Italy’s defense in shambles as they prepare to face free-scoring Spain

Italy's defense has failed to live up to their billing in the 2013 Confederations Cup. Brendon Netto discusses this uncharacteristic shortcoming..
 Brendon Netto
 Comment | International
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Catenaccio” is an Italian tactical system which demands a high level of organization in defense and primarily concentrates on nullifying the opposition’s attack. Although the original system was destroyed in the 1973 European Super Cup final by Ajax’s “Total Football” approach when they beat AC Milan 6-0, its variants continued to solidify the back-bone of Italian football.

The principles of this system facilitated the rise of legendary Italian defenders who were strong in a tackle and thoroughly disciplined tactically. The new breed included the famous Milan backline of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta and Mauro Tassotti in the ‘90s who were later succeeded by the likes of Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta.

You shall not pass! | Maldini & Costacurta

Italy are as synonymous with defending in football as they are with pizza in global cuisine. However, the aforementioned defensive stalwarts would probably agree that the current defensive form of the Italian team in the ongoing Confederations Cup has been cringe worthy.   

The Italian defense has been in shambles during the tournament having leaked 8 goals in the group stages, the most they’ve ever conceded in the first round of a competition. The days of Catenaccio are no more, particularly since Cesare Prandelli took over. The tactician discarded the system which served Italian football for decades, labeling it a ‘relic’.

"Stop thinking in the old style. It is normal to concede 4 chances, you have to create 7." - Cesare Prandelli

Discarding the Catenaccio system

However, given the recent form of their defense, the Italy boss might want to revisit the security the system has to offer especially ahead of their semi-final clash with Spain. The last time the Azzurri faced the World champions was in the final of the 2012 European Championship when they suffered a comprehensive 4-0 defeat.

Italy’s organization at the back, which is supposed to be their area of expertise, has been woeful. Perhaps it stems from the fact that the likes of Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are accustomed to playing in a three-man central defense with Juventus as opposed to a center-back pairing Prandelli chooses to employ.

However, that still doesn’t excuse Italy for all their shortcomings since a number of their errors have been rudimentary mistakes. Chiellini rued his side’s defending from set-pieces in particular, something they should be able to deal with in their sleep. Shinji Okazaki’s goal for Japan in particular stands out. “A lot of them [goals] have come from set-pieces. We’ve got to be more attentive because those instances can change a game,” the defender opined.

Poor from set-pieces

Chiellini is considered the best in the Italian defense but he hasn’t been living up to his standards. Against Japan, the center-back failed to head the ball clear of the penalty box which allowed Shinji Kagawa to latch on to the opportunity and score. In the last game against Brazil, he allowed Fred to run past him too many times and one of them led to a goal.

The Fred goal in question is perhaps where the Italian defense were most liable. Marcelo was afforded too much time and space to play a ball over the top which was made to look special by Chiellini and Bonucci’s poor positioning which let Fred through. It’s not just the Catenaccio system that’s gone out the window but apparently the fundamentals of defending it dictates as well.

Furthermore, fingers have been pointed at Gianluigi Buffon in goal and that’s not something that happens very often. The Italian skipper is renowned for being supremely reliable and virtually immune to errors that plague most goalkeepers. Neymar’s free-kick in their last game was well-struck but Buffon in top form would probably have saved that. He had a hand in Fred’s tap-in as well as he failed to adequately deal with Marcelo’s initial shot. 

Even Buffon at fault

You could argue that Italy were unfortunate to concede on a couple of occasions and did so unjustly. Two of the Brazilian goals in particular were arguably offside but Italy also got out of jail on a number of occasions and their encounter with Japan consisted of a few examples. The Asian champions could have won that game by a couple of goals on another day as they were arguably the better team, peppered the Italian goal and took a fair bit of paint off the woodwork as well.

The good news for Italy is that defending is in their blood and that’s still the general belief. All they have to do is tap into their defensive aptitude and eradicate the elementary errors that they’ve fallen victim to in this tournament. Their semi-final clash against Spain is the perfect opportunity for them to re-establish their solidarity at the back and make amends for their lacklustre performances of late.

What do you think of Italy's defense in the Confederations Cup? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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