Five conclusions about…Italy
Cesare Prandelli has brought in a style of play that is suited well to modern football – in South Africa last year Italy lacked any kind of cohesive gameplan.
Despite the World Cup victory, you could say that was the situation throughout Marcello Lippi’s two tenures – Italy triumphed in 2006 because of a combination of (a) having a collection of superb footballers and (b) Lippi getting his tactical decisions correct every time. When the heroes of 2006 faded and Lippi got things wrong (most obviously against New Zealand), Italy were a very poor side – not creative, not threatening on the break, not good at keeping the ball.
Prandelli sides have always played an attractive brand of football, and last night was an impressive showing in terms of ball retention. By using four central midfielders – Stefano Mauri slightly ahead of the other three – Italy competed in the centre of the park very well, even when allowing for the fact that Germany were looking to play on the break. There was movement from Mauri and Antonio Cassano, plus energy from the full-backs which always giving the midfield an option, and every outfield player looked comfortable on the ball.
Despite not finding a goal between them in their 45 minutes together, Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini is a very good partnership upfront. Having played the best football of their respective careers so far when paired at Sampdoria until midway through this season (both have now departed), the two have a understanding that has been built up through dozens of games playing alongside each other.
Spain’s Barcelona-dominated side taught us how important it is to have players comfortable with each other, and you could make a similar case with Italy’s 2006 side if breaking the side down into separate departments, where Buffon-Cannavaro-Zambrotta at the back, Zambrotta-Camoranesi down the right, Pirlo-Gattuso in the middle and Totti-Perrotta further forward all played together at club level. Cassano plays as both a withdrawn central forward and as a striker cutting in from the left, whilst Pazzini is a great ‘traditional’ striker. The two are the perfect combination.
Despite managing him for years at Fiorentina, Cesare Prandelli has never quite figured out the best role for Riccardo Montolivo. In Florence his attacking game was hampered when used as one of the holders in a 4-2-3-1 (partly because he was never paired with a truly reliable tackler) and against Germany he constantly chose the wrong option, and the formation lacked the width that he likes to send diagonal passes to the flanks, similar to how lost Paul Scholes was against Southampton in the first half.
Montolivo’s best role is probably in a 4-3-3 with a holder supporting him and one another more attacking midfielder. It would be a shame not to get the best out of such a talented passer of the ball, but Montolivo’s lack of consistency, especially at international level, means it’s impossible for Prandelli to consider rejigging his shape simply to suit his former captain.
Giuseppe Rossi deserves a chance in the starting XI. Despite Prandelli’s surprising decision to give the Villarreal forward the captain’s armband in the game against Romania, he has used Rossi relatively little: around 180 minutes of action in the 630 minutes Italy have played under Prandelli. Here, his substitute appearance gave Italy pace and movement, and was coupled with a goal to round off a good all-round display.
Whether Rossi can be fitted into a side with the Pazzini-Cassano partnership intact remains to be seen. That would probably require a mixture of a 4-3-3 / 4-3-2-1 formation, but with Italy lacking any true top-class wingers, it might be the best solution.
Thiago Motta is a good player, but not one that will transform Italy overnight. His main benefit to Italy will be that he’s probably their best ‘all-round’ midfielder, and in a sense (like Marcos Senna with Spain) the Brazilian-born player provides Italy with something they are currently lacking. He should be fitted around the other players Prandelli has in central midfield, however: Montolivo, Alberto Aquilani, Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi are all potentially more valuable to Italy – Prandelli must make sure Motta’s role is to help emphasise their quality, rather than take away from it.