Mladen Barbaric writes a detailed tactical analysis of the U19 Euros final match that ended France 4-0 Italy.
France won the EURO after all, and convincingly so, albeit the U19 EURO. In a final match played against Italy on Sunday they completely outplayed Italian future stars winning four nil. Unlike the senior national team in the recently finished EURO, France U19 demonstrated they knew what they wanted to do with and without the ball. “Under” tournaments are often a window into the future and France showed it has nothing to worry about in coming years. Players such as Jean-Kévin Augustin (PSG), Kylian Mbappe (Monaco), Ludovic Blas (Guingamp), Amine Harit (Nantes), Clément Michelin (Toulouse) are all the names you should expect in next two years to amass double figure transfer fees.
France: 1.Bernardoni, 13. Michelin, 4. Onguene, 5. Diop, 15. Maouassa, 8. Toussart, 17. Poha, 12. Blas, 11. Mbappe, 7. Augustin, 14. Harit.
Italy: 1. Meret, 2. Viturini, 5. Romagna, 15. Coppolaro, 3. Dimarco, 4. Barella, 6. Locatelli, 18. Ghiglione, 8. Picchi, 9. Favilli, 10. Minelli.
Like their older counterparts, Italy did surprisingly well to reach the final beating England in semi final (fun fact, three own goals were scored in this tournament and England profited from all of them). They were underdogs but Italy didn’t go on the pitch at Rhein-Neckar-Arena in Sinsheim thinking about defence.
However, a poorly judged pass to change the point of attack from left back Dimarco was intercepted outside the French box and within five seconds ball found its way to the feet of the top scorer of the tournament, Augustin who perfectly received it on the turn. This allowed him to use his strength to get in between two center backs and proceed one on one with goalkeeper and score. A magnificent show of technique, strength and composure from PSG striker. There was little Italy could do once they were caught out of possession and out of shape.
The main idea from France was to stop build up play from Italy and they did it in quite an interesting way. While they were attacking in a common 4-1-2-3 shape, they defended in 4-1-4-1 with the defensive line set very high. However, with only one striker, Augustin, they didn’t press Italy. Instead, France tried to cover the space and block the passing lanes and did it perfectly.
As the defensive line was very high, almost on the half-way line, Italy had very little space to operate. France compressed them in about 20-30 meters and covered all passing angles. This resulted in most of short passes being intercepted allowing skilful wingers Blas and Mbappe to show their one on one skills posing a constant threat once Italy gave away the ball in middle third.
Above is the illustration of French defending although it is not taken at perfect moment as France was usually a bit higher. However, even if France didn’t position themselves in the perfect manner, you can see all the advanced passing lanes are closed or man marked and all that’s left for Italy are three options. A back pass to defenders, a long hopeful pass to forwards or a diagonal pass to change the flank and point of attack. When Italy chose the last option they conceded on the counter attack. Hopeful passes to forwards resulted in easy swept balls by the defence. All in all exactly what France head coach Ludovic Batelli wanted.
Italy was allowed to play passes between their center backs but not to advance the ball in the middle third. Paolo Vanoli, the Italian on the bench of their U19 team wanted to create numerical advantage in the middle with quite a strange move. In possession, Italy often transformed from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 since potent Inter left back Federico Dimarco was surging forward to play as a winger while left winger, Alberto Picchi would go forward, while Fiorentina striker Simone Minelli would drop deep to create a spare man in middle of the field.
However, as you can see in above image, this didn’t really work. Even when Italy managed to enter the middle third without losing the ball they were covered and the change of formation didn’t fool the French defence. Intelligent positioning of the defensive midfielder and France captain, Tousard prevented Minelli from being a threat and receiving the ball while concentration from right full back Michelin meant Dimarco was well tracked and Picchi was picked up by center back Onguene rendering all Italian moves futile.
Since all the lines leading to the French goal were closed Italy relied on long passes from center backs to forwards or cross field balls from one wing to another. Neither were particularly successful and allowed time for France to shift the defence. The effectiveness of the French defence is proved by the fact that the goalkeeper was forced into his first save late in the 80th minute.
While Italy had a plan to break France, that clearly didn’t work. France, however, didn’t rely only on counter attacks, although Italy gave them plenty of opportunities with their horrible passing.
Besides counter attacks France often tried to overload one flank and then dispatch the ball to the opposite side. While they themselves had little trouble with similar tactics employed by Italy, their opponents struggled heavily. The main difference was that Italy didn’t play with a defensive midfielder and defended in a 4-4-2 shape. Lack of a 5th man in midfield showed throughout the match since France was often changing sides unbalancing the Italian defence.
Before the half time France scored once more as right back Michelin entered the space vacated by right winger Blasi who eventually headed the Michelin’s cross home from point blank range. Apart from Italy trying to press higher in the early minutes of second period, the game didn’t change at all after teams came on the pitch after the half time.
Playing 4-3-3 in possession, France had a numerical advantage in the central area and the main problem for Italy was the lack of defensive work from their forwards who didn’t drop back to support their midfield when France was on the ball.
As you can see above, this meant France always had a passing options in central areas. Furthermore, as they played only four in midfield when defending, marauding French full backs were able to stretch a thin defence even further while, at the same time, allowing their wingers to occupy more central positions and give more work to Italian defence.
In the end France scored two more times and Italy never looked like being in the match. To conclude, the main goals for France were to obstruct the Italian transition into the middle third which they did with the high defensive line and a disciplined, packed, midfield congesting Italy within 25 to 30 meters of space. From there on they would pick up the loose balls and counter. In offence, France showed the disadvantages of a 4-4-2 formation when defending against 4-3-3. Since Italy failed to respond and drop one striker deeper to help the midfield, France had all the options in central areas as well as wide since their full backs stretched the defence allowing quick changes of the point of attack which the four men didn’t manage to contain through the whole game. Although France was the better team, the feeling remains that Italy didn’t prepare well for what was coming to them.
Written by Mladen Barbaric.