After stalemate in Baku, Switzerland must improve in Rome.
Having been held to a 1-1 draw by Wales last Saturday, the Schweizer Nati now find themselves in the Italian capital to face Group A leaders and continental giants Italy. Fancied as outside favourites following their 3-0 romping of Turkey, the Azzurri were the standout opponents from the moment the draw was made a year and-a-half ago.
It is an understatement to say that Switzerland would be in a far greater position had they won in Azerbaijan, but it is a case of what ifs. What if Haris Seferović had his shooting boots on, if the defence had stayed switched on for Kieffer Moore’s equaliser, if Mario Gavranovic had stayed onside before sweeping the ball home.
Now is not the time for regret, but for action.
Switzerland have the benefit of already playing once at EURO 2020, and knowing what needs to be changed if they are to prevail on Wednesday.
For a start, Vladimir Petković’s game management was questionable, sacrificing key creator Xherdan Shaqiri in favour of a three-man midfield and delaying Gavranovic’s introduction until the 84th minute. The latter is especially notable, given that the Dinamo Zagreb striker should have been starting in the first place.
While Petković’s substitutions were one factor, the Nati’s back three system ultimately proved costly.
An overall decent display by the collective of Nico Elvedi, Manuel Akanji and Fabian Schär was tarnished by continued exposure, vulnerability easily prevented with full-backs in a standard back four.
At the end of the day, it was the back three’s errors which came back to bite them.
Schär was ball-watching for Moore’s sweeping header, completely losing track and focus at the crucial moment. Moore was one of four Welsh players in the box to shake off their marker, as the entire Swiss defence simply switched off without hesitation.
While there is little point dwelling on the past, understanding the faults from Baku is vital so as not to repeat them in Rome.
Ball-watching, loose marking, inconsistent positioning. Should the back three repeat their mistakes against Italy, they will be punished to irreversible damage.
There is no better test for the Nati’s defence than the Italian firepower of Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti, to name a few. This is an Italy squad blessed with attacking talent who can be ruthless when they hit their stride, as demonstrated by the outstanding second half performance in the tournament’s opening game.
If previous patterns are anything to go by, Switzerland will be in for a tough test with their back three against the Italians.
Since Petković switched to the three-man defence two years ago, Switzerland have faced – and failed to beat – Europe’s finest. When playing a back three, the Schweizer Nati have lost to Belgium, Spain, England, Croatia and Denmark, while only mustering draws against Germany and Spain.
The stats do not lie – Switzerland struggle against the big teams with their new setup. These are countries who are clinical in attack, tremendous in transition and able to pick apart the Swiss defence and be in on goal within moments.
It is too late to change, but the back three must replenish Petković’s faith and put in a performance to be proud of.
With Group A still wide open, Switzerland’s encounter with Italy will define what lies ahead.
A famous win at the Stadio Olimpico would put them on four points, all but sufficient points to book a place in the round of 16. The job would not yet be finished, but a four-point tally should prove enough to at least qualify as one of the best third-place teams.
Another draw would leave Switzerland with two points from two, which would leave them in the bottom half of Group A should there be a winner between Wales and Turkey.
But if Switzerland are beaten in Rome, a return of one point in two games would put them on the verge of elimination. Needing a win against a potentially dangerous Turkey is not ideal, but seems most likely regardless of Wednesday’s result.
The European Championship is all about big games, and for Vladimir Petković’s Switzerland, they do not come as big as this. They will enter the gladiator’s arena as the away team, the minnows, the underdogs, the odds stacked against them in Rome.
But if we have learnt anything about Switzerland, it is to expect the unexpected.
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