The Azzurri are gunning to equal Brazil’s record of five World Cup wins and under the revolutionary Cesare Prandelli, they seem to be getting closer and closer. But do they have the personnel to carry a nation’s hopes and expectations? The squad selected doesn’t offer many, but this is the cream of Italia, as SportzWiki does its bit to tactically analyze Prandelli’s Italy and how they could possibly win it and what the chinks in their armour are.
The final defeat by Spain in the Euros two years ago heralded an era of change. And change was more of the tactics and formations rather than the playing staff. Prandelli chopped, changed, tweaked and experimented with different setups, but still hasn’t set his mind on a chosen one. The three-man defence is more common in Italian football, and Prandelli doesn’t refrain from using it if and when the need arises. But he has been an advocate of style over results ever since he pulled that national team overcoat on, and has quickly changed to the more stereotypically stylish back four.
Italian defences are known for being the finished articles; they tend to be more polished and disciplined than their continental counterparts. This has more to do with prejudices and perceptions of the hindsight like the Catenaccio and its supposed connotations to anti-football, than with the actual state of affairs on the pitch. It is true that Italians love winning by that odd goal and mistakes leading to goals make them far from happy.
Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli form a Bianconeri-backbone. All three Scudetto-winning defenders are at ease with one another, and this harmony is a welcome positive. Plus they have their captain Gigi Buffon (again Juventus) behind their backs, which makes coordination and organization two-fold simpler. It is all good in a 3-5-2 or any of the myriad three-man backline formations, but what happens when they go with a four-man defence?
Chiellini has been more than an average left-back for Italy, but as far as attacking intent goes, he is pretty much lacking. And the other left-backs on the squad are Fiorentina’s ageing captain Manuel Pasqual and AC Milan’s inadequately experienced Mattia di Sciglio. It would be wrong to slate Chiellini even before a ball is kicked, but he is far better and more comfortable as a centre-back.
The 3-5-2 with both Balotelli and Rossi starting up front
Giuseppe Rossi has so far had a torrid time with the national team. Recurring injuries and long healing times have meant that he hasn’t stamped his authority as he would’ve liked to (7 goals in 29 appearances prove exactly that). But he has been on Prandelli’s good books through his ailments and is due a performance at the World Cup. Many are expecting him to pull off a Paolo Rossi, which is easier said than done. And he has to contend being the number two to a certain Mario Balotelli.
The 3-5-2 setup is unique in the way that it is unsymmetrical and unpredictable. The starting positions remain a mystery, only thing that is known is the fact that three centre-backs usually line up. The Juventus trio are the best bets, with Christian Maggio and Antonio Candreva shifting in as wing-backs. Candreva isn’t exactly a wing-back, but his affinity with the manager might see him being played, even in obscure positions.
Andrea Pirlo is the Regista, shielded by either of Danielle de Rossi or Thiago Motta. The advanced playmaker/trequartista/attacking midfielder is a big cause for concern for Prandelli and co. Italy doesn’t possess the typical number 10, and it could be a hard graft trying to make somebody like Riccardo Montolivo or Claudio Marchisio play as one. Young Lorenzo Insigne is an option, but his unpredictability and dribbling are better suited to the flanks.
This is an interesting tactic against better opposition, where organization isn’t too much of a problem. The defence remains cohesive, and two banks of defence can be formed in quick time. And two men up front mean that there is always a threat on the counter attack. A good enough strategy to frustrate and hurt, but concession of early goals would completely throw the initial game-plan (contain first, then hit back) out of the window.
The much favoured 4-2-3-1 with a ponderous four-man defence
Spain took apart Italy in the final of Euro 2012 when Prandelli decided to opt for the four-man wall. Ignazio Abate was a ship-wreck that day, and how Prandelli would go for this setup in big games is the big question. Pirlo would obviously be sitting deep, and would most likely have that shield of De Rossi/Motta again. While Motta is more disciplined and physical, De Rossi’s vision and ball-playing capacity means that he will be ahead in the pecking order.
Mario Balotelli wanders alone up front, and the quality and quantity of the service he receives depends on the opposition. Italy won’t risk playing this setup against superior opposition, teams that will have more of the ball than them. Young Ciro Immobile could also be an option; not exactly a target man, but one who can run the channels and has a poacher’s eye.
And it also depends on the players stationed behind Balotelli as his supply source. Claudio Marchisio, Lorenzo Insigne, Antonio Candreva, Alberto Aquilani and Riccardo Montolivo are available to fill those three slots. The left side would be a straight battle between Candreva and Insigne, while Marchisio and Montolivo would likely fill the other two. Whosoever occupies the advanced midfield, it looks hopelessly inadequate against top quality opposition.
Another variant is the flipped 4-3-2-1, which is almost similar but makes for a stronger, more dictating midfield. Good box-to-box runners aren’t Italy’s forte, so this shouldn’t be an option. The 4-2-3-1 could be effective against low-key opponents, teams which do not pose a great deal of threat going forward. The downside here is that the focal point of attacks, here Balotelli or Immobile, must be at their efficient best.
Italy are up against England and Uruguay in a testing group; it would be imperative that Cesare Prandelli finds his fix regarding the formations. Group stages can turn tricky, the last World Cup in South Africa showed exactly that, and the Azzurri need to be at their absolute peak to land the coveted fifth World Cup.