UEFA Euro 2020

Marauding Leonardo Spinazzola is reinventing the left-back role with Italy at Euro 2020

Max Cooper
Leonardo Spinazzola of Italy in action during the Uefa Euro...
Leonardo Spinazzola of Italy in action during the Uefa Euro... / Insidefoto/Getty Images
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The tournament is Euro 2020, and a new position has been invented.

The left-back-winger. Don't be fooled, this is not the left wing-back. Far from it. This is a left-back, who starts the game as part of a flat back-four, and yet manages to still be the most potent and attacking threat in the team.

The creator of this new art is Leonardo Spinazzola.

The AS Roma star has flourished over the past two years in the Italian capital, transforming into one of the most carefree and unstoppable wing-backs in Europe. Paulo Fonseca's high-risk and high-goal concession football allowed the 28-year-old to perfect his attacking movement, and he is now as terrifying as any winger in the business.

Spinazzola is a rare breed of footballer, comfortable on either foot and boasting the uncanny habit of constantly fooling his marker with a shimmy and the drop of a shoulder. His ambidextrous nature makes it impossible to predict whether he's finally going to cut in onto his 'preferred' right foot, or burn you down the outside and whip yet another cross into the box.

The Italian's attacking prowess was on show in abundance during the 2-1 win over Austria on Saturday night, although Wembley was forced to wait about ten minutes for his first marauding charge into opposition territory.

It began with a feint inside, before chopping the ball towards the touchline and speeding away from a string of desperate tackles.

A pass inside went unpunished, but the ball was back at his feet in a flash, and he shifted it onto his left foot, before drilling wide of the near post. A warning shot. He then almost added another assist to his repertoire, cutting the ball back to the edge of the box, but Nicolo Barella couldn't apply the finish.

Spinazzola had another shot soon after, forcing Daniel Bachmann into an important save down to his right. With the ball then, he's a menace, and as adventurous and forward-thinking as any genuine winger.

But even without the ball, he's equally as problematic for opponents to pick up. When Italy are in possession, Spinazzola positions himself so high up the left wing, pinning and occupying the full-backs, which simultaneously allows Lorenzo Insigne to drift infield.

That facilitates the Napoli star's game to perfection, as he can cut in onto his very much favoured right foot and either curl in a shot or whip a cross into the box. That overload on the left wing offers the chance to play intelligent triangular passing patterns, which eventually create opportunities in behind even the deepest backlines.

Although Insigne didn't have the best game of his career, Spinazzola enjoyed another of his most eye-catching. The defender continued to rampage up the left flank, and even when his teammates were panicking and losing their heads, he refused to be fazed by the magnitude of the occasion.

Tensions were high entering extra-time, after Italy had survived some heavy Austrian pressure, and they needed to get off on the right foot in the final 30 minutes. A moment of calm and clarity among all the chaos was required, and Spinazzola provided just that.

Rather than beating his marker for the umpteenth time, he instead lifted his head, peered over to the other side of the pitch, and clipped a lofted pass into the path of the fresh Federico Chiesa. The winger made the most of this gift, controlling with his head, stepping inside and lashing a strike into the far corner.

Italy got the job done in the end, first taking a 2-0 lead, before enduring a tense final eight minutes of extra-time when Austria halved their deficit to 2-1. But progression to the quarter-finals was no less than Gli Azzurri - and particularly Spinazzola - deserved.

The Roma star claimed his second Star of the Match award in four Euro 2020 contests, proving his value to this Italy side, and sending his market value skyrocketing in the space of two weeks.

Giallorossi fans will be enjoying watching their star shine on the biggest stage, but that pleasure may be tinged with a hint of concern - Spinazzola is taking Europe by storm, and football's giants should be lining up for his services.

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