It was not the most spectacular or engrossing of games but Italy successfully overcame a potentially troublesome hurdle by leaving Slovenia with three points. Perhaps more importantly for Coach Cesare Prandelli, they managed to build on a reasonably positive display against Germany in February with another performance of promise.
After months of continuous tactical alterations under previous Coach Marcello Lippi, the players must have welcomed the same 4-3-1-2 system used against Germany (and against Romania in November). Prandelli has clear ideas as to how he wants to set up his Italy team, and how he wants them to play. That clarity of thought, reflected in his choices, is starting to manifest itself on the pitch.
It must be said that Slovenia did not offer a great deal. They were a solid outfit but with little talent going forward. As such, the Italians did not look anything other than comfortable for most of the match. This helped some players such as the two full-backs and Riccardo Montolivo and maybe hindered others who perhaps needed a game with more intensity and a quicker tempo to show their true qualities, like Antonio Cassano, who was slightly off-colour during his time on the pitch.
Nevertheless Prandelli will be happy that his former charge Montolivo managed to put in a shift that half-resembles some of his best work for his club, and not before time. It was not the Fiorentina man at his absolute best, but it was infinitely better than his previous 20 attempts to play well for Italy.
His role seemed to be to drive forward as often as possible, something slightly different to what we are accustomed to seeing from him in an Italy shirt. Normally, he hangs around in the midfield in an attempt to pull the strings but that was Alberto Aquilani’s remit on Friday evening. Without that expectation on him to create and the subsequent freedom of movement given to him, he put in possibly his best performance for the Azzurri since coming off the bench against Egypt in the 2009 Confederations Cup. His early half-volleyed shot from the edge of the box early on in the game signalled his intent, and he kept it up well until he was substituted for Claudio Marchisio.
Naturally, this needs to be tempered by the fact the opposition were average at best, especially when it came to pressing the ball, and the fact that one good game does not cancel out the 20 mediocre ones he has had previously. But if Prandelli can provide Montolivo this sort of role in the team in future, he may start to witness those performances while he was his Coach at Fiorentina in the blue of Italy.
Unfortunately, one player for who snap judgements based on one game will not be made is Stefano Mauri. This was his fifth consecutive start for Italy, and his fourth anonymous game (the abandoned qualifier against Serbia has perhaps prevented it from being his fifth). Words have been spent on Mauri in previous analyses and so are not necessary to repeat. Needless to say, this is the second game in a row where Italy has scored after he has been taken off. There are still issues offensively which Prandelli has yet to solve, namely finding a defined style when attacking, and although the fault is not entirely Mauri’s, his consistent inclusion is not aiding the formulation of a solution.
Defensively the side looked confident. Leonardo Bonucci had his now obligatory lapse in concentration, something which needs to be ironed out quickly if he is to be a regular in defence. The full-backs benefited defensively from the comfortable state Italy found themselves in, but their quality in the attacking third was found wanting, save for Federico Balzaretti’s involvement in the goal.
It is still debatable whether Balzaretti or Christian Maggio are of the required quality to compete at international level. But they have, along with the rest of the team, given Prandelli something to build on heading into Tuesday’s friendly against Ukraine.