On Saturday night Marcello Lippi named his Italy squad to face Greece in midweek and did not produce many shocks. Udinese’s Simone Pepe has been given another chance to stake his claim for a place in the line-up, while his club colleague Gaetano D’Agostino was called in the absence of Andrea Pirlo and Alberto Aquilani. However, it is the inclusion of Giuseppe Rossi – the striker now plying his trade at Villarreal – the Azzurri faithful should be most excited about.
It may seem strange to highlight a striker as a key addition to the squad, considering the wealth of talent already available to the Italy boss in the forward positions. Yet the young Italian-American is potentially one of the most gifted players to grace La Nazionale’s front line for some time.
Despite showing promise as a youngster, his career to date has been somewhat nomadic. Taken from the Parma youth team by Manchester Utd at the tender age of 17, he found opportunities in their first-team limited. After a couple of loan moves, to Newcastle and back to Parma, he was sold to Villarreal in the summer of 2007, for a fee said to be around £7m. His first year in the Spanish province of Castellón saw him strike an impressive 11 goals in 27 league appearances. The regular football has worked wonders for the 21-year-old’s development, as this season he has been in the form of his life.
The diminutive striker has six goals in nine appearances in all competitions so far this campaign. Two of these have come in the Champions League, demonstrating his ability to cope with top level European football. He has scored in six consecutive appearances since Villarreal’s 0-0 draw with Espanyol in October.
Most interesting is his partnership with El Submarino Amarillo’s Joseba Llorente, something Lippi would do well to note. Their last seven starts together have brought nine goals, five for Rossi. Llorente, at just over six-feet in height, is the main striker, with the Italian international playing around him. This seems to have coaxed the best out of the 21-year-old, freed from the responsibility of having to lead the Villarreal forward line. Having a taller strike partner takes up defenders time and attention, and leaves him with more room to work and express his undoubted talents.
Fortunately, the Azzurri possess a striker very similar to Llorente in Alberto Gilardino. Like Villarreal’s Basque striker, he too measures over six-feet in height and can lead the line just as well. The former Milan man is in unbelievable form and there’s no doubt he can carry that on to the international stage.
In many ways, they can help each other produce their best. While Rossi has a partner to work around, Gilardino will benefit from having the support that he so often lacks when he plays in Lippi’s 4-3-3. The Azzurri have been struggling for goals in their recent World Cup qualifiers, with chances at a premium. Their forward play has lacked invention and a cutting edge, epitomised by the inability to break down a Bulgaria side that had set-up for the draw.
For both frontmen to play to their best and strike up a cohesive partnership, it relies on the World Cup-winning Tactician playing with two strikers in his favoured formation. But with the Azzurri’s best wide player Antonio Di Natale currently missing with injury, the quality of the wingers in a 4-3-3 system is not going to be as high or productive for the forwards. The squad has no problems with strength in depth up-front, though, with several options available to Coach Lippi – Luca Toni, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Fabio Quagliarella are all part of the 22 called up for Wednesday evening’s match. A friendly game, against decent opposition, could provide no better opportunity to test these possibilities.