With the final 23 players for the Italian national team now announced, speculation can now run wild about who we will see in the starting 11 lineup for the World Cup. There were some obvious inclusions such as Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Mario Balottelli, and Danielle De Rossi though Manager Cesare Prandelli had some surprise additions as well, specifically with Antonio Cassano. Controversially, Giuseppe Rossi was left out of the squad, despite a 16 goal haul for his club Fiorentina in Serie A.
Italy were drawn into Group D alongside England, Uruguay, and Costa Rica. Seen by many to be favorites to move on from their group, The Azzurri aren’t necessary favorites to win the World Cup, with Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and Spain seen to be absolute contenders for the grand finale. That said, one knows to never discount the Italians from anything, as history says otherwise. Italy have won 4 World Cup titles and will be keen to make it cinque. Throughout history, despite not always being favorites, the Italians are known for beating the odds through sheer force of will and a heavy emphasis on tactics, much to the chagrin of their opponents.
Predicting the starting lineup throughout the tournament will depend heavily on which tactics Cesare Prandelli will employ, as tactical flexibility and dogged discipline are the hallmarks of the Italian football style. With Andrea Pirlo again in the lineup for this World Cup cycle, the tactics will again will reflect his play-style, with a formation designed to revolve around him and his Regista role in the heart of the midfield. This will likely end up being a 4-3-1-2, a 4-3-3 when pace is needed, or even a 3-5-2 if Prandelli wanted to clog the midfield. In any of these formations, Pirlo will be playing the same role. Stopping Pirlo (if you can), is the key to beating the Italian team. We shall see if his age has become a factor (35), though his form for Juventus this year would tell you otherwise.
A look through the players called up will give clues for which formation Cesare Prandelli intends to use. With 5 players listed as forwards, and a few of those players either capable of playing on the wings or as a central attacking midfield, we can see this is a lineup built on tactical flexibility. More than likely, Prandelli will use a two-striker formation is my prediction. A glut of talented midfielders that would make any team envious is included as well, furthering the idea that whatever system Prandelli will use would undoubtedly want to get the most out of such midfield talent. His selections in defense feature many veterans, but with some left/right backs called up, signifies that we most likely won’t see the 3-5-2, despite the flexibility being there to make it happen.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-GermainG/FRA), Mattia Perin (Genoa)
There’s no doubt about it. Italian legend and 2006 World Cup winner Gianluigi Buffon will be taking the reigns as goalkeeper once more. His experience, determination, and veteran presence could lead Italy to another title. Solid backups in Salvatore Sirigu and Mattia Perin await to be called on if Buffon were to somehow get injured.
Defenders: Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan), Gabriel Paletta (Parma)
Solid line-up of Central Defenders to choose from furthering the stereotype of Italian teams having excellent defense. Against England, whom Italy will be opening with, protection against the infamous English counter-attack will be of utmost concern. Decent pace and excellent positioning will be what Manager Prandelli is looking for, so I think Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci will be the central pairing. Matteo Darmin is versatile and seen time on Left-Back during recent friendlies and did well, so I think he secure the Left-Back position. However, Prandelli could use Mattia De Sciglio or Chiellini on the left side as well, with Gabriel Palletta or Andrea Barzagli taking Chiellini’s place if that were to be the case. Right-Back is easier to predict, with Ignazio Abate’s penchant for bombing forward and supporting the attack with his excellent pace being of tactical importance alongside his defensive ability.
Midfielders: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA), Marco Parolo (Parma), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA)
In midfield, “l’architetto” Andrea Pirlo will line up in the heart of midfield as per usual, dictating the speed of play and unleashing his trademark vision and creative passing. Lining up beside Pirlo I think, will be Roma’s “Capitan Futuro” Danielle De Rossi and Juventus’s Claudio Marchisio, two players considered to be complete midfielders. They can tackle, have creative passing ability, can shoot, are flexible tactically, and capable of contributing in many different ways. They will shield Pirlo on defense, and push forward on offense to create passing outlets. And finally, at the tip of 4-3-1-2 “diamond” (because of how far back Pirlo will sometimes play), will be Marco Veratti, who was called in to replace injured Riccardo Montolivo. While not a true trequartista, Veratti has the creative vision to perform the role more than adequately.
Forwards: Mario Balotelli (AC Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)
Likely to lineup with a two striker system, I think Mario Balotelli will be playing alongside Antonio Cassano initially. Cassano has the unpredictable element and creative ability to drive opposition defenses insane, while Balotelli will be the one to finish all those chances created by the talented Italy midfield. Except to see Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci being rotational options to respectively replace the aforementioned. Lorenzo Insigne will be used as substitute, simply because his pace is most useful against opposition defenses are tired in the late game.
Italy will take on England at the Arena Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil to start their place in the tournament. The squad played their last friendly before the tournament today, with a 1-1 result against Luxembourg.