The finalists of Euro 2012 go head to head in this year’s European Championships much earlier than expected. Italy take on Spain in the round of 16 at the Stade de France on the 27th of June in what promises to be a mammoth tactical battle.

Missing the likes of Verratti and Marchisio, Italy weren’t  regarded with much credence coming into Euro 2016. However, their performance against Belgium made everyone stand up and take notice.

On Monday evening, Italy will look to camp deep in their own half before pinging quick long balls up to Pelle who would then try to bring the Azurri’s onrushing midfielders into play.

Italy vs Spain

Italy vs Spain : Staring formations

Spain had hammered Italy 4-0, four years ago in the final of Euro 2012, ending for good, the mental stranglehold Italy had over Spain in major tournaments. The ghosts of Euro’s past are likely to return as Spain’s weaknesses are Italy’s strength.

Spain’s full-backs love to bomb forward and it is here where Italy will look to punish their opponents, the way Croatia did, in their last group game.

Although La Roja have been exceptional going forward, especially down the left, with Ineista, Nolito and Alba combining effervescently, they stand to face a tactical threat from Italy’s right wing back Candreva, the attacking of the two wing backs, on the same flank.

The Tiki-Taka

Spain are more comfortable keeping the ball and are likely to test Italy more than Belgium.

Fabregas, Iniesta and Busquets are far more comfortable and intelligent on the ball than Belgium’s Fellaini, Witsel and Naingollan, who had controlled the midfield, playing against Italy. The Spanish midfielders will be even quicker to spot the gaps that could arise in Italy’s backline, should they try to attack Spain.

Italy, without possession against Belgium, changed their shape to a semi 4-4-2 with Candreva staying further up and sticking with the opposition full back, while Darmian shifted to left back position. Barzagli moved to the right and Parolo dealt with Hazard, from cutting inside.

There could be an identical scenario come Monday night with Nolito drifting inside in place of Hazard. However, compared to Witsel, the left midfielder for Belgium behind Hazard, Iniesta is likely to cause far more problems.

While Parolo was far more comfortable as a defending midfielder against Belgium, his midfield partner Giacherrini was found wanting. Vicente del Bosque would be eager to exploit this weakness with Silva and Fabregas. It would be very interesting to see how well Giacherrini would adapt defensively to counter Silva and Fabregas.

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Space in centre midfield when Italy have the ball

With the absence of Veratti and Marchisio, Italy’s midfield is a bit patched up.  With the ball, Danielle de Rossi plays deeper than the two box to box midfielders, leaving a large gap in the centre of midfield.

If Busquets or one of Spain’s two centre backs intercept one of Italy’s long balls, there would be suddenly a large amount of space for Spain’s technically intelligent players to exploit.

The Counter

Italy’s goal against Belgium is the perfect example of how one can score against Spain. Italy can deploy similar counter-attacking tactics since Spain is expected to play a high back line.

Candreva is another player through which Italy can move forward.  He can look to exploit the space Alba leaves behind, before crossing into the box for Pelle and Italy’s other on-rushing players.

When the two teams met in March for a friendly, it was Italy who had the lion’s share of the chances with Spain hardly testing Buffon. This pattern could repeat on Monday night as a counter attack has more chances to end with a shot on goal (on or off target). It is up to Spain now, to reduce Italy’s counter attacking options and opportunities to a bare minimum.

Summary

The masters of the tiki-taka against the masters of the catennacio –  Italy vs Spain is filled with tactical battles and it will be interesting to see who gains the upper hand. Will Italy’s patched-up midfield give way first or will Spain’s tiki- taka backfire as Italy sit back and launch counter after counter?

The Azzurri have the meanest defence and if Spain could overcome this enormous challenge early on, they could be on their way to a third successive European title.