On Sunday night in Bologna, Spain kicked off their Euro U-21 campaign against tournament co-hosts Italy — a game which they ultimately dropped three points in. Dani Ceballos — the tournament’s best player two years ago — Jesus Vallejo, and Borja Mayoral all started for Spain.
This was a match which Spain initially looked comfortable in. They kept purposeful possession by swinging the ball rapidly to shift Italy’s defensive scheme around. Mayoral and Fabian Ruiz got into space to receive vertical passes, Mikel Oyarzabal was roaming in a free role to help guide the offense, and Dani Ceballos was in his usual U-21 mood — quick passing and incisive dribbling, little hesitation to shoot:
Ceballos and U-21 Euros, name a better duo pic.twitter.com/zeofxQ86GU— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) June 16, 2019
That goal from Ceballos put Spain ahead, and seemingly in control of the game. Italy, with the little possession they had, didn’t look dangerous on the counter. Spain were good in transition, and Aaron and Vallejo in particular were good defensively — either swopping in for interventions or committing tactical fouls. A fun battle in the first half was Moise Keane and Vallejo going at it — with Keane being visibly frustrated at how tightly Vallejo was marking him.
A huge twist in the flow of the game came when Spain’s goalkeeper, Unai Simon, gave Italy a lifeline by allowing Federico Chiesa a near-post finish from an angle that should’ve been closed:
Chiesa’s goal out of practically nothing and from a difficult angle. pic.twitter.com/qxqwa12GAH— Raffaele (@ItalianoCalcio) June 16, 2019
Italy responded to their goal scored much better than Spain did to conceding it. Italy’s press became immediately aggressive, which stifled Spain’s build-up that was so freely allowed early on.
In the second half, Spain regrouped, and some of those passing sequences which broke Italy returned:
Again though, another defensive lapse allowed Italy to score. This time, it was Alaves right back Martín Aguirregabiria who fell asleep marking Chiesa at the far post:
Spain’s mental miscues continued beyond Chiesa’s second goal. Carlos Soler committed an unnecessary foul in the box — a simple shirt pull away from the ball — and Italy sealed the game from the penalty spot.
Of the three Real Madrid players playing in this game, Ceballos was undoubtedly the stand out. His five completed dribbles (a game-high) were able to get Spain into good positions in attack.
Mayoral was isolated from the play for the majority of this game. That had a lot to do with Italy’s adjustment to pressure Spain more aggressively and cut off passing lanes as the game wore on. Vallejo, who did his part, was a steady passer out of the back and made four clearances.
Spain’s next game will be against Belgium on Wednesday.