There is very much at stake in tonight’s friendly for Azzurri Coach Cesare Prandelli. Though friendlies are meant to be of no material consequence, when the opponent is a team the calibre of Germany, the psychological rewards are considerable – especially if new tactics are involved. Considering how sparse the occasions for Prandelli’s get-togethers are, it would go a long away towards coalescing this team’s sense of unity and confidence if they were to defeat the Germans in Dortmund.
It showed with Lippi’s pre-2006 side, which defeated Germany and the Netherlands before embarking for the World Cup, and it will show now. Prandelli knows this but he also knows that with no tactical experimentation, the victory – and game in general – would be as good as useless because it would reveal nothing about the potential of the team. So he must win but do so while shifting formations and trying new men. A double challenge.
It may be the ex-Viola’s understanding of how salutary a victory would be which leads him to a comparatively prudent approach to the game. But is this really for the best? Prandelli has been so kind as to anticipate his formation, a 4-3-1-2, so let us consider it now:
The focus has shifted away from play on the wings towards a structure which channels movement through the centre. The deployment is surprisingly defensive. All three midfielders are skilled at containment, while Giorgio Chiellini, commonly a central defender, is placed in guard of the left.
As importantly, Stefano Mauri is employed as trequartista, with Antonio Cassano pushed up as seconda punta. The Lazio midfielder is a versatile player but far from the most talented in that position. Cassano himself would be the more obvious candidate, or one of Sebastian Giovinco and Alberto Aquilani. The agenda seems to be that of locking down the centre of the pitch by using a trequartista who is also skilled at tracking adversaries with the ball.
Prandelli’s defensive concerns are understandable. The Germans boast a brilliant midfield, one of the fastest and most technical in Europe, yet the Azzurri Coach may have over-shot his mark with this formation. Considering Cassano is more of a creator than a goalscorer himself, it follows that he needs men making runs around him and supporting him if he is to be effective. Other than Giampaolo Pazzini, there seems to be no-one for the task.
A 4-3-1-2 traditionally relies on the trequartista to offer creative vision to the strikers. Lacking a skilled individual in this position, it is left to the full-backs to come forward and provide impetus and numerical support in attack. In the case of Prandelli, neither the trequartista nor the full-backs appear particularly suited to the task of supporting the strikers. If one of the three holding midfielders were swapped for Aquilani, or even Antonio Nocerino, there may be a greater forward slant. As it is, the likelihood is that of seeing Pazzini too isolated to pose a threat, with Cassano finding no-one on the receiving end of his assists.
The match promises to be exciting, but supporters should be cautious as the two line-ups suggest the first half could well be in the hands of the Germans. Italy may succeed in breaking some of Mesut Ozil’s and Sami Khedira’s most silken passes, but once in possession, little indicates that they will know how to execute. We may have to wait until the inevitable turn-over of the second half to find out. And what happens from that point onwards is really impossible to predict.