Italy Camp Focus – Azzurri’s troubled preparations for Euro 2012 bring tactics into question

It is hard to imagine how Italy’s immediate preparations for Euro 2012 could have gone much worse. They began with a dawn raid on the team’s training base as a match-fixing scandal touched the national team, with Domenico Criscito dropping out of Cesare Prandelli’s squad after he was confirmed as being under investigation. It then continued with a 3-0 defeat against Russia in which the Azzuri were second best throughout and only Andrea Pirlo really performed close to his best. To top everything off, Andrea Barzagli will miss the entire group stage with a calf problem and Mario Balotelli missed training through injury earlier this week.

So, it all points to an Italy tournament victory then, surely? Performing against the odds was what the Italians did in the 2006 World Cup, when the nation’s football was dogged by the Calciopoli affair. Only time will tell if history repeats itself six years later but Prandelli’s side is made up of much different constituent parts. There are a number of World Cup winners present – Gianluigi Buffon, the injured Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi to name but three – yet it was a reliance on the players victorious in Germany ’06 that was blamed for Italian failure four years later in South Africa. With that in mind Prandelli set about re-shaping his squad and putting faith in some new faces, untainted by the disappointment of 2010 nor complacent after the success of 2006.

A match-fixing scandal, a series of injuries to important players – including Giuseppe Rossi, who missed most of last season – and a heavy friendly defeat a week before playing World and European champions Spain was not on the agenda for the revitalised Azzurri. How does Prandelli overcome these obstacles? It has been suggested by the man himself, according to Football Italiano that Italy could switch from their usual 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-5-2, something also proposed weeks earlier by European football writer James Horncastle, writing on his blog.

Playing a 3-5-2 system, or a variation thereof, could have particular success against Spain. The principles of La Roja’s tiki-taka do not really allow for much width with the play focused on the central midfielders. With the Italians using Christian Maggio as a right-sided wing-back, his position with Napoli, this could allow them to outflank the Spanish. It would also have the added effect of getting Maggio further away from his own penalty area after arguably being at fault for each of Russia’s three goals – his positioning was questionable for the first, his decision to leave the ball for the second inexplicable, and his attempted clearance for the third laughable. Maggio was also ineffective in attack against Russia, perhaps a consequence of the difference between playing as a full-back and as a wing-back.

Reorganising the line-up to a 3-5-2 formation would refresh the side more than any number of new faces, but the risk of playing a less-familiar formation against a side as skilled as Spain cannot be ignored. Time is now up for Prandelli to examine new tactics in match situations and the smart money would be on Italy keeping faith with their 4-2-3-1, but if Italy are to shake off the discordant build-up to the tournament and make a better start to the competition than is their tradition, all possibilities have to be on the table.

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