England and Italy is a match-up with a lot of history, and as the two soccer powers prepare to face each other Saturday, England fans need to know an important fact – this is not the Italy team you are used to seeing. In fact, understanding how Cesare Prandelli has changed the Azzurri is key to understanding how England will do against them on Saturday and why the 2010 tactics against Italy will no longer work.
First, if the myth has not yet been dispelled enough, catenaccio is pretty much dead for the Azzurri. The idea of a sweeper being assigned to clean up the midfield’s mess and muddy the game to a boring scoreless draw is a thing of the past. That is not to say Italy is not strong defensively (a team with Gigi Buffon will always be known for shutouts) but the emphasis for this team is no longer just stopping the other team perfectly, but actually playing an aggressive brand of football.
For Prandelli, this means a talented midfield that is skilled enough to create scoring opportunities for the forwards in their formation. Of course Andrea Pirlo will serve as the deep-lying playmaker, and his reduced time for Juventus will just make him fresher for Brazil. However, the difference may be his partner. Marco Verratti played well in Italy’s friendlies against Ireland and Luxembourg so I would expect him to also start with Pirlo as a “defensive assistant”. What this means is if Verratti continues his excellent form, the drop off from a closely-marked or (Dio non voglia) injured Pirlo will not ground Italy’s style. Verratti can stop an attack and play the ball to Pirlo to spring the attack or, if Pirlo is marked out, he can spring the attack himself. Expect Daniele De Rossi to join the midfield triumvirate (probably behind them). Who else will man the midfield depends on what Prandelli does with the forwards.
In the Italy preview on this site, Italy’s formation was a 4-3-2-1/4-5-1 but the group of forwards that Prandelli has brought to Italy was so strong that recognized players like Luca Toni and Giuseppe Rossi were left at home. The coach has told the press he does not want to use two strikers but he also has said he will not show his hand tactically prior to the match. Mario Balotelli, absent injury or suspension, is the starter. But will he be joined by Ciro Immobile, who flashed his goal-scoring skills in the recent Fluminense friendly? Likely he and Lorenzo Insigne will be used as impact subs, but with Prandelli anything is possible. If he does go with one forward, then Antonio Candreva and Claudio Marchisio could start as they did in the Luxembourg friendly. Veteran Antonio Cassano also could find himself inserted into the line-up to throw all prognostications off.
In the back, de Sciglio’s injury gives Prandelli some options. He could turn to Matteo Darmian as a fullback, but the Torino defender also played as a winger in their 3-5-2 this season. His inclusion may indicate a similar formation for the Azzurri, so keep an eye out for his inclusion in the starting XI. This is undoubtedly Italy’s biggest worry coming into the World Cup, although Prandelli’s options are well decorated for their clubs. England itself has tactical and selection questions to deal with entering this match.