Estonia 1-2 Italy: a decent start for Prandelli
Italy fell behind and looked to be struggling for goals, but Estonia’s awful marking from set-pieces came to their aid.
Tarmo Ruttli chose an experienced XI, in a broad 4-4-1-1 formation, with Konstantin Vassiljev playing just behind the pacey Sergei Zenjov.
Cesare Prandelli set his side out in a 4-3-3, with Simone Pepe keeping wide on the right, and Antonio Cassano just off Giampaolo Pazzini to the left, a combination that works well at club level.
The first thing to note about Italy was that their passing was much better than at the World Cup. It was quicker, brighter, and more intricate – not quite tiki-taka, but neat and tidy. The use of both Andrea Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo (rarely, if ever, were those two used together under Marcello Lippi) was the main reason for the increased focus upon ball retention, with Daniele de Rossi a reasonably good passer too.
Those three played as fluid trio rather than having one permanently ahead or behind the other two, with Pirlo generally in the centre, where he dictated the play more than any other player.
Estonia play direct
In contrast, Estonia wanted to get the ball forward quickly and directly. Zenjov did a good job upfront – his pace caused Giorgio Chiellini problems when the ball was played into the channels, but he also did a reasonable job in the air against the Juventus centre-back – the best attempt on goal at 0-0 was when Zenjov headed it down for a good Vassiljev blast from the edge of the area.
Another key factor in Italy’s tactics was how far forward the full-backs were for much of the game. In South Africa, Domenico Crsicito and Gianluca Zambrotta were disappointingly reserved, but in this game, Mattia Cassani and (in particular) Cristian Molinaro got into the final third frequently – it worked better on the left, where Cassano drifted inside and Molinaro got forward on the overlap. In truth, Molinaro lacked the technical quality to really make a difference in attacking zones, but the very idea of him getting to the byline was a plus for Italy. This was helped by Estonia playing narrow in midfield, trying to compensate for the 3 v2 advantage Italy had in the centre of midfield.
Estonia ahead at half-time
But the pre-World Cup problem with creativity wasn’t overcome, despite the popular addition of Cassano. He wasn’t involved in much build-up play in the first half, as he was closely marked by Enar Jaager. On the other side Simone Pepe was very disappointing.
Estonia took the lead in strange circumstances. Vassiljev lined up a free-kick fully 40 yards from goal, with the clear intention to strike it at goal. Italy didn’t set up a wall – in fact, Montolivo actually backed away as Vassiljev started his run-up. The shot was direct at Salvatore Sirigu, but he dropped the ball at the feet of Zenjov, who easily converted.
It’s not Prandelli’s way to make sweeping half-time tactical changes, so it was no surprise to see the same XI emerge for the second half. In truth, it was much of the same from Italy – they kept the ball well and dominated possession, but there was little to get excited about in the penalty area. Cassano and Pazzini didn’t link up as much as Prandelli would have hoped, and Pepe was taken off for Fabio Quagliarella.
Estonia could have gone 2-0 up when Sander Puri clipped the top of the bar from the edge of the area. The poor challenge from Pirlo maybe summed up that he needs a dedicated holding player alongside him, with de Rossi playing a more forward-thinking role.
Italy hit back
Estonia lost the game almost exclusively because of their inability to defend set-pieces. First Cassano was left completely unmarked from a right-wing Pirlo corner (to the point where it’s difficult to understand who was meant to be picking him up), and he headed home. Minutes later from a left-wing Pirlo corner, Puri let Leonardo Bonucci go free and it was 2-1 – again Cassano was involved, with a delicate flick at the near post.
So, despite the different tactics from the two sides – quick, short passing versus long, direct passing – all three goals came from set-pieces.
Prandelli will be encouraged by some factors, but still has question marks throughout the side. The most disappointing thing for him will be that there was no partnership or three-way relationship that looked completely comfortable – with the slight exception of Molinaro-Cassano down the left, which did OK.
The midfield is still an issue – Pirlo and Montolivo are both players who sit and play calmly.
They’re not tacklers, nor are they players who make driving runs at goal. That’s fine, but this then requires De Rossi to do something in both respects, which asks an awful lot of one player. This trio can work, but Prandelli probably needs to shift the formation slightly – perhaps to put Montolivo further forward. There is a suspicion that Prandelli never completely worked out how to use Montolivo at Fiorentina (despite being a huge fan of him) – it will be interesting to see how that relationship develops.
Cassano will probably get another chance, but he didn’t link up well enough with Pazzini. Considering Pazzini and Prandelli haven’t got on too well in the past, he possibly had to make a good first impression. With Pepe also underperforming, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a new-look Italy front three against the Faroe Islands – and that’s a game every attacking player will want to play in.Estonia 1-2 Italy: a decent start for Prandelli