In my previous article, I explained how each and every team in the tournament has either chosen neo-total football or modernized counter-attacking, except Turkey. After that piece, I realized that I left Italy out of this classification unintentionally, because I just could not find a place for Italy in this picture. Although Italy's game is neither tiki-taka, nor counter-pressing, it was also not a chaotic circus like Turkey's. Nevertheless, Italy's play happened to be a surprisingly successful version of classic, hard-core defending with a classy style in the age of speed, intense pressing and modernized defensive settings.
First of all, Italy have the best defenders and the best defensive strategy in the tournament so far. The classic Juventus defense; Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli make up a great defensive block that would terrify almost every team. Not only are these players extremely hard to deal with one on one, they have great harmony all together. Thus, every team that faces Italy, especially the ones who do not dominate the ball like Belgium and Sweden, will have a hard time. Seeing as there is almost no way to catch Italy's defense with few men and conduct Diego Simeone's counter-attacks against them, Italy show us why notions of dominance, control and reproducibility are crucial.
For sure, Italy have not been tested seriously by Spain and Germany yet, but their present form assures us that they have a significant chance of reaching the semi-finals or the final, where they will likely meet either the reigning world or European champions. As you can see, the practical difference between neo-total football and modernized counter-attack occurs exactly at this point, in the case of Italy and other defensive teams. What should the attitude of a team be when they face Italy? As I said, there is no point pushing for counters to find a gap inside of this defense, you would have to be really lucky to find an opportunity without a slick passing game and even more to make it count against Gianluigi Buffon.
However, as the insightful two games between Italy and Spain in EURO 2012 show, Italy's great wall can only be breached by continuous and patient bombardment. Spain did not even have a striker against Italy, they played with Cesc Fabregas upfront and it turned out the be extremely effective. The reason is simple, Italy want you to respond to classic defending with classic attacking; through balls, long balls or crosses to the main striker. Nevertheless, these direct approaches are desperate and only work to make defending easy for Italy. Italian defenders are great at repelling direct balls into their penalty box, unless you plan to open them up slowly and gently. Then, Italy have no other option but to wait for their final verdict desperately in their penalty box, given they have no strategy for counter-pressing or preventing the opponent's game before it becomes dangerous. In other words, Italy invite danger like a carnivorous plant waits for its victim, only to trap them inside.
Therefore, it appears that there is a strange hierarchy among these various strategies and tactics. While counter-pressing is effective against tiki-taka, it fails to create time and space in the opponent's half against Italy's tough defense. On the other hand, Italy's system has no means to respond to neo-total football given that they give tiki-taka the oxygen that fuels it, a comfortable amount of time and space around the opponent's penalty box. Nevertheless, there is no place for Turkey in this hierarchy, unfortunately we neither developed our own strategy or adopted one of the ones above. Thus, even the ones who solely defend have a chance, but chaotic suicide bombers are doomed to lose.