France is abuzz. The World Cup is now underway. Utter madness. I’m already sleep deprived and we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg for the tournament. The Matildas are preparing to finally play on the world’s biggest stage again. First match, Italy.
ITALY THREE THINGS
HIGH DEFENSIVE LINE
Italy will come out with the intention to hold the ball. When they’ve got the ball at their feet, their defence will be enticed to move further, and further up the park. It’ll be creeping up like that tee shirt that rides up while at the gym. So long as the ball is in front of them, it won’t matter how high their defence is. Find that ball in the miles of space behind their line? Italy will be on the back foot faster than how quickly someone stealing some of my pasta would feel my wrath.
Taking a turn to old school Europe, Italy’s go to in attack will be pumping the ball up long. Considering how much patience they’re happy to show kicking the ball around in defence, it almost doesn’t seem right to not play that way through the midfield. But here we are, Italy will lull a side into a false sense of security just to pump a long ball, exposing a napping defence.
It’s a beautiful thing to see a side who can mix up their formation on the park. Italy are one of those who can do so. Most obviously, in how they can set out with a back three or four. This allows them to be unpredictable in their line up, as well as deal with each opponent individually to handle whatever they’re bringing to the table. How will they shape up against the Matildas? Given the pace up top, expect a more traditional back four and a formation that allows them to protect the goal, while having forwards ready to pounce with the long ball.
HOW THE MATILDAS SHAPE UP?
Of course, there’s lots of questions heading into the first game. Particularly given the performance against the Netherlands. But here are my top two things to consider.
- Rickety defences need to be fixed, or at least plastered over
- Can a high press be maintained for longer than the first 20 minutes?
A lot has been said about how exposed the Matildas backline was against the Netherlands. And honestly? It was more exposed than a streaker running on the pitch in the middle of grand final day. Clearly the depth is lacking to truly change things up. As demonstrated by Alleway’s replacement being a fresh faced, uncapped fullback, (a subject for another day). However, the starting back four? It should be more gold than our jerseys.
Two things that need to happen to plaster over the cracks?
Our organisation. Whether we mark player to player or zonally, someone needs to be commanding back there. That was missing massively against the Dutch.
The second thing? Whoever is defensive midfield, it cannot be an attacking midfielder. There has to be a ball winner protecting the defence. This will help with our shape, but more importantly it’ll mean the midfield actually wins the ball. Additionally this will give a player the defence can safely play out to, who will play the simple pass and maintain possession. That’s important at this level.
As for the high press? That’ll require discipline. Against Italy, a high press will be killer. They will be looking to hold the ball deep. Apply a high press, get the ball into spaces behind Italy’s defence? That’s a recipe for something really special and dominant. That’s how we could win this game. And it could be beautiful.