Before the tournament began, many scratched their heads on Italy’s formation and personnel. There was a large sense of uncertainty in the air. Ceasere Prandelli endured a rather torrid warm up to the World Cup as his experimental sides with a wide range of personnel and tactics, won just one of their last 5 games in the build up to the tournament. When quizzed on this instability Prandelli replied with a cryptic “If you haven’t worked it out [the formation] it shows we are on the right track. We don’t want anyone to understand anything, these are matches that will be played on certain balances”. Despite his efforts, few were convinced.And rightly so, as their World cup games so far have reflected this. The game against England where Prandelli enforced a “Christmas Tree” 4-3-2-1 saw lot of positives, but was still far from a dominating victory. The defeat against apparent “Minnows” Costa Rica was a greater display of these concerns as they underperformed in a similar lopsided 4-3-3 formation.
This leaves them with a crunch knockout game against Uruguay in the Estádio das Dunas, Natal on Tuesday with at least a draw needed to qualify. The biggest news coming out of the Italy camp was that they would revert to a 3-5-2 in Natal, a hugely positive move by Cesare Prandelli.
The 3-5-2 is one of football’s strangest yet most successful formations. It requires extreme tactical understanding, cohesiveness and most importantly decision making skills amongst the players in the team, all attributes of the Italian “Calcio”. When pulled off the right way, it can be an absolutely ruthless formation in both attack and defence. The Italian top flight hosts a number of teams such as Inter Milan and Champions for the third time in a row, Juventus who use the system successfully. It wouldn’t be too naive in pointing out that over the years, successful international teams have mirrored the style and functionality of their best domestic teams. Spain and Barcelona’s Tiki Taka football is the first example that could come to mind.
All most all aspects of this Italian team screams that a 3-5-2 shape would be the best. Prandelli himself is no stranger to the formation having utilized it in EURO 2012 earning a shock draw with then seemingly invincible champions Spain. They made it all the way to the finals but then were annihilated by the same Spanish side on inexplicably changing back to a four man defence in the final. Since then, Prandelli has favoured a back four and Italy themselves have not had the best of two years.
There are many problems faced by the currently employed 4-3-3/4-3-2-1 system. Defensively, their lack of a left back is a concern. They have no naturally left footed fullback bar centre Back Chiellini who had an awkward game when played there against England. Another aspect is the abundance of quality centre backs in the side, making it hard to choose a pair. When it comes to the midfield, the current system does work with possession play but the downside is that Italy have to field two wingers. Now historically with of course all due respect to the players, Italy have never produced the best crop of wingers. This generation is no different with Candreva and Cerci unable to translate impressive domestic performances into the same while wearing the Azzurri colours. Central midfielder by trade, Claudio Marchisio has been forced into an uncomfortable advanced role for the Italians in the World Cup. Another attacking problem is that Italy have space to play only the one striker, again a department with a fair bit of competition with Balotelli, Immobile and Cassano all good contenders.
The 3-5-2 would most likely solve all these problems. The defensive three could be Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli, three stalwarts of Juventus’s domestic dominance over the last three years. The three have an extremely good understanding amongst each other having played so many games together for club and country. Furthermore, looking purely at the Uruguay game, having an extra man at the back will be a great neutralizer against the most likely front two of Cavani and the brilliant Luis Suarez. The wings backs, however will prove to be a far more interesting choice. At right wing back, the wise and engine like Ignazio Abate will most probably be the first choice over relatively inexperienced Darmian, though the Torino man has put in decent shifts. Mattia Di Sciglio, Italy’s first choice left back coming into the tournament would be a more than capable left wing back (despite being a right footer) having been cleared to return to action after missing the first two of Italy’s games due to Injury.
The best part about the 3-5-2 is that it enables the Azzurri to keep their midfield trio intact. The midfield is by far this Italian team’s greatest strength, with Prandelli more or less building his side around one of football’s greatest ever “Registas”, bearded maestro —Andrea Pirlo. The ball retention and good passing play have been the brightest aspect of Italy’s opening two games, an aspect which the 3-5-2 will retain. Danielle De Rossi is rumoured to be out of contention for the game against Uruguay meaning Pirlo will most likely to be accompanied by club team-mate Claudio Marchisio in the second midfielder role, trying to drive forward. The third spot can be contested by both PSG midfielders Thiago Motta and Marco Veratti. But it seems that Prandelli has taken more of a liking to the aforementioned youngster touted to be the next Pirlo, after his good showing against England.
The striking department is the part of the team which would most benefit from this tactical switch. Mario Balotelli has always been impressive for Italy. But as majority of his season in Milan this year, he cut a lonely figure against Costa Rica, struggling to involve himself. On the bench is Ciro Immobile who had the season of his life for Torino, which saw him earn a fierce reputation as one of Europe’s top strikers and a move to Borussia Dortmund. Playing the two together might prove to be extremely successful as both complement each other in styles, the power of Balotelli and the agility of Immobile.
Overall, the 3-5-2 seems to be the most logical solution to Italy’s problems. If anyone can pull the tricky system off it’s them! We can now only wait and see until Tuesday as the ball is in Prandelli’s court. Here’s hoping he smashes it and goes for the 3-5-2!
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