After 2 games played, 2 wins and 6 points, Italy currently find themselves sitting on top of Group C in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. Anything less from a results point of view would have been a massive disappointment but following the 5-0 win over the Faroe Islands Prandelli’s honeymoon period has continued. From the outset, Prandelli’s Italy was the start of a new era for the Azzurri. Players such as Cassano, Balotelli and Rossi who Lippi choose not to bring to South Africa were going to get their chance to shine and many of Lippi’s old guard decided to hang up their international boots.
The new adventure began with a certain amount of disappointment under the rain in East London in August but two wins later and spirits are high. One has to take into consideration the opposition Italy faced in Estonia and the Faroe Islands but as the old cliche goes you can only play what is put in front of you. So what have we discovered about the new look Azzurri following their first two competitive games under Cesare Prandelli. Prandelli went with a 4-3-3 system in both games and the easiest way to analyze the teams performance is to break it down by positions.
In Gig Buffon’s absence Prandelli has given both Sirigu and Viviano a chance to stake their claim as number 1 during Buffon’s convalescence. Against Estonia, Sirigu was far from assuring and his mistake which led to the Estonia goal as well as his ‘papera’ later on in the game can’t have done him any favours. Viviano was given the nod against the Faroes (a decision that Prandelli claims was already made before the Estonia game) but his performance cannot be evaluated seen as he was never tested against the minnows. So this is definitely an area that Prandelli is going to have to make some decisions on until Buffon returns to the fold.
Another area where Prandelli has some deliberating to do is in his first choice full backs. Cassani and Molinaro put in decent performances against Estonia, the latter getting forward a lot more but failing to provide any decent crosses. De Silvestri and Antonelli were given their chance against the Faroe Islands and Antonelli’s forward raids were particularly impressive.
While there remains uncertainty over the goalkeeping and full back positions in this new look Italy, Prandelli seems to have decided on the central defensive partnership of Bonucci and Chiellini. The pair did look slightly out of sorts on a few occasions against Estonia but their partnership is still at a very early stage and will only improve in time. Bonucci also managed to get on the scoresheet against Estonia and it’s always a plus if one of your defenders can chip in with the odd goal.
This is the area of the pitch where the Azzurri have looked most impressive. What is ironic is that the trident (Pirlo, Montolivo and De Rossi) that Prandelli has used were all part of Lippi’s World Cup project albeit Pirlo was injured for the majority of the tournament. Nevertheless , if Pirlo had been fit it would have been unlikely that Lippi would have put them all in the same team and it will be interesting to see if Prandelli goes with the same trident against the more difficult opposition of Serbia next month. Pirlo was at his imperious best where he was the main orchestrator in both games so far. His set-piece delivery also proved decisive, providing 3 assists and 1 goal over both games. In Buffon’s absence Pirlo is team captain and his performances in this role so far prove he is the linchpin of this team.
Montolivo has also been very impressive as part of the trident. His composure and elegance in possession alongside Pirlo has helped improve the Azzurri’s ball retention .De Rossi has also complimented the system with his slightly more combative style but at the same time he is very comfortable on the ball. If Prandelli feels that this trident might suffer against tougher oppossition don’t be surprised if Palombo come’s into the fold. Claudio Marchisio’s early season injury may prove costly for his Azzurri chances and judging by the midfield’s performance together so far he may have a fight on his hands to get back into the team.
The return of FantAntonio to the Azzurri fold has created a great deal of excitement and so far he has delivered the goods. A goal and a cheeky back-heel assist against Estonia followed by his superb strike against the Faroe Islands have shown the Azzurri fans what they have been missing in his absence. His general play has also been impressive and he finally looks like he is working for the team. A true test of Cassano’s ability and attitude will be against more difficult opponents but the signs are good.
The other two positions in the attacking trio are still up for grabs. In the prima punta role, Pazzini failed to impress against Estonia and although Gilardino scored against the Faroe Islands he has by no means claimed the position as first choice in that role. Amauri and Borriello also remain in contention but at the moment Gila and Pazzo will be favourites in Prandelli’s eyes. On the right hand side of attack Prandelli used Pepe against Estonia and to be frank he did not contribute anything to the team.
Giuseppe Rossi ,who started against the Faroe islands, by contrast showed he is a quality player and despite what seemed to be an over-eagerness to impress at the start of the game where he was attempting to take on players rather than pass the ball to teammates in better positions, his overall play and teamwork improved as the game progressed.
Quagliarella is also in contention for a place up front and his goal tonight won’t have done his chances any harm. Also, let’s not forget Mario Balotelli who will no doubt return to the squad once he recovers fully from his injury. So as with the goalkeeping, full back and prima punta roles, Prandelli will also have some headaches in choosing his right sided attacker for his new look Azzurri team.
All in all, it has been an encouraging start to Italy’s Euro 2012 campaign. Prandelli still has many decisions to make for various positions on the pitch but the signs are there that his style of play has been stamped on this new look team with some high tempo play, impressive ball retention, full back raids, good movement in attack and some lovely one and two touch football just some of the positives to be taken from the first two games. Many will argue that the opposition did not provide a real test for the Azzurri. Nevertheless these results and performances will give the team a much needed confidence boost following the bad run of results it had experienced up until last Friday.