The Importance of Being Earnest, for Prandelli

There is much to be liked in this young, democratic Italy team, which represented seven different Serie A sides across its starting XI. The score may not say much for the good or for the bad – a passable, sometimes messy 1-1 with the Germans – but the foundations are there for a bright future. Perhaps what is most important is that Coach Cesare Prandelli finds the courage to stand behind his own choices.
We cautioned in our preview that “neither the trequartista nor the full-backs appear particularly suited to the task of supporting the strikers”, and that “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.” This proved to be the case, and though the majority of the dangers posed by the adversary midfield were defused by the defensive formation, the first-half was mostly gifted to the Germans. Interestingly, Pazzini was employed in a very wide position, as though Prandelli were still reasoning in terms of his old 4-2-3-1. This left virtually no forwards in the box, and even though there is plenty of talent in the offensive department, one gets the sense that Prandelli is really missing Mario Balotelli. A prima punta who is simultaneously very physical and very technical would be of great help to these Azzurri, and one understands why the Coach seems so determined to build the team around him.
There were many promising individual performances last night, but the sense of a tactical vision or unity was elusive. Prandelli seems to have a very offensive Italy in his mind, one which depends on a successful alchemy of highly talented, technical forwards working together. The right combination of strikers is still quite far from the Coach’s grasp, and as a consequence, the midfield meant to support this type of offence is also yet to be defined.
No-one could blame Prandelli for refusing to experiment. His injection of new blood in the second-half was heartening for how well it revealed the potential and flexibility possessed by this team (in fact, the overabundance of talented attackers is reaching proportions almost unexampled amid the Azzurri since the early 90s, or even the 60s). The problem seemed to be that Prandelli was shy of committing to his own vision. The team he fielded was defensive without being built for that purpose. A more dynamic trequartista in the place of Stefano Mauri, for example, would have been enough to make the team much more incisive.
Considering the quality of the opposition and the sympathies of the stadium, Italy fared more than well. They conceded few chances and gave the impression of having several solutions up-front. Even towards the end, when tactics somewhat decayed and the team was left to itself, the improvisational skills of Sebastian Giovinco and Giuseppe Rossi seemed capable of leading to another goal. So the raw material is there for whatever Prandelli intends to build. What the team needs now is a little more stability and tactical courage, and a deployment which is consistent with its spirit. Prandelli can be exculpated this time because it was his first match against truly major opposition, and he may have been nervous about ending like England (1-4) or Argentina (0-4). For the next one, though, he had better go in with less thought towards limiting the damage of his opponents, and with greater interest in bringing the game to them. After all, if you want to breed a dragon, then you have got to play with some fire.

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