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Belgium vs Italy - what to watch out for

Tonight it's time for the first quarter-finals of the euros and at 21:00 we will see two title favorites play against each other. We decided to take a more in-depth look at both of these teams.

(Image credit: Future)


In this article, we compare the defensive side of Italy with the attacking side of Belgium. We will close it off with a conclusion and let you know what you should look out for during the match.


Italy

Italy had a relatively easy start of the euros winning all three of its games. In the three games, they managed to score seven times, while not conceding a single goal and only allowing 2 shots on goal. This really highlights the strength of Italy which has always been its defense. In the round of 16, they had a tough game against Austria only beating them in extra time with 2-1. Below we will take a look at the defense of Italy and which players we have to watch out for in their game against Belgium.


Italy Player Roles

During the euros, Italy has mostly played with Spinazzola at left-back. On the right side of the pitch, Italy started with Florenzi, but he was replaced by Di Lorenzo after his first match, due to an injury.

Above we see that the main role of Spinazzola is being a wingback, this means that he likes to push up the field and help with the attacking play. If we then look at the two right-backs, we see that they are more defensive-minded with Di Lorenzo being a full back, and Florenzi a defensive back.


Offensive duels vs percentage won

When we compared the player roles, we saw that Spinazzola was the most attacking player. The scatter plot below does a good job of showing the different player roles of the backs.

In the scatter plot above we see that Spinazzola has the highest average number of offensive duels per 90 minutes. He also wins most of these duels, compared to Di Lorenzo and Florenzi. In the player roles we can also see that Di Lorenzo is more attacking compared to Florenzi, which explains his higher number of offensive duels. It also shows the difference between the right and left side of the field for Italy. On the left you have Insigne who likes to play a bit more inside, allowing Spinazzola to overlap him. On the right side of the pitch, you have Berardi who likes to hug the line more and stays wide, this makes it more difficult for Di Lorenzo to overlap.


Forward passes vs percentage forward

Above we looked at offensive duels which highlights the more attacking players in the team. We will now take a look at the amount forward of passes and how much of the total passes a player plays forward. A player that plays more defensively will have more opportunities to play the ball forward compared to a player that already plays high up the pitch.

In the scatterplot above we see that Di Lorenzo and Florenzi outpeformed Spinazzola. This is not surprising as they are both more defensive-minded right-backs. This means they get a lot more opportunities to play the ball forward to midfielders or attackers. Spinazzola will play higher up the field so he will have fewer opportunities to play the ball forward as there will be fewer players in front of him.


Belgium

After steaming through the group phase, Belgium faced its first real challenge against reigning European Champion Portugal. In a very close game with two attacking teams, Belgium managed to come out on top at the end. Beating Portugal 1-0 after a fantastic goal from Thorgan Hazard. The next challenge for the red devils is going to be Italy, who are known for their great defensive capabilities. Below we will take a look at the different wingers Belgium has at its disposal and what the difference is between them.


Belgium Player Roles

We start by looking at the different player roles of the three dedicated wingers Belgium has at its disposal. Here we look at the playing style of the targeted players, in this case, E. Hazard, Carrasco & Mertens. All three are playing at the same position, which is right behind Lukaku. The graph below shows a clear difference between the three players, meaning they all have their own distinct playing style. If we look at Mertens, his main player role is inside forward, meaning he moves more without the ball and creating space that way. Comparing Mertens with E. Hazard, we see that E. Hazard's main role is that of an inverted winger. Inverted wingers tend to play more with the ball at their feet while cutting in from the flank and looking for a cross or pass.


Offensive duels vs percentage won

Above we looked at the different player roles, we will now look at the offensive duels vs percentage won. We see that E. Hazard really stands out from the other attacking players at Belgium, and we also see that Carassco has a fair amount of offensive duels per game.

If we now look back at the player roles, we saw that Carrasco and E. Hazard are more playing as inverted wingers, meaning they like to cut inside with the ball. This would result in more offensive duels as they try to pass their opponent in a 1 on 1 duel. Mertens is more an inside forward who operates more in the space and without the ball. You can see this back in his low number of offensive duels, he does however have a similar success rate as Carrasco.


Shots vs percentage on target

In the scatter above we could clearly see the player role of E. Hazard and Carrasco, as inverted wingers like to play with the ball challenging opponents. Mertens as an inside forward likes to play in the free space and when he gets the ball he will look for an opportunity to shoot, rather than a cross or pass wide.

The above scatter plot really shows this as Mertens has more shots and a higher percentage on target when compared to E. Hazard & Carrasco.


These two scatter plots are good at showing the difference between the options Belgium will have against Italy. With E. Hazard and De Bruyne suffering a minor injury against Portugal, Carrasco and Mertens will likely take their place on the pitch. Carrasco has a similar playing style as E. Hazard and will occupy the left flank, while Mertens will play on the right side behind Lukaku.


Conclusion

We have now looked at both the defensive options of Italy and the attacking options of Belgium and we can come to some very interesting conclusions for tonight's game.


Italy will play with attacking-minded left-back Spinazzola where he will face either De Bruyne or Mertens as his main opponent. Mertens and De Bruyne both like to operate in the space between and behind the defenders. With Spinazzola pushing high up the field this will create space for Belgium on that side of the pitch which they can be looking to exploit.


On the right side, it is likely that Di Lorenzo is going to start for Italy and he is a more defensive-minded right-back. His main opponent will either be E. Hazard or Carrasco, who both like to get past their opponent with an attacking action on the ball. With Di Lorenzo playing further back it is likely that they are going to have a lot of duels on that side of the pitch. It will be interesting to see who is going to come out on top of that duel.


We expect it to be a very interesting match and we will look closely at the conclusions above. This will be one of the best quarter-finals if we look at who is going up against each other. Every football fan will look forward to seeing this match.

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