An ESPN interview with some of the Italian national team players shows that not even the squad seems to know who will be on the pitch on Sunday when they kick off versus Paraguay. Marcello Lippi has been tight-lipped about who will start and what formation the Azzurri will play, even noting that the formation could be fluid throughout the World Cup. A look at the starters in recent friendlies is a useless guide, as the last two have seen vastly different lineups.
However, if Marcello Lippi asked me who my starting 11 would be on June 14 (and I am checking my voicemail just in case), here would be my suggestion:
Formation:4-3-3. The strength of this squad is their defending, and this formation allows the Azzurri to play with their best four defenders. Since they are without Pirlo for the first two matches at least, this formation allows for players to move up for more offensive firepower if needed, such as moving Maggio up to the midfield.
Keeper:Gianluigi Buffon. I don’t think I need to explain why.
Backline: Leonardo Bonucci, Fabio Cannavaro, Giorgio Chiellini, Christian Maggio. Cannavaro and Chiellini are no-brainers and should be on the pitch from the opening kick. Maggio is arguably better placed as a winger but starting him on the backline allows him to move around in the 4-3-3 as needed, either into the midfield or remaining back. Bonucci may be the most controversial inclusion, but the young defender has shown a knack for scoring off set pieces and could be a valuable option in the box on offense if the club needs to score. Plus, by starting the Bari defender, Lippi can play his more experienced players later in the match if experience is called for. Lippi can call on Zambrotta for experience but if he needs fresh legs, Bochetti would be available.
Midfield:Daniele De Rossi, Riccardo Montolivo, Gennaro Gattuso. Midfield is arguably the weakest part of the club right now with injuries to Pirlo and Camoranesi, so a three-player midfield with the option of moving up a defender or dropping a forward is ideal. DeRossi and Gattuso are veterans who have won a World Cup and can provide experience in managing a World Cup match from the middle. Pirlo’s injury means the Azzurri lack a playmaker whose passing skills can jump start an attack, so Fiorentina captain Montolivo and his passing skills are needed in the middle.
Forwards: Fabio Quagliarella, Alberto Gilardino, Vincenzo Iaquinta. My gut has me leaning toward these three being the starters up front, although it may be hard to keep Di Natale and Pazzini on the bench to start. Di Natale was the leading scorer in Serie A, so if Italy fails to threaten the goal in their first match you may see DiNatale starting the second. But this lineup allows for an experienced front to begin a match and, if Italy needs a quick strike or more offense, has some firepower coming off the bench.
We are about 48 hours away from the Azzurri taking the pitch – who’s your starting 11?