Three key talking points from Italy’s press conference on eve of Spain Euro 2024 clash: “We want to press aggressively”

Luciano Spalletti and Michael Folorunsho spoke to the press on Wednesday before Italy's Euro 2024 clash with Spain. While the coach wasn't giving much away about his team selection, we've noted three takeaways from their comments.

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Luciano Spalletti in Italy Men's National Team training. (@Azzurri)

VELTINS ARENA (Gelsenkirchen): Luciano Spalletti was in fine form as he laid out exactly what he needs from his Italy Men’s National Team players against Spain during a 2024 European Championship press conference in Gelsenkirchen.

With both sides coming off morale-boosting opening wins, Thursday night’s clash could well decide who takes the top spot in Group B – and therefore a more favourable knockout draw.

With focus fully on the game against Spain, Total Italian Football were in attendance for Spalletti’s MD-1 press conference in Gelsenkirchen to hear the Azzurri coach’s thoughts.

Spalletti wants Italy to take the game to Spain

Spalletti’s 10 months in charge of La Nazionale so far haven’t delivered a distinctive style of play, with the coach tinkering with different formations in the build-up to the tournament.

Italy used both three-man and four-man defences before arriving in Germany, nominally using the latter in the opening 2-1 win over Albania with a hybrid 4-2-3-1 formation where the shape changed in and out of possession.

It was an encouraging start, but the task of facing a Spain side so well-drilled in its possession-heavy 4-3-3 style presents a much greater tactical and technical challenge for this new-look Azzurri.  

For Spalletti, that is no excuse. If there was one thing the former Napoli boss made absolutely clear in his half-hour session with the media, it’s that he wants the Azzurri to take the game by the scruff of the neck and not be in awe of their opponents.

“We have the utmost respect for Spain’s history and quality of this group of players but we must not think they are better than they actually are, that would be a mistake. We also have an opportunity to play our own game,” Spalletti said.

“We want to press the opposition aggressively,” he added. “When it comes to reacting quickly, one of the issues is you need to move the ball very neatly and tidily. Spain won’t lose possession unless you hurry them, so you have to press them. We’re going to try and press them, and we want to see if we’re better than them in possession.

“I’m convinced that if we give the ball away to them, we will come out of that way worse, so we will try to play our own game and dictate the play… We will try and take the game to our opponents.”

Team selection remains a mystery

Federico Dimarco, Nicolo Barella, Alessandro Bastoni, Mattia Zaccagni, Gianluigi Donnarumma in training with the Italy Men’s National Team. (@Azzurri)

After a few days of guessing games over what changes Spalletti will make from the Albania game – if any – the coach wouldn’t give much away on his selection.

Some reports suggested a more physical team including Gianluca Mancini and Bryan Cristante could be picked, as well as the likes of Matteo Darmian and Mateo Retegui coming in, while others were convinced he would stick with the same side. With 24 hours to go, though, Spalletti wasn’t giving much away.

“I will pick the team tomorrow [matchday]. I won’t say it the day before because I haven’t received any news on who will play for our opponents,” Spalletti said.

One thing he did underline was who he sees as his penalty takers in Germany: Gianluca Scamacca, Mateo Retegui, Nicolo Barella, Federico Dimarco, Riccardo Calafiori and Jorginho.

Spalletti was also pressed on how to get his team to score more goals in open play, after a nervy end to a game against Albania where they scored twice from 16 attempts.

“It comes down to emotions, responsibility, bravery,” he said.

“These are things we need to speak about, to analyse things in the right way and try to make the finishing simple once we are there. It must be treated as something simple and not complex, otherwise everything becomes harder.”

Folorunsho in disbelief at fairytale rise

It was intriguing to see Michael Folorunsho take a seat beside Spalletti for the press conference. The midfielder has had the year of his dreams, impressing enough in his first Serie A season with Hellas Verona at the age of 26 to earn his maiden Azzurri call-up and make his international debut from the bench against Albania

Could Folorunsho earn a surprise spot in the starting side on Thursday? When he was asked, he flashed a smile before giving a nervous glance to Spalletti beside him.

“I don’t know if I will play, you’ll have to ask the mister [coach],” he responded.

Folorunsho’s rise was the most unexpected and heartwarming story in the Italy squad, coming after a career spent largely in Serie B and Serie C. He scored five goals from midfield to help keep Verona stay in the top flight in 2023/24, and now has the chance to show the world his ability in a remarkable example of a well-timed career run.

“It was impossible a year ago to imagine that I would be here,” he said. “Hard work was at the core of it all, I never stopped dreaming and that pushed me to do my best. When you get to a certain level you need to work even harder to ensure you can stay there. For me this is just a starting point.

“I would even play in goal! The important thing is to contribute to the team, I’ll be ready for any area of the pitch.

“Every player has their own path and I’ve had my own route in the game but I wouldn’t swap it with anyone. I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved. A number of people thought I wasn’t ready; I accepted that decision and continued to work hard. Now I feel ready to take on challenges that would have felt too big in the past.

“I dedicate this to my mother and my family. At 26 years old I’ve just played my first year in Serie A, a lot of players got there earlier, but some later. Everyone has their own path.”

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