Since the completion of the 2016 Euros and the departure of Antonio Conte from his post as Head Coach of the Italian national team, the experienced Giampiero Ventura has been in charge of the Italians. A true tactical pioneer in Italian football, Ventura has been a mentor of sorts for Conte as there are many similarities in the way their teams play. While Ventura has used a 3-5-2 formation to great effect with Torino and has also implemented it with Italy, he’s a believer in the effectiveness of the unorthodox 4-2-4 formation Conte also loves. Here we take a look at what it looks like when Ventura implements this shape with Italy, specifically focusing on their attacking play.
The difference from a standard 4-4-2 is that Ventura’s 4-2-4 sees both wingers start as high as both strikers with the four of them in a horizontal line across the pitch. As the full-backs move higher though, the wingers move inside into either half space from where Italy now have almost six players across the width of the pitch. The two central midfielders remain fixed in the centre at all times and the same goes for the centre-backs.
In the video below, I take a closer look at the natural movement between winger and full-back on both sides. Evidently, this is something worked on extensively in training, as Ventura has used a plethora of players in both full-back and wing-positions. Wingers is probably not a good term for the role the players play, “wide attacker” would probably be more fitting.
Below we can see another example of when both full-backs have pushed on with wide attackers Bernardeschi and Insigne moving inside.
Ventura is a coach in the true essence of the word. The movements between players are critical in his approach and when done right it creates multiple solutions for his players. In the video below we can clearly see the positional structure Ventura seeks in possession, with De Rossi at the base of midfield with six players ahead of him all occupying different positions and spaces from where Italy can hurt their opposition. Maximum width is always maintained and the four central attackers, as they become with the movement of the wide attackers, look to exploit any space centrally. On this occasion, a great goal is scored straight from Ventura’s playbook.
Ventura also preaches quick passing to make the ball circulation effective and tough to match for the opposition. The two central midfielders position themselves to create connections with the wide players at all times and look to create third-man passes to get out of pressure. Below is a sequence where they utilise their positional structure to great effect with the ball moving quickly between the players and the players’ constant movement after passes. Straight from the training ground.
Just like Conte, Ventura loves his strike partnerships to combine with both movement and their passing. Ventura seems to have decided on a strike partnership of Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti, two strikers he has previously coached at Torino. They are obviously well-educated in Ventura’s tactics and will be played together both in the 4-2-4 or the 3-5-2. What Ventura seeks with his strikers is for them to use “dummy runs” to surprise their opponents. For example, Belotti makes a run to receive but when the pass is played he lets the ball go, turns his run into the empty space behind the defensive line and Immobile can find him with a pass in behind. This is very effective and something Ventura has spent many hours on the training ground perfecting. It’s hard to stop in full flow and very difficult to prepare for as an opponent as it’s impossible to know when they will do it. Other strikers for Italy such as Eder also excel in this type of movement and combination play going back to his impressive performances under Conte.
Italy are very well-coached as a team and their attacking play will involve lots of repetitive movement from the attacking players. There are already signs though of how effective they can be when the combinations flow as Ventura wants them too. With strikers like Belotti, Immobile and Eder available as well as wide attackers like Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi, Antonio Candreva and Domenico Berardi in the squad, Italy’s attacking play has every potential to flourish even more in the future. Attacking full-backs are also around in abundance with the likes of Leonardo Spinazzola, Davide Zappacosta, Mattia De Sciglio, Andrea Conti and Matteo Darmian available for selection.
Defensively, Italy’s formation changes into a standard 4-4-2 where they look to defend as a really compact unit before pressing aggressively. The true innovation lies in their attacking play and it will be interesting to see if Ventura goes with the 4-2-4 in the decisive qualifying clash with Spain next month. That game will decide who wins the group and gains automatic qualification to the 2018 World Cup. If Italy make it there, prepare already to watch one of the most meticulously coached national teams in the world.