England vs. Italy – Observations:
Despite the concerns about the state of the pitch and the weather conditions the match between Italy and England was extremely entertaining and tactically intriguing. Italy leaves Manaus happy after collecting all three points whilst England has a few questions to ponder before their next game.
1 – Italy dictated the tempo but England had their chances:
From the get go Italy had the majority of the possession and England seemed happy to allow the Azzuri to keep the ball. For all of Italy’s possession though England did create a number of good goal scoring opportunities. Raheem Stirling had an effort that just went wide, Jordan Henderson, Ross Barkley and Daniel Sturridge tested stand-in keeper Salvatore Sirigu. Danny Welbeck would have served up a goal on a plate for Sturridge had it not been for the timely intervention of Andrea Barzagli and Wayne Rooney should have scored in the second half.
Italy became more dangerous as the game went on and indeed took the lead, slightly against the run of play given the chances England had, but the Azzuri were wary of the pace of England’s front four so their build up play was that little bit more considered. This resulted in a general lack of service to Mario Balotelli though he was unlucky not to score right at the end of the first period with an audacious chip but…
2- Super Mario delivers for Prandelli:
Cesare Prandelli seems to know how to get the best out of Balotelli. The AC Milan striker had three shots; two on target and most importantly scored the all-important winning goal. When he is focused, Balotelli is as good as any striker in the world. He was helped by a sumptuous cross from Antonio Candreva but Balotelli still had to get himself into a position to score.
Cesare Prandelli deserves credit for getting the best out of AC Milan striker. Indeed Prandelli appears to be one of the few coaches in world football who knows how to handle Super Mario.
3- Pirlo the main man, Rooney just part of the team:
Andrea Pirlo was the main man for Italy demanding the ball and dictating the tempo of the game. England chose not to man mark Pirlo despite calls to do so and ceded the initiative to the Italians. Despite the conditions Pirlo’s play was effortless and influential, his dummy in the build up to the first goal, expertly finished by Claudio Marchisio, was sublime and the 35-year old was unlucky not to score with a fantastic free kick that had completely deceived Joe Hart in the England net.
Rooney was taken out of the firing line starting out on the left hand side of England’s front four. It was a calculated risk by Hodgson but perhaps a necessary one as it made Rooney less of a focal point and thus easing the pressure on the Manchester United striker. Initially the gamble paid off as Rooney broke intelligently down the left to receive Raheem Sterling’s pass and lay on the equalizer for Daniel Sturridge. However Rooney missed a glaring chance to level the score after Italy had taken the lead for the second time. If Rooney wishes to be considered world class then he has to bury those opportunities in high-pressure situations. Rooney wasn’t awful but as one of England’s senior players he has to produce more for the Three Lions on occasions such as these.
4- Solid Sirigu:
Losing Gianluigi Buffon for this game was no doubt a big blow for the Italians but his stand-in Salvatore Sirigu answered all the questions that were asked of him. He produced a number of saves from the likes of Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge, Leighton Baines and Ross Barkley and had absolutely no chance when England scored their equalizer.
The PSG keeper did his cause no end of harm and coach Cesare Prandelli will be pleased with how Sirigu performed under the circumstances.
As well as saving those efforts Sirigu commanded his box well and convincingly claimed crosses and exuded an air of calm and authority. Prandelli can rest assured that Italy has a keeper whom they can trust should Buffon not recover in time for the second game.
5- Can England force the issue?
For most part of the game England’s plan was based on countering quickly as soon as they win the ball. That’s all well and good given that England has the players who can counter attack to devastating effect as Daniel Sturridge’s goal proved. What will have concerned Hodgson though was his side’s inability to force the issue when they needed a second equalizer.
Despite having the likes of Rooney, Gerrard, Lallana, Barkley, Sterling, Wilshire and Sturridge to call upon England seemed worryingly unimaginative when the Italians invited them to attack. The only answer England seemed to offer was to cross the ball in from the right and hope for the best.
Hodgson will need to address this issue, as the next two games will be vital. England need the points and that will require them to play on the front foot at some point during their upcoming matches.