Individual moments of brilliance have come to define many tournaments over the years – From Gazza at Italia 1990 to Hal Robson-Kanu at France 2016. Individual matchups become inherently more important given what’s at stake and Euro 2020’s Round of 16 will be no different.
First up is Italy vs Austria. Both Italy and Austria are defensively solid and pragmatic in their approach, they don’t leave spaces for the opponents to run into and exploit while also trying to keep the ball for longer periods. This makes up for an interesting match and some intense game-changing individual battles.
OFFICIAL: Italy will be playing Austria in the Round of 16 on Saturday 🇮🇹🇦🇹 pic.twitter.com/pgExzEZqYc
— Italian Football TV (@IFTVofficial) June 21, 2021
We look at three such battles that could be crucial in deciding the outcome of the game.
MANUEL LOCATELLI VS XAVER SCHLAGER
Midfield is the key to victory in such tight games and Italy has flourished in this department so far despite the long list of injuries. Sassuolo’s Manuel Locatelli was tipped to be one of the booming stars at Euro 2020 by FootTheBall and he has lived up to the expectation so far. Austria’s Xaver Schlager will be on duty to keep Locatelli in check on Saturday and it will be one of the biggest selling points of the fixture.
Both young central midfielders have been on top of their game in the tournament so far and will hold a crucial responsibility coming into the game. Wolfsburg’s Austrian midfielder is a defensive machine and rarely lets anything get through him, although he’s not physically dominant like his Italian counterpart. He also likes to get forward and get involved in the attacking movements by creating chances or shooting himself but gets back in position to protect his backline just in time.
— ÖFB – oefb.at (@oefb1904) June 21, 2021
Locatelli is used in more of a defensive role in domestic football, which allows him to carry the ball forward and spread passes but hinders his attacking output. With Jorginho and Nicolo Barella in the Italian set-up, Locatelli could thrive and it resulted in a brace against Switzerland. With Verratti fully fit and ready to play, Locatelli might have to come off the bench to make his impact, but the 6’1” tall midfielder will be useful in dominating the midfield and is likely to start.
DOMENICO BERARDI VS DAVID ALABA
Another fun to watch battle will take place on the right flank from Italy’s perspective when their winger and major creative output Domenico Berardi will be put up against Real Madrid’s latest signing, Austrian captain David Alaba.
🇦🇹 David Alaba = Austria's most talented player of all-time?
— UEFA Nations League (@EURO2024) June 24, 2021
Alaba is a versatile player who helps his team in both attack and defence. Starting as a left-back, the 29-year old Austrian can move up to a left midfielder or a left-winger to provide crosses in the box. A testament to this was against North Macedonia where Alaba started in a three-man backline but moved up ahead in the dying minutes when scores were tied and assisted the winning goal.
Alaba can read the game well and keep his box secure but Berardi can exploit space left behind with his pace if the Austrian captain moves up the pitch.
And again…refuel & get ready!
Can’t wait for the round of 16! pic.twitter.com/UtT8r5BE6l
— David Alaba (@David_Alaba) June 22, 2021
The 26-year old Sassuolo forward had a brilliant domestic season with 24 goal involvements in 30 appearances that secured him a starting spot ahead of Bernardeschi and Chiesa for Italy. He has been a great asset for Roberto Mancini from the right flank, with the ability to cross as well as cut in and shoot. His task won’t be limited to attacking when playing against David Alaba and will need to fall back and help his team regain possession before it’s too late.
The matchup will be an important aspect of the game as both sides prefer to attack from the flank in question here. Although to provide more defensive stability, Alaba can start as a central defender too and keep a check on Ciro Immobile’s movement inside the box.
ARNAUTOVIC VS BONUCCI
Austria uses the physicality of its forwards in the opponent box to create goalscoring opportunities from the flanks. Former West Ham United striker Marko Arnautovic will be an important attacking outlet for Franco Foda’s side to breach Italy’s goal. Italy have been a tough nut to crack for opponents with a solid defence being their footballing identity. The Azzurri hasn’t conceded a single goal in its last 10 games, thanks to the Juventus duo in the backline – Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.
— Leonardo Bonucci (@bonucci_leo19) June 23, 2021
With Chiellini’s injury against Switzerland, Bonucci will need to step up and lead the team from the back. His biggest challenge will be the 6’3” tall Austrian forward leaping to meet crosses from either side. Bonucci is known for his aerial duels and physical presence in both boxes but marking Arnautovic in the box isn’t an easy task as he has shown in the Premier League.
— ÖFB – oefb.at (@oefb1904) June 13, 2021
Marko Arnautovic, apart from rising high and scoring headers, likes to draw off defenders and create spaces for the other forwards to move into and find shots. The 32-year old forward will need to be at his best to apply the required pressure to break the Italian defence.
Bonucci will be helped by either Alessandro Bastoni or Giorgio Chiellini to keep the Austrian forwards in check along with their tallest guy on the field Gianluigi Donnarumma. The 34-year old defender has shown what he’s capable of while defending and is bound to be one of the most influential performers for Italy in the Round of 16.