The latest international break will have pleased Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli. The victory in Slovenia confirmed the general impression surrounding this Azzurri team that there is something potentially very good building, and the 2-0 win against Ukraine on Tuesday further strengthened the case for the Prandelli methodology.
The team that took to the field was not a surprise to anyone, having been announced the day before by the Coach. The most interesting changes were those in midfield, particularly Alberto Aquilani as trequartista. Overall, there were fewer players in this area with real quality on the ball compared to the qualifier against Slovenia on Friday and it showed during the game.
Italy struggled during the first-half to get a foothold in the match primarily because they did not have the control in midfield that they had on Friday. Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Nocerino both have their qualities – especially Marchisio – but their respective styles are not totally conducive to the game Prandelli wants to implement. They did, however, ensure Italy were able to compete with Ukraine in this area of the pitch when the game started to get bogged down.
Riccardo Montolivo was a little subdued with his position in front of the defence, a different role to the one he performed reasonably well against the Slovenians. With the Fiorentina captain the only guy in the middle of the park with creative quality, Italy could not reproduce the sort of passing seen in Ljubljana. It impacted negatively on Aquilani’s game, as he too could not impose himself on proceedings and so started to drop deeper as the half went on in an effort to get on the ball.
The introduction of Sebastian Giovinco at the start of the second half helped a little – not an individual to involve himself a great deal in the defensive side of the game, he stayed closer to the two strikers rather than dropping deep to look for the ball. He benefitted from a slightly improved performance from the midfield trio, who kept the ball better and looked for Giovinco between the lines.
For his part, the Parma man used the ball reasonably well and appeared more adept at finding the spaces than Aquilani, who seemed to get frustrated at the lack of time spent with the ball at his feet. His wonderful back-heel to set-up Alessandro Matri for Italy’s second goal highlighted the offensive talent he can offer this side, providing he is trusted enough to do so. His final ball was sometimes wayward, occasionally failing to pick out his teammates when positioned well to do so, and it is something that must improve if he is to seriously challenge for a starting berth as trequartista.
The other offensive gem to pick out was left-back Domenico Criscito who actually had few opportunities to deliver a cross but did so with quality when the chance arose. It was one of his crosses that eventually led to the first goal, prodded home by Giuseppe Rossi and the first-half contained another Criscito ball from out wide which really should have been pounced on by the forwards.
Christian Maggio at right-back did not offer anything like that sort of quality. Indeed, he was rarely seen in the opposition half – strange for a player who is so effective going forward at club level. He may possibly be having a few difficulties adapting to being deployed as a pure full-back, but he is in a position where there is plenty of competition now that Davide Santon is playing regularly. If he wants to keep his place, he needs to adapt fairly quickly.
The main lesson for Prandelli from this game was the midfield, and that having two players like Marchisio and Nocerino in the same team is not going to produce the football he wants. A pass completion rate of 74% tells its own story (it was less than Ukraine) and 47% possession is not good for a side looking to play a quick passing style. There is certainly room for one player of this type but too many will force the team away from path Prandelli is looking to tread.