With the Azzurri’s World Cup opener only 3 days away, Marcello Lippi will be considering how to combat the threat of Paraguay. Under normal circumstances, the Paraguayans would not be considered a big threat, but given Italy’s current form they may well prove to be a challenge.
In fact, given the team’s recent troubles, one wonders whether adopting an Inter-style counter attacking game might not suit the Azzurri, as creating goals from open play appears to be a problem. Whilst la nazionale may not be filled with Francesco Totti or Roberto Baggio-esque fantasia, there are more than enough good players to create a solid unit capable of troubling superior sides.
Italy will not win this World Cup playing football in the same way that Spain can – they do not have the players. Free flowing, creative football may be beautiful to watch, but realistically there is only one – maybe two – sides in the tournament capable of that level of play. In truth, the Machiavellian edict of ‘the end justifies the means’ is the way that Italy has to move forward. There are no prizes for style – as much as beautiful football is to be admired. Each coach has to pick the manner of play that he believes gives his team the best chance of victory.
The last two friendlies against Switzerland and Mexico have showed that there is still much work to be done, but even in the absence of Andrea Pirlo, the squad is still deeper than Paraguay, New Zealand or Slovakia. The question for Lippi is not about whether he can mask weaknesses in his own team as much as whether he can exploit the weaknesses in the opposition.
There is, however, one player that has not been used to his full potential thus far. Daniele De Rossi, arguably the best player in the squad, continues to be deployed in a deep position. The Roma man has too much ability to act as a mere enforcer and could be used further forward to add his creativity and ability to shoot from range to the attack. If Lippi can get him surging forward as he does for i Lupi, De Rossi can be the extra threat the Azzurri need
In fact, the trio of De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Di Natale played behind either Alberto Gilardino or Giampaolo Pazzini in the 4-2-3-1 would be using the 3 midfielders currently in the best form. It would also leave Gennaro Gattuso and Angelo Palombo to do the running in midfield, giving cover to any of the questionable pairings picked at centre-back.
Lippi cannot try to replace Pirlo by deploying another player in his position as was tried with Riccardo Montolivo for a period against Switzerland. The Fiorentina man had to drop deep to get the ball and make the play but this is not his natural position. Lippi can try the same with De Rossi, Marchisio or any of the other midfielders but nobody can do what the Milan man does. The team has to adapt to cover the absence, not try and replace the player using the same system.
Unfortunately, second-guessing what Lippi is going to do is a game that many have been trying since the former Juventus coach regained control of la nazionale. It is an approach that has not yielded much success. The only certainty is that he will – for the most part – remain loyal to his players from 2006 and we have to hope that they can get the job done. Do players like Gianluca Zambrotta who are sad, faded images of the superstars they once were have enough left to give one last effort for their country?
But the time for complaint and hindsight is nearly at an end, and all that is left is for the fans to support their team through whatever happens in the next four weeks. These 24 men have the expectations of all of Calcio resting on their shoulders and whether or not we think their inclusion was correct now all we can do is hope and pray that they can produce.
Forza Azzurri. Forza Italia.