Humid conditions will welcome two European powerhouses when England square off against four-time winners Italy in Manaus. Roy Hodgson’s England are almost settled on their first XI, the manager even stating that he knows his starting line-up for tonight’s crunch clash. No such luxury for Italy coach Cesare Prandelli though; the former Fiorentina boss is yet to settle on his preferred setup, although he expects individual brilliance across the pitch to mask those difficulties.
England under Hodgson has evolved from a basic 4-4-2 formation during qualifying to a more dynamic 4-3-3 setup as the World Cup neared. And Hodgson’s dogged nature ensures that there won’t be any more surprises but a slight variation to the 4-3-3 could be the 4-2-1-3 which could see Wayne Rooney played in his favoured no10 role but the midfield remains heavily exposed with Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson being the sure starters. Joe Hart, Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Leighton Baines, Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana, Henderson and Daniel Sturridge are all set to make their World Cup bows. Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain is out injured, while Danny Welbeck is running against time to recover from a thigh strain.
Italy will look to pack the midfield in a bid to overrun England’s Liverpudlian duo of Gerrard and Henderson. Prandelli’s safe choice would be to go for the tried and tested Mario Balotelli–Antonio Cassano pair up front. A calf injury to Mattia de Sciglio means that there will be no three-man defence and Giorgio Chiellini will be up for it in a left-back role. A narrow 4-4-1-1 could be Italy’s setup, going by their personnel and England’s weak link in midfield. Andrea Pirlo will again be the string-puller with hard-working runners like Antonio Candreva, Claudio Marchiso and Danielle De Rossi surrounding him.
The uncertain midfield duels
England won’t be heavily stocked in the centre of the park, and with Wayne Rooney not particularly focussed in dropping deep in recent times, it could be a scrap in midfield. Italy have the classy Andrea Pirlo running the show, but he’ll be sitting back more often and won’t be too heavily involved in the scrum. One dilemma for Italy’s supposed wide midfielders in Candreva and Marchisio could be their decision-making whether to flood the midfield or run the channels out wide. The midfield battle looks uncertain, and with Pirlo surely getting marked, it would be something of a scrapheap.
Ignazio Abate v England wingers
Italy’s one great weakness is their ordinary full-backs who do not inspire much confidence. Abate on the right is the Azzurri’s weakest link, now that De Sciglio is out and Chiellini is much more defensively solid on the other flank, and he could be exposed by the trickery of Lallana or, in switches, the pace of Sterling. Abate isn’t too good going forward, which makes it easier for Leighton Baines to make his forays. England’s outlet to goal could well be down the left.
Both teams would look to play safe and not make too many mistakes, but it could easily go down the way of the Spain-Netherlands match of last night. But with the Italians known for their slow starts and cautiousness against big teams and Roy Hodgson’s penchant for playing on the defensive, it could well prove to be a damp squib of a game. Set-pieces could be key; a Pirlo free-kick or an England goal from a corner could settle the contest. A 1-0 win in favour of either side, and hoping that team to be England.