Italy against Uruguay was always marked as an important game, but perhaps not for the reasons that it will be on Tuesday. With Costa Rica surprising everybody and topping Group D going into the final round of fixtures, only one of the two previous champions will join them in the knockout phase of the World Cup.
Costa Rica are assured of first place in the group with any positive result against England, and their better head to head and goal difference with Italy and Uruguay means even in the case of a loss it’s highly unlikely that they relinquish the top spot. Italy need a point to progress due to superior goal difference, while Uruguay need an outright victory. That could figure into the South American’s thinking, but after making a raft of changes against England and with Luis Suárez fit and firing they have a settled side and a settled strategy. It is the Italians who so far seem unsure of their preferred lineup.
The main area of concern for Italy is in midfield, where they are unsure of who to partner Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi with. Against England it was Paris St. Germain’s Marco Verratti, while against Costa Rica they chose the more defensively minded Thiago Motta. Cesare Prandelli’s midfield trio against England was heavily criticized, because while De Rossi is an excellent shield for the defense both he and Pirlo are not very mobile, and while Verratti is an excellent passer with a lot of vision and creativity, his lack of positional discipline and running does make him a poor choice alongside Pirlo and De Rossi, especially against a strong opponent. The irony though is against Costa Rica, where Italy had 60% of possession and a high back line to exploit, Verratti would have been much more useful than Motta, who is technically limited but full of running.
De Rossi is injured for the Uruguay game so that necessitates a change in midfield, but that should be the only change Prandelli makes. His back line are settled, if not completely trustworthy, and Antonio Candreva and Mario Ballotelli have worked reasonably well together. The fact that a draw will be enough means Ciro Immobile and Antonio Cassano will probably remain on the bench.
Motta will keep his spot as De Rossi’s replacement, and Pirlo is also a guaranteed starter. The only dilemma is whether to bring back Verratti in a game that he might not be suited for, against a highly physical side who will defend deep and strike quickly on the counter. Due to the other midfield options available like Alberto Aquilani also being a lightweight, Marchisio could also be moved into the centre of midfield where he often partners with Pirlo for Juventus and Lorenzo Insigne brought on to the wings.
Diego Lugano may come back in for young Giminez but the success of the midfield diamond against England means that no other changes are likely to be made. Uruguay, despite needing a win, will not seek to play any differently than against England. Arevalo Rios will man mark Pirlo and try to take him out of the game, and the team will defend very narrow with Edinson Cavani desperately trying to link eight other outfield players with Suárez. If nothing happens then Walter Gargano may replace Rios in midfield and Diego Forlan may come on to play some more ambitious passes. The talisman’s legs are too far gone for a full 90 minutes though, and a super sub role could be the best he can hope for. Gaston Ramirez could also be an option to replace Lodeiro and try and play incisive balls to the Uruguay’s two star forwards.