In our last Azzurri Analysis, we theorised that it did not matter what tactic Marcello Lippi employed for the game against New Zealand, because any system would look good against one of the worst teams in the competition. How silly we look. Lippi decided to change to 4-4-2 after its success for 30 minutes against Paraguay, but if anything, his resolve to stick with three forwards will only have been strengthened.
The formation depicted above lasted for 45 minutes – a period that seemed to convince the Coach it is not suitable for this team. New Zealand offered nothing apart from their fortunate offside goal, which will no doubt be used by all the detractors as some sort of proof that Italy are an awful team, or that Lippi is losing his mind. So it was not the defensive side of the game that concerned the Tuscan leader. What would have worried him is the lack of clear cut chances created against a side that offered Italy complete control over the match (an offer they duly accepted). They looked like they would score a goal, and there will have been many who thought a goal was imminent, but the penalty aside there were no goalscoring chances that anyone would have felt should have been taken. Simone Pepe was anonymous, and Claudio Marchisio’s place in the team was not meant to be creative, but to act as a role-player like Simone Perrotta in 2006.
Alberto Gilardino is fast becoming the scapegoat for this campaign, hooked as he was at half-time. Quite how he is expected to score goals without having a single chance in two games so far is anyone’s guess, but the likelihood is that he has now lost his place in the team for failing to do what every other striker in the squad has failed to do (from open play) – score a goal. The half-time substitutions saw the disintegration of 4-4-2 as it morphed seamlessly into 4-3-3, with Marchisio moving to the centre of midfield (not behind the striker, as he was against Paraguay), Antonio di Natale on the left of a three-man forward line and Mauro Camoranesi on the right. The change initially knocked Italy from the attacking verve they had entered in the first-half. Everything was a bit of a mess, and they struggled to recreate the sustained pressure that existed before the interval.
Whether this was the reason for Lippi’s next tactical switch, only he knows, but Giampaolo Pazzini’s introduction (for Marchisio) now ensured a very clear 4-2-3-1. Camoranesi moved inside to take up space behind Pazzini, and Iaquinta played on the right. It seemed strange, but it was a concerted effort by Lippi to ensure the team had four very advanced attacking players, plus Riccardo Montolivo (who enjoyed a very good game) breaking forward. By keeping Camoranesi on the right, it would essentially have been 4-4-2 again, something which he did not want. The four attackers had license to wander, and for the first time the 4-2-3-1 appeared as if it might have some attacking bite.
Di Natale started to look something like the man at Udinese, and Camoranesi was menacing, if not on the consistent basis he would have liked. Clear-cut chances were again precious in number, and a few awkward pieces of control meant that a couple got away from Italy, but against a team whose sole intention is not simply to defend (such as Slovakia, who will need to win on Thursday) opportunities will materialise. With that in mind, criticism should ideally be kept to a minimum (of course, it won’t be). Better attacking teams than Italy have struggled in this tournament to break down resolute defending (Spain and England can take a bow) – New Zealand deserves huge credit for the way they executed their game plan, and deserve the point if only for that success.
The Azzurri’s situation is identical to England’s – win and they qualify. They are unlikely to win the group – Paraguay will not lose to New Zealand, and even level pegging in that game will mean Italy need to win by at least three goals if they are to avoid Holland in the next round (or avoid drawing lots to decide positions). Slovakia will have to be open as they need the win, though whether they are that adventurous from the first minute, or from the 70th when they have kept it at 0-0, remains to be seen. But if similar levels of freedom are offered to the forward line on Thursday as against New Zealand, the probability of an Italian victory is high.