Rebuilding the Italian back line

As Cesare Prandelli readies his troops for the crucial Euro 2012 qualifier against Slovenia, it is almost certain that the Coach will go for a changed back line once more from the one that started the abandoned game against Serbia.
The much feted Italian defence was picked apart at the World Cup and a transitional period for the Azzurri back four started ever since Prandelli took over. In the four qualifiers La Nazionale has played under him, the defensive line-up has been revamped on every single occasion. But, in last month’s friendly against Germany, the former Fiorentina Coach finally revealed what could be his long term plan for bringing back the days of Italy’s defensive solidity.
In the Germany friendly, Prandelli deployed Giorgio Chiellini at left-back, a position the Juventino is adept at fulfilling despite not being his first-choice. Chiellini occupying the left flank meant that the centre-back duo of Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Ranocchia, who played together at Bari, were reunited. This formation will obviously not be the one that Italy will play with against Slovenia as Ranocchia has pulled out of the game with injury, but chances are that it is Prandelli’s first choice. The right-back position has now been earmarked for Davide Santon for the longest time, and his call back to the national set-up following his loan move to Cesena is the surest indication that the Coach is a fan of the Sa-Bo-Ra-Chi back four.
What works for these four is their familiarity with each other, with all having played with each other at some stage or another. While Bonucci and Chiellini are club mates at Juventus, Ranocchia and Santon are sure to feature together for Inter next season. Bonucci has played with Ranocchia at Bari and together – the duo lead Bari to one of the best defensive records in the league until the latter got injured. And even Santon and Bonucci turned out for Inter in their Primavera squad a few years ago when the Juventus centre-back was in the Nerazzurri junior ranks. The advantage of having players who play with each other at club level is enormous as it brings with it an innate understanding and positional anticipation.
The biggest plus point however for the future of La Nazionale is that all these players are young and have quite a few years ahead of them. Chiellini is the oldest of them at 26 and having the Juventus captaincy at times has also brought a certain degree of maturity to his game. Bonucci is 23, while Ranocchia is just 22, but the youngest of them all holds the most promise to an extent with Santon having turned 20 earlier this year. It is clear that the Azzurri need to reinvigorate themselves after their dismal showing in South Africa and it is only right that Prandelli has decided to build from the back.
These four defenders are likely to play a vital role at not only their respective clubs but also at the national level, as they are capable of returning Italy to its ‘indefatigable defence’ days. In his press conference on Thursday, Prandelli stated that “the only road that is open to us is that of the youngsters,” and there are few who would argue with that theory. They might not be together on the field against Slovenia, but the Santon-Bonucci-Ranocchia-Chiellini back line should be in place by the time Euro 2012 comes around. Only then would we be able to adequately judge whether Prandelli’s vision proves to be futuristic or misguided.

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