Italy beat England 2-1 in Manaus on Saturday evening to take control of FIFA World Cup 2014 Group D.
Claudio Marchisio fired a rocket into the bottom corner to secure the Azzurri's lead in the first half, but Daniel Sturridge pegged them back immediately by finishing off a sweet counter-attacking move.
Mario Balotelli settled the contest with a towering header, Antonio Candreva hit the post, and Andrea Pirlo hit the crossbar late on.
Formations and XIs
England lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard holding, Raheem Sterling as a No. 10 and Sturridge up front.
Italy played a narrow 4-3-3 with inset wingers, fielding Marchisio and Antonio Candreva just ahead and outside of Pirlo and Marco Verratti. Daniele De Rossi frequently dropped into the back line.
It was clear from the off that Pirlo had not been chosen for man-marking treatment, with Hodgson instead assigning his three-man attacking midfield line to sweep across and pressure as and when they came into contact.
De Rossi, the deepest of the midfield three, was left to his own devices, but the midfield line also kept a close eye on the movement of Verratti—perhaps his talent level meant they were unable to stick a man solely on Pirlo.
Henderson and Gerrard clamped the deeper areas of midfield very well, using physicality to break up attacks and unsettle the ball players when they neared England's goal. Balotelli found space very, very hard to come by.
Running at Italy was clearly the plan, but opportunities to do so were few and far between.
Sterling skipped around Marchisio in the fourth minute and fired a howitzer into the side-netting, then after a short hiatus, he grew into the game and began taking Italy players one vs. one. No one could handle his agility and skill.
Glen Johnson and Sturridge combined with a one-two on the right midway through the first half too, with the latter galloping around Gabriel Paletta before firing into the side-netting.
It was Sterling who played the delightful pass into Rooney's path for Sturridge's equaliser; he was England's player of the half overall.
Isolating players one vs. one was a strong stategy, but Italy caught on and retreated deeper and deeper, removing the space in behind.
The Darmian Overload
Italy used odd, inset wingers to create lanes on the outside for full-backs to run into.
Marchisio and Candreva sat inside the traditional wide channels, playing within five to eight yards of the central midfield trio, and that pushed all of England's focus into nullifying the middle of the pitch.
Giorgio Chiellini and Matteo Darmian were then free to buccaneer forward from deep and pick up passes, giving Leighton Baines and Johnson real issues in one versus one situations.
Candreva, in particular, tormented Baines by sitting just outside his range but too far back for Wayne Rooney (LW) to track, receiving passes and having his pick of options. Had he been quicker in releasing Darmian or making his choice, the Three Lions could have been in serious trouble.
For the start of the second half, Hodgson switched Rooney and Welbeck to help protect Baines with the latter. England started rather well, attacking with enthusiasm, but Italy's next goal came down that beleaguered left side despite the change.
Candreva sold Baines a dummy and swung a left-footed cross into the far post for Balotelli to finish in style. Phil Jagielka got lost under the ball—a cardinal sin for defenders—and it was curtains from there.
With a lead back intact, Thiago Motta was sent on for Verratti to solidify the midfield and bring some defensive nous to the centre of the park. Hodgson responded by sending on Ross Barkley, who relentlessly ran at Italy's defence and had them back-pedaling frequently, but offered little in terms of end product.
Lack of Adjustment
For England, Adam Lallana was the man required to break down the Catenaccio-esque door Italy shut in front of their faces.
His ability to find space between the lines and his deft touch on the turn in tight spaces could have unlocked the Italian defence—but his introduction at around 80 minutes was too late.
Hodgson made some positive substitutions, but he failed to address obvious issues when trying to break the Azzurri down. Natural width became hard to come by with Sterling the only one capable of hitting the byline to stretch the formation, and the ball was moved far too slowly from side to side.
You need quick switches and movements, not Jack Wilshere—or any other player—taking nine touches outside the box and losing it.
Italy ground it out and deserved to win; England must reload and prepare to attack Uruguay in the same fashion.
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