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The Big Match Tactical View: Spain v Italy

The battle in central midfield will be crucial

Italy will spend long periods in their own half, and play with little width
Spain in Corners Match Bet at 1.454/9

Michael Cox thinks this will be a different type of match to the group encounter between these two sides, but there are still lessons to be learned from three weeks.

Spain v Italy, Sunday 7:45, BBC1 and ITV1.

Match odds: Spain 2.226/5, Italy 4.03/1, The Draw 3.259/4.

Spain and Italy have met before in Euro 2012, but tactically this should be a different type of game. After all, Cesare Prandelli has moved away from the 3-5-2 system he used in Gdansk three weeks ago, and now favours a midfield diamond. He says he 'hasn't even considered' returning to a back three for the final.

Prandelli's only major decision is at right-back. Giorgio Chiellini returned to the side impressively at left-back, and Prandelli will be reluctant to break up the Juventus connection at the back, where Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci also both performed excellently.

That means it's a choice between Ignzaio Abate, Federico Balzaretti and Christian Maggio at right-back. Abate is the natural option but missed the Germany game through injury, and even if close to full fitness, Prandelli won't want to risk having to make an early substitution in a game that could go beyond 90 minutes. Maggio is a natural on the right but struggles positionally when playing at full-back rather than wing-back, and Balzaretti impressed against Germany when Maggio was suspended.

The first nine names on Vicente del Bosque's teamsheet are certain - he won't break up his defence, his midfield trio, or Andres Iniesta. The other two positions are up for grabs. On the right, David Silva has started all Spain's games at Euro 2012 so far, but Spain looked far more impressive against Portugal when Jesus Navas and Pedro Rodriguez offered width. Those two players had a key impact upon the World Cup final, while Navas really stretched Italy in their previous meeting when arriving late on. Silva will probably start, but Navas would give a lot more drive.

The problem at centre-forward in David Villa's absence has never truly been resolved - Fernando Torres hasn't been particularly impressive and Alvaro Negredo was invisible against Portugal, so Cesc Fabregas seems more likely to return as a false nine.

On that issue, del Bosque will surely be swayed by the midfield battle. Spain are usually sure of winning the numbers game in the centre of the pitch, but Italy's diamond midfield means they can use four central players. Spain would still expect to dominate the ball, but they had problems dealing with Andrea Pirlo at the start of the tournament (when they had three-versus-three in the middle), so the numerical disadvantage could be solved by Fabregas dropping deep and pressuring Pirlo, who is surely the game's key player.

The major difference from the first game involves the battle down the flanks. Spain completely struggled for width against Italy in the 1-1, because Maggio and Emanuele Giaccherini were deployed as adventurous wing-backs and were able to energetically push back Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa. This time, the Spanish full-backs won't have a direct opponent and should be able to advance freely.

But they'll have to watch out for Italy's strikers, who are likely to shift over to the flanks when Spain have the ball. This will make Spain's full-backs nervous about coming forward, and also drag the centre-backs wide. Sergio Ramos was embarrassed by Mario Balotelli in the 1-1 near the touchline, but I think Italy will focus more on dragging Gerard Pique out of position. In the first game, both strikers moved to the left, and as Antonio Cassano moved deep, Balotelli sprinted in behind - or vice-versa.

That's also the zone Italy opened the scoring from against Germany, though this came when Giorgio Chiellini strode forward unmarked, bringing Jerome Boateng and, in turn, Mats Hummels out of position. Silva (or Navas) must be wary of Chiellini's movement.

I can't help but feel Spain are going to win the corners market easily in this match. They've won each corners match bet so far in Euro 2012 - 7-2, 8-2, 11-4, 7-3, 7-6. Italy won a decent number of corners with wing-backs, but when they won the corners match bets against England and Ireland with a diamond (12-5, 7-3), this came primarily because they were up against the two most negative teams in the tournament, and therefore dominated possession. I think Spain will see more of the ball and will also offer more width, so I'm backing them strongly at 1.454/9.

Italy are more likely to get cards - 15 bookings in the tournament, compared to Spain's ten, but I'm not particularly tempted by the odds available. For aforementioned reasons I think Pique could be overloaded and is a good back at around 5.04/1, while Riccardo Montlivo played a forward-playing destroyer role against Germany would do nicely if you can get him at 6.05/1.

Recommended bet:
Spain in Corners Match Bet at 1.454/9

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30 June 2012

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