England have a very tough opening match against Italy this Saturday in Manaus. The first game of the World Cup for England will undoubtedly be challenging but a win is certainly attainable. These keys to victory are essential if England are to go on and win their first match in Group D.
Play with Pace
Italy have historically played defense minded football. They work the ball out of the back and build an attack through the midfield. The system works for Italy and it is most likely how they will play in Manaus. England sometimes get stuck in a rut playing defensive football against opponents. They try to absorb pressure and then catch teams on the counter. However, it has not worked in the past because they have never been able to control the midfield long enough to release the strikers into dangerous areas. It seems though, that Roy Hodgson has changed the England mentality and is willing and able to play attacking football.
While Italy do have some players with pace, England’s players far outmatch Italy in that regard. With players like Sturridge, Sterling, Welbeck, and the currently injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, England have pace to spare. It is imperative that Roy Hodgson utilize the pace and youth of the team to run at and tire out an older and slower Italy team. Fans may see Hodgson use his speedy players to tire out Italy’s back line and then bring in subs to break the defense and create more chances.
When Mario Balotelli is switched on, he can be a deadly striker. The 23 year old is 6’2” (1.89m) and can rip defenses apart. He is good in the air, can score from distance, and is a physical threat. However, he has one major downfall. That downfall is his mentality. Balotelli’s meltdowns are well documented both on and off the pitch. When he is switched off, he is more likely to get himself a red card than a goal.
England must frustrate him early on in the game and throw him off his groove if he is playing well. Close him down quickly, be strong with the 50/50 challenges, and isolate him. Cahill and Jagielka will have to command Johnson and Baines on the flanks to make sure they keep their shape and shut Balotelli down. Hart will also have to come up with a big save or two. If England can keep solid at the back and frustrate Balotelli then they have a shot at beating Italy.
Control the Midfield
Pirlo, Pirlo, Pirlo. Andrea Pirlo stands at the heart of this Italy team as he has for so many years. As England are well aware from the Euro 2012 encounter, Pirlo is able to control the match from the midfield. He has exceptional vision, deadly accurate passing, and he dictates the entire speed of play for the Italian side. Pirlo, 35, has just announced his retirement from international football after the World Cup and is looking to make his final appearances count.
Hopefully, England have learned their lesson and have figured out a way to throw Pirlo off his game. As mentioned before, England have a lot of pace in their team and should look to run at Pirlo and the back line. Pirlo is a magician at slowing the game down through the midfield, so opposing teams cannot play fast paced football.
If England make Pirlo run, tire him out, and don’t allow him time on the ball, then they dramatically increase their chances of winning. Balotelli and the other Italian forwards will become isolated if Pirlo is not allowed to dictate the tempo of the game and create chances. I am not sure what the best approach there is to shutting down Pirlo, but Hodgson needs to come up with some plan if he wants to end the night with three points.