Michele Marcolini would have preferred to launch his spell as Malta coach with at least one positive result, rather than two straight defeats against North Macedonia and Italy in the Euro 2024 qualifiers.
However, the brave display against the Italians left plenty of hope that this team can continue to improve even under the guidance of a new coach.
Unlike his predecessor, Devis Mangia, Marcolini’s first task was not the Nations League but instead, he nosedived immediately into the traditional qualifications for next year’s European Championships that will be held in Germany.
Drawn in a tough group together with holders Italy, runners-up England, quarter-finalists Ukraine and much-improved North Macedonia, the chances of tallying some points are very difficult for Malta.
Marcolini’s philosophy is similar to Mangia’s, but for the former Chievo Verona player it is imperative that his team solidifies itself at the back to give the players a chance of securing positive results against these high-quality teams.
One difference from the previous management is clearly the defensive shape, especially when Malta was situated mid-block, with the midfield line formed by five flat players.
Under Mangia, Malta used a 3-4-2-1 formation and often adopted a high-press system which allowed the front three to try and gain possession in the attacking third.
The 3-4-2-1 could still be an option once Marcolini would have had more time to work with his team or when the opponents are at par-level of Malta.
However, the five-man midfield allows him to provide more coverage including in the half spaces to try and eliminate as much danger as possible between the lines.
Two of the five players forming the midfield department on Sunday were Matthew Guillaumier, in his usual pivot role, and Nikolai Muscat who started as a right inside midfielder.
The Ħamrun Spartans midfielder highlighted the tactical difference between Mangia and Marcolini while emphasising that there is still room for improvement.
“I think we made some improvement from the North Macedonia game to this one,” Guillaumier told the Times of Malta.
“We were more patient during the development phase with the ball and that is something that the new coach is emphasising on.
“We are still adapting to his new tactics and I am sure that we can continue to improve thanks to the positive atmosphere that exists in the dressing room.”
In these first two games, the Malta national team looked more defensive-minded than during the Mangia era and the level of these two opponents might have contributed to that too.
Guillaumier went further on to add that since Marcolini did not have a lot of time with the whole squad, he might have preferred to be more tactically disciplined and prepared off the ball.
“However, against North Macedonia we showed that we could be competitive as the time went by but obviously against Italy it was imperative that we would prioritise defending,” Guillaumier said.
Meanwhile, Gżira United’s Nikolai Muscat was handed a start alongside Guillaumier to pick up his fourth cap at senior level.
The Maroons’ captain was pleased with his own performance but also heaped praise on his team-mates for their bravery against a very strong team.
“We faced the team that won the last European Championship but I am pleased with how we held our ground and this leaves us upbeat ahead of the future commitments.”
Malta’s next task won’t be much easier than Sunday’s, as they will host England – leaders of this group after two straight wins against Italy and Ukraine.
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