It is not an exercise. Six days after the start of Euro 2020, Italy became the first team to advance to the round of 16 thanks to two brilliant goals from Manuel Locatelli and another from Ciro Immobile, and a collective show of force that should alert the rest of the peloton. Trained and united, quick with the ball and ravenous without it, efficient and entertaining, this Italian team has been the revelation of the tournament so far, and here Switzerland had no answers.
There’s something about Liverpool’s 2019-2020 title winners in Roberto Mancini’s Italian squad, a thoroughly modern 4-3-3 formation with daring full-backs, brilliant pressing wingers and an ability to control. possession without ever fetishizing it. In a carnival atmosphere at the Stadio Olimpico, Italy put the game to bed in less than an hour, bringing their unbeaten run to 29 games, the last 10 of which have been clear wins.
Friday’s 3-0 victory over Turkey was quite impressive. The real question, in the context of Turkey’s implosion against Wales earlier today, was whether they could inflict the same treatment on a superior opponent. That was answered in a frantic first half hour in which Italy tore the Swiss apart with their signature quick-twitch attacks and concerted pressing play, rightly passing through Locatelli.
Mancini had the luxury of naming an almost unchanged team, with Giovanni di Lorenzo replacing injured Alessandro Florenzi at right back, and Lazio’s Francesco Acerbi replacing injured captain Giorgio Chiellini in the first half. That aside, it was pretty much as usual.
Jorginho, Locatelli and Nicolò Barella controlled the midfield; Leonardo Spinazzola was again an incendiary presence passing from the left back. It was Spinazzola’s beautiful rotation and center from which Immobile should have given Italy the lead after 10 minutes.
A goal denied by Chiellini – he had handled the ball shortly before slamming Lorenzo Insigne into the corner at close range – offered only a temporary respite. In the 26th minute, Locatelli showed up to play a sumptuous left-footed ball, for the first time, to Domenico Berardi on the right wing. Instead of admiring his handiwork, he continued to run. As Berardi twisted, squirmed and crossed, Locatelli was in the perfect spot to kick the ball, having sprinted 50 yards to complete the move he started.
Switzerland wasn’t bad as such: unlike Turkey you could at least see the bones of a shot, work the ball down the flanks before releasing Haris Seferovic and Breel Embolo up front. But as they patiently tried to build, they found themselves ambushed by successive waves of blue. With Acerbi and Leonardo Bonucci devouring everything in the air, the long ball wasn’t an option either. And so, devoid of ideas, they just sat back: spectators in their own tournament game.
The second half at least started a little more evenly, as Switzerland pushed a little higher and took advantage of a few possession spells. This too turned out to be a cruel illusion. In reality, it was simply Italy playing with time signatures, catching its breath, inviting pressure to create space for itself. Six minutes into the half-time, Locatelli pushed into that space again, picked up Barella’s pressure-free pass and looked up to see the Swiss defenders push him back.
So Locatelli let go at 22 meters. It was the kind of soft touch, the kind of ball flight, the kind of satisfying hit against the net, that will have signaled to Locatelli that this was one of those nights: when the planets line up and the lengths of wave are fair and whatever you do just works. Yann Sommer did not even bother to move.
And so, with victory assured, the informal part of the evening could begin. Insigne and Berardi were given the last 20 minutes of rest; Di Lorenzo used his masculinity to block a shot from the disappointing Xherdan Shaqiri; Gianluigi Donnarumma, newly signed for Paris Saint-Germain, made a nice low save against substitute Steven Zuber.
With two minutes remaining, Immobile finally scored his goal, scoring from a distance after Rafael Tolói won the ball high up the pitch. Two games later, Italy look like a team without serious weakness.