Going into this World Cup, Cesare Prandelli has many choices to make when it comes to his starting XI, and with the exclusion of Guiseppi Rossi and the injury to Riccardo Montolivo, Prandelli’s decision has become all the more difficult. As far as formation is concerned, I expect Prandelli to go with a 4-2-2-2.
If there is anything certain on this roster, it is Gianluigi Buffon. Buffon has been the go-to goaltender for years, and that will not change in 2014. He has put together 139 caps for the senior squad since 1997, and though Salvatore Sirigu and Mattia Perin are viable backups, nothing short of injury will keep the captain off the field.
The defense has been the bread and butter of the Azzuri for years, and that certainly won’t change in 2014. This back four should display plenty of cohesiveness, as Prandelli may elect to go with club teammate combinations. Juventus center backs should plug up the middle for Italy, with Giorgio Chiellini getting the call alongside Andrea Barzagli. The fullbacks will be an AC Milan combination with Mattia De Sciglio and Ignazio Abate. The performance of these two is essential, as they will need to utilize their speed down the wings to help the overall offensive attack. In essence, their versatility will end up shaping the Italian’s performance on both sides of the ball.
The general core of midfielders that Prandelli will likely select should not be much different from what was seen in 2012. At the defensive midfield, I would expect Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo.
Claudio Marchisio is almost always one of the most fit players on the Italian squad, and as a result, he will likely have earned himself a spot at the right attacking midfield. Thiago Motta has been far from a regular for the Azzuri due to his struggle with injury, however this time around, his left-footed abilities will likely be utilized by Prandelli at the left attacking midfield spot in a high-risk/high-reward move.
The forwards should be interesting as Prandelli has the option to go with experience, youthfulness, or a mixture of the two. I believe he will mix and match with Mario Balotelli and Alessio Cerci. Super Mario is hardly a question, as he is easily one of the most exciting and potent players in the world when he is on his game, as proven by his performance in the UEFA Cup in 2012, so he will be a lock at the forward. Experience would say the other forward spot should go to Antonio Cassano, but the spot has truly been earned by Cerci. Quick, cunning and skilled on the ball, Cerci should pair up marvelously with Balotelli to provide incessant offensive chances.
The Soccer Power Index says Group D is the toughest group in the World Cup with a 14.0 rank, and as a result, the Azzuri have no margin for error. Prandelli will need to go with a quick, offensive-minded group this year, because playing a largely defensive game in their group will result in a first round exit. He has options with skill and experience, and finding the right fusion of the two is essential in order for the team to gel. Italy has all the potential to be a threat in Brazil, but we will just have to wait and see if they elect to utilize that potential.