Italy Euro 2012 Focus – Prandelli facing difficult decisions

After matching the reigning World Cup and European Championship holders Spain in their first game of Euro 2012, the Italy camp are now faced with a tactical dilemma. Does Coach Cesare Prandelli persist with the 3-5-2 formation that proved fruitful against the Spanish, or will the different test posed by Croatia bring a return to something more familiar?

 In what was a good all-round Azzurri performance the standout was perhaps Daniele De Rossi, the Roma player who was called into action in an unfamiliar central defensive role – although one he did at times undertake for his club last season. But it was the first time under Prandelli that Italy have played with a back three and therefore the first time De Rossi has done so at international level. Yet the 2006 World Cup winner played with such composure that none of that was obvious while Spain had their plethora of midfielders on the pitch, and the deeper, central role opened up the field for some extravagant passing to the flanks – almost like having a second Andrea Pirlo-type player on the field but a few yards further back.

Just how much De Rossi and his teammates were helped in their new system by Spain’s decision to play most of the match without a recognised striker may be discovered if the same formation is employed against Croatia. There is no chance of Slaven Bilic going without a forward. Nikica Jelavic and Mario Mandzukic were both on target in the 3-1 win over the Republic of Ireland and their movement may prove too much for Italy’s three central defenders to cope with. De Rossi is still a novice in central defence and it was notable that when Spain did introduce a striker – Fernando Torres – La Roja created a number of clear openings. Together with the intricate midfield workings of Luka Modric, a playmaker little short of the class of Spain’s Xavi Hernandez, the back three could easily be overrun.

Prandelli has already described the encounter with Croatia as “decisive”, according to the BBC, who also suggest the former Fiorentina Coach will dispense with the 3-5-2 in favour of his more often seen back four. If Prandelli is right, and the outcome of the meeting with Croatia determines who progresses out of Group C, then his decisions are more decisive still. And the formation is not the only quandary facing Prandelli – he must decide if Mario Balotelli will start again or Antonio di Natale, the goal-scoring substitute against Spain, will feature from the off.

Then there are the further questions of who drops out of midfield to make room for De Rossi, who would play at left-back – Maggio would surely be the right-back – and who would be situated behind the strikers, assuming it is 4-3-1-2 to which Italy return – all problems for which Prandelli must find a solution. Of course, the Coach may choose to keep faith in 3-5-2, but if it backfires, he will have yet greater questions to answer.

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