the better of Italy without reeling off simple, easy reasons such as "Italy couldn't get the ball" or "Spain shut down Andrea Pirlo and killed the match".
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