Italy’s last qualifier for the World Cup in Russia finished in a narrow 1-0 victory against Albania away from home, which sums up the Azzurri’s whole campaign. Despite securing a comfortable second place finish behind a superb Spanish team, Giampiero Ventura’s side looked sloppy and unconvincing in almost all of their games. The tactician deservedly took the major share of the criticism, as his constant changing of system and tactics meant that Italy struggled against clearly inferior opponents like Albania, Macedonia and Israel and got absolutely hammered 3-0 in Madrid.
The tactician deservedly has plenty of doubters, as his decisions handicapped his side more than once during the qualifying campaign. Ventura finally showed he is willing to leave behind the improbable 4-2-4 system in the World Cup play-offs with Sweden, but is the 3-5-2 really any improvement?
While the 4-3-3 formation would allow Ventura to play most of his creative players, the 3-5-2 module will give him some guarantees at the back and in the middle of the pitch, which means that the team might lack something upfront. Considering that Italy must score at least one goal, 4-3-3 seems the more logical choice, as probably the team’s most in-form players are best suited for this set-up.
Gigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini were always going to be guaranteed starters. Based on current form, Daniele Rugani perhaps deserved a nod more than Leonardo Bonucci or Andrea Barzagli, but experience is vital at this level and with three at the back, the BBC reunion is inevitable. Matteo Darmian was already the favourite on the left wing even before Leonardo Spinazzola’s injury ruled him out entirely.
The current Swedish team lacks the individual talent that the Tre Kronor’s sides of the past possessed, so the outcome of the game will most likely be decided in the middle of the pitch where a so far underperforming Marco Verratti’s ball-playing ability will be crucial. The PSG man should take the responsibility and pull the strings in the middle of the park with experienced fighters like Marco Parolo and Daniele De Rossi shielding him.
Lorenzo Insigne is another player who has been superb for his club for years, but due to various reasons he never gets the chance to play in a similar role for the Nazionale. The 26-year-old winger can become one of the key figures in this Italy team, if given the chance. The trip to Sweden would’ve been the perfect opportunity for him, yet the Napoli starlet will probably be on the bench.
On the right the most logical choice seems Antonio Candreva, as the Inter man has been in fine form since the start of the season and has proved to be one of the most consistent players in recent months.
Ventura’s choice for a centre-forward will be of huge importance and it would’ve seem a pretty straight-forward one if Andrea Belotti was in peak physical condition. Il Gallo’s strength and pure tenacity would be perfect for the game considering Sweden’s physicality at the back. However, the Torino man’s injury concerns and Ciro Immobile’s physical issues, Ventura’s choice becomes much harder.
Simone Zaza was tipped to start his first Italy game in over a year, but the Valencia man’s bad luck never seems to be out of fashion and he’s ruled out for the first leg. With the other options being Eder – who scored against Sweden at Euro 2016 – and Manolo Gabbiadini, both benchwarmers at their current clubs, a half-fit Belotti will have to do.
Regardless of the starting XI that Ventura is going to pick, more than one member of the current Italian team have a point to prove, so a balanced 4-3-3 formation would allow the Azzurri to display their clear superiority over the Sweden. Unfortunately, the Coach is once again ignoring public opinion.