Italy face tactical challenges because of injuries, suspension
By Ed Dove
BORDEAUX, France (Reuters) - Chameleon-like Italy have been lauded for their tactical suppleness at Euro 2016, but with several key absentees, coach Antonio Conte may need to reinvent them again for their quarter-final against Germany.
Recent victories, including the second-round triumph over defending champions Spain, have taken their toll, with midfielders Antonio Candreva and Daniele De Rossi training alone on Thursday because of groin and thigh injuries respectively.
Thiago Motta, a potential replacement for De Rossi, is also suspended from Saturday's game.
Italy's tactical innovations have been a highlight of the tournament, with Conte eschewing some of the national game's "traditional values". Known for their defensive qualities, the Italians have not been afraid to attack in France.
They defended intelligently to nullify Belgium in their opening 2-0 win. Their discipline was complemented by an offensive fluidity, as they modulated on the theme of 3-5-2 to become either a 5-3-2 without the ball or a 3-3-4 in possession.
The versatile Candreva, with the mobility, energy and tactical nous to excel in transitions, was critical, and neither of his potential replacements, Alessandro Florenzi or Matteo Darmian, can offer as much offensively.
Italy's intense pressing prevented Spain from getting into their rhythm in a 2-0 victory, and the tactically obsessive Conte's approach neutralised the typically influential midfielder Sergio Busquets.
The example of the tireless Emanuele Giaccherini, who pressed so high as to almost transform Italy's 3-5-2 formation into a 3-4-3, encapsulates the side's versatility.
"Conte has brought his strong tactical and technical background and his strong personality," Florenzi said. "He has a great work method."
Italy have never lost to the Germans in a competitive match at a tournament. But Conte will not only have to find a way to neutralise Germany's considerable threat, but also compensate for Italy's absentees.
"We have important absences," defender Mattia De Sciglio said. "But they will be replaced. Everybody is aware of our value. Otherwise we wouldn't be in the 23."
With both De Rossi and Motta likely to be sidelined, Conte may turn to the tenacious Stefano Sturaro alongside Marco Parolo in the centre.
He could use Giaccherini as a third forward alongside Eder and Graziano Pelle, with Florenzi and De Sciglio wide in a 3-4-3 formation.
"If we play as a team, with the sacrifice and determination we've shown, we can harm Germany," De Sciglio said.
(Editing by Adrian Warner.)