Antonio Conte, who will join Chelsea as coach after the European Championship, brought on Mattia de Sciglio for Matteo Darmian on the hour mark against Belgium, a straight swop at left wing-back after Marc Wilmots' side had started to threaten a little down their right flank.
With a quarter of an hour remaining, Ciro Immobile came on for Eder and played a little deeper than his team-mate had, dropping off from Graziano Pelle. He was prominent in two late attacks, one of which brought Italy's second goal, scored by the Southampton striker.
The third substitution saw Thiago Motta arrive for Daniele de Rossi, seemingly to rest the legs of the 32-year-old midfielder.
Chelsea have not started a Premier League match with three centre-backs for more than 10 years, but their fans might have to get used to a change next season.
Conte on Monday became the first coach at Euro 2016 to deploy a wing-back system, and it is a formation he is familiar with.
Italy performed in a compact manner and with a good understanding, notably at the back, where the Juventus trio of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini played in harmony in front of Gianluigi Buffon, another club colleague.
Up front, Conte chose to field a pair of strikers who operated closely together, with Pelle prompting Eder to run past defenders.
Conte instructed his Italy players to allow Belgium to reach the halfway line before challenging their advance, which meant their opponents dominated possession.
When the ball did fall into the hands of the Italians, they were keen to send the ball long, with Pelle's aerial ability tempting them into several high passes towards the Southampton man.
Barzagli and Chiellini found Pelle with long punts, from which the striker retained the ball and moved it on to a team-mate, but Bonucci's distant pass on the half-hour was more fruitful for Emanuele Giaccherini's goal.
There was little fluidity in what was a rigid 3-5-2 formation, but it proved effective against a side with more talented individuals.
Almost from start to finish, Conte was waving his arms like a conductor. Perched permanently on the edge of his technical area, his performance was so energetic that he would have benefited from joining his team in the pre-match warm-up.
Dressed in a dark suit and tie, his appearance was reminiscent of Diego Simeone, a rival for the title of European football's most manic manager.
Conte yelled instructions through the Lyon night air, constantly pointed the way for his players, or carried out an elaborate mime as a means of explaining his thoughts.
However, Italy's relative comfort in keeping the Belgian threat at bay meant he was able to go about his business without the ferocious edge he often displays.
THE TIMES, LONDON