Scouting report on Italy: Bold, dynamic and dangerous
22:03 GMT, 22 June 2012
Cesare Prandelli (right) is unafraid of making changes or bold calls. He has been prepared to alter formations, personnel and positions. Against Spain in Italy's opening game, Prandelli, remarkably, placed the Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi at the heart of a three-man defence in a 3-5-2 line-up that coped admirably for most of the game – though that assessment may have changed had Fernando Torres scored with his late chances.
Noted less was that, against the reigning world and European champions, Prandelli handed Emanuele Giaccherini his first cap. The Juventus 27-year-old is regarded as an attacking midfielder. Here he was a defensive wing back. Giaccherini kept his place for the next game against Croatia and Prandelli kept the same 3-5-2 formation.
Losing Chiellini, even after that mistake against Croatia, is a blow. The biggest question facing Prandelli is whether he reverts to three at the back against England or not.
De Rossi (right) was pushed into midfield against the Irish as Ignazio Abate and Federico Balzaretti returned as full backs. Should Prandelli retain a back four, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci are likely to be his central pair. Both play for Juventus. In theory 3-5-2 should offer space on the flanks for England. In reality this can become 5-3-2.
Much depends on the position of De Rossi. If he is back in central defence, Italy are more likely to play with a flat-ish five across midfield. If not, then Andrea Pirlo becomes the 'quarterback' pivot, dropping deep to collect the ball and direct play. Pirlo has been in typically swish form in Poland. He created the Italy goal against Spain and scored from a free-kick against Croatia. Nullifying Pirlo's influence is likely to be a key consideration for Roy Hodgson.
In the second half of their game against Italy, Croatia were more potent because Slaven Bilic pushed Luka Modric into Pirlo territory (and Italy tired against Croatia). In front of Pirlo against the Irish were Claudio Marchisio, Thiago Motta and De Rossi. This is a formidable line. Motta and De Rossi are well known but England must also be aware of Marchisio, one of those players treasured more at home than abroad.
The 26-year-old Juve midfielder had a claim on being man of the match against Spain. De Rossi may see himself as Steven Gerrard, but Marchisio has shown in the three games so far that he is a dynamic presence in Italy's midfield. He defends, he attacks, he could well be on top of Gerrard.
It is not always about Mario Balotelli. Antonio Cassano and Antonio Di Natale started in the last game, Balotelli having been Cassano's partner against Spain and Croatia. Cassano and Di Natale can seem too similar but their movement is dangerous. Di Natale's goal against Spain, five minutes after replacing Balotelli, showed that, as well as class and composure. The much-discussed Balotelli did well against Spain and worked hard. Against Croatia he was not as sharp but he again worked. His volley past Shay Given in the last game was impressive. John Terry and Joleon Lescott might prefer to play against Balotelli than Di Natale or Cassano, but Prandelli may feel the Manchester City striker will be extra motivated against England.
Like France, Italy have strengths and weaknesses that should not be exaggerated. They are neither brilliant nor poor. They merit respect not awe – it is probably Italy's view of England. If England can disrupt Pirlo, they can profit. Expect it to be tight. Extra time would be no surprise.