One of the worst things you can do after a particularly heavy defeat is to panic. Yet Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli seems to be close to crossing that line into the panic zone after his side’s 3-0 loss to Russia.
The performance left a lot to be desired, but it was not as dreadful as the scoreline perhaps suggests. Italy created chances in their now customary 4-3-1-2 system – and they should have scored a couple through Mario Balotelli and Claudio Marchisio – but the passing was not as sharp and the ball retention not what we have been used to from previous games.
Andrea Pirlo was majestic during the time he spent on the pitch, but the rest of the midfield seemed off colour, both with and without the ball. Marchisio for the most part struggled to find space, Daniele De Rossi did not impose himself offensively or defensively, and Riccardo Montolivo had another one of those games that he so often produces in an Italy shirt.
But the real concern was the defensive display. Prandelli felt the problem started further forward, which impacted on the midfield and then the defence. There was a distinct lack of energy, an intensity missing in defensive situations that meant it was relatively easy for Russia to find routes to goal. This was not lost on the best betting sites who betted on more Italy disappointment.
That does not completely excuse the mess Italy’s back four were in at times – Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci did not cover themselves in glory – but it is difficult for central defenders when they are playing alongside a full-back making bad errors.
Ultimately, two of the three goals conceded came from Christian Maggio mistakes, and although that statement hides the fact Russia created a number of chances they should have converted, they failed to do so in a similar manner to the Azzurri.
His performance was generally below-par all night. Offensively he failed to provide the penetration he offers at Napoli, albeit he starts from further back than he does at club level. His place in the team against Spain is probably secure, but another game like this and Prandelli will have serious food for thought when it comes to selecting a right-back for the rest of the tournament.
The switch to 4-3-3 is difficult to analyse, because it came with a number of substitutions that augmented an already ragged-looking Italy. They looked less threatening in attack and more open at the other end – despite the presence of Antonio Nocerino and Thiago Motta in the same midfield.
Prandelli, however, had no such issues drawing conclusions from the switch, claiming that “at the moment, it is impossible to play with three strikers.” It is quite a turnaround – it was only three games ago that he was unsure whether 4-3-3 should be the first option (the loss to Uruguay convinced him otherwise) – now he is dismissing it altogether on the back of one game which took place under special circumstances.
As well as the nonsense of Calcioscommesse, the team are behind in their preparations compared to the rest, a fact the Coach acknowledged post-match. This is Italy’s one and only warm-up game, playing a team who are not only ahead in preparation, but who seemed to take it very seriously. Russia made four substitutions in the game, two of which were in the last five minutes. Italy had made all six before 70 minutes.
The fact then, that he is even considering such a drastic switch in tactics on the back of one game is surprising. “I think I have to change something to improve,” he mused. “We will change the defence. We could consider three or five at the back – it is the same thing. Let’s see how it goes, and then we will decide.”
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The natural reaction to it is that it can only be positive for Italy – after all, Juventus used 3-5-2 with success. But it takes time to bed in – Juventus’ initial attempts with the system were not a roaring endorsement for a three-man defence. It took them a couple of months before they managed to hit a stage where they could switch to it with relative comfort.
To attempt to reach that point in one week, with an international side that has played 3-5-2 from the start of a game once in the last 10 years, and with a group of players that have not played together in that system, would reek of panic decision making. Not the aura you want to be transmitting heading into a major tournament.