Two convincing consecutive victories over Slovenia and Ukraine have given fans of the Azzurri something to smile about, after the disaster that was Italy’s campaign in the 2010 World Cup. Cesare Prandelli has proven his detractors wrong, and has gone a long way in convincing fans that he is indeed the right man for the Azzurri job. What he brings to the table is something which Marcello Lippi’s second spell desperately fell short off – meritocracy. Prandelli’s selection mantra has worked like a charm with players such as Alessandro Matri, Giuseppe Rossi and Thiago Motta, who have shone for their clubs in recent months, putting in stellar performances for the Azzurri in the past week, ensuring they have a foot in the Euro 2012 finals.
Prandelli’s transformation of La Nazionale from the one which finished bottom of the group in the World Cup to one that is sitting proudly and comfortably atop of Group C in the Euro 2012 Qualifying group has been praiseworthy. Not only has he called up players who were once criminally overlooked by Mister Lippi, but has formed a tight unit all the while, generating a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere. The former Fiorentina manager has perhaps most importantly managed to instill that bit of lost confidence, something which was evidently lacking during Lippi’s reign. He has also managed to attract controversy for his brave decision to exclude Daniele De Rossi and Mario Balotelli for the Slovenia and Ukraine game. De Rossi was excluded for that malicious punch on Darijo Srna, while Balotelli’s Nigel De Jong-esque kick meant he wouldn’t join his Nazionale team-mates. While the intent was clear with De Rossi’s challenge, the same cannot be said for Balotelli’s. For his part though, Prandelli showed he’s not afraid to put his foot down and stand by his policy, as both these players were integral part of his plans. This refreshing change has brought to the fore players who have excelled for their clubs and merited a place in the Squadra Azzurri.
While it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Buffon is an indispensable element of this side, Superman has struggled for form of late, displaying shades of Clark Kent for Juventus. It’s been a different story for Italy however, as Superman has well and truly returned, turning out vintage displays this past week. To cover him, Italy have plenty of depth; Salvatore Sirigu and Emiliano Viviano have been inspirational for Palermo and Bologna respectively this season, and are definitely no pushovers. Prandelli will definitely be a happy man with the wealth of talent he has at his disposal to choose from, in this department.
Historically, there have been two positions on the field in which Italy have been immensely blessed with – Central defenders and Trequartistas. Ironically, it is these two positions where Italy don’t have world class established internationals. While Giorgio Chiellini has without a doubt been La Nazionale’s best defender since the 2006 World Cup, Italy have struggled to find him a partner suitable enough to compliment his natural ability. Make no mistake about it, Chiellini is one of the best defenders around in Europe, and has been arguably the best defender in Serie A for the past three years; there is only so much he can do. With Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Ranocchia, there is no question about the potential available to Prandelli, who will certainly look to groom them and form a commanding central defensive duo.
The ‘trequartista’ forms a curious part of the field where Italy have really failed to convince. The likes of Mazzola, Baggio, Totti and Del Piero have been playing over the past years in the No.10 role – they were capable of linking the midfield with attack; however, they are a dying breed, and this needs to be addressed in Prandelli’s 4-3-1-2 formation. While Stefano Mauri does offer a bit of tactical balance to the team, he doesn’t provide the required flair and audacity that has wowed fans of the Azzurri. Antonio Cassano was one of the initial candidates for the trequartista role, but the Milan man has flourished well in his advanced ‘support striker’ position. His chemistry with Pazzini is almost telepathic, having formed a deadly partnership while at Sampdoria, and it’s best not to disrupt it.
Prandelli did deploy Alberto Aquilani in the friendly against Ukraine, and it’s clear that isn’t his best position on the pitch. Pirlo is another candidate, and while he does have the quality and experience, his lack of pace and agility could prove to be his downfall. Prandelli may also consider Seba Giovinco, whose magical assist for Matri displayed the volumes of talent he possesses. What does go against him is his lack of physical presence, to really star in that role.
Another area of concern is the fullback position. During his reign, Prandelli has used well over ten players as fullbacks. In the Slovenia game, Balzaretti and Maggio were brilliant in their forward forays while being solid defensively, the former linking with Motta beautifully for the Inter man’s clincher. The whole defence looked assured, and the team did infact play like a team. Prandelli’s three-man midfield did not constitute a text-book defensive midfielder, but three midfielders well aware of their role in the team. They were expected to contribute defensively as much as they would going forward. Riccardo Montolivo was able to continue his good club form on to the International stage with arguably his best showing in an Azzurri jersey; he had the freedom to roam forward, but performed admirably in a solid compact midfield alongside Oriundo Thiago Motta. It remains to be seen what Prandelli has in mind when he does decide to recall Daniele De Rossi and Mario Balotelli, and of course who can forget Il Metronome Andrea Pirlo, who is currently nursing an injury but will without a shadow of doubt find his place in the national side.