Juventus may not agree, but for Cesare Prandelli tonight’s friendly against Spain at Madrid’s Estadio Vicente Calderon is vital.
Three months out from the start of the World Cup, this week has been one of Prandelli’s final opportunities to amass the squad, aside from an upcoming two-day camp at Coverciano. “It is our last friendly before the World Cup, so it is important to be here even if you are not playing.”
It’s why Italy’s CT was steadfast in his desire to bring Bianconeri defender Giorgio Chiellini along, much to the chagrin of Beppe Marotta and Antonio Conte. Chiellini has been out with a calf injury in recent weeks, but was called up by Prandelli. The tactician wants to leave ‘pointless controversy’ behind and focus on the road to Brazil.
The Azzurri commence their World Cup campaign on June 14 versus England in Manaus. With so few opportunities to get a close look at prospective squad members, the Calderon assignment offers Prandelli the chance to test his side against a top-level opponent. He does so with questions surrounding the team.
The friendly is a chance to start looking towards England. It’s not a time for mass-experimentation, hence a squad consisting mostly of players expected to cross the Atlantic. It isn’t completely void of new faces – there are spots for Mattia Perin, Argentina-born Gabriel Paletta, Marco Parolo and Ciro Immobile, plus the return of Mattia Destro. Just don’t expect them all to be thrown into the starting XI.
Indeed, Prandelli’s rumoured line-up is thought to include Paletta for his Azzurri debut, alongside a number of squad regulars. “This is no ordinary friendly,” Prandelli announced in his Press conference, “so tomorrow I will evaluate the growth of for example Alessio Cerci, who will be playing from the start.”
Should Cerci be joined by Antonio Candreva and Dani Osvaldo as expected, it gives an opportunity for the Juventus striker to stake his claim in a Mario Balotelli-less side. The Milan forward is out injured, so too Giuseppe Rossi. Prandelli needs to plan alternatives should Fiorentina’s hitman not be fit in time for Brazil. Enter Cerci. There’s also a chance for Thiago Motta - now back in contention following a year away from the Azzurri post-Euro 2012 - in the absence of Daniele De Rossi.
It’s not only the faces, but what shape the XI take. “As for the system, there is time for experiments, but my plan is to play with four midfielders and two forwards,” Prandelli continued.
This means the 3-5-2 formation which has given Italy much joy against La Roja is likely to be shelved. Spanish boss Vicente Del Bosque made allusion to Italy troubling his men in this system, but it seems they won’t get another look at it before June. With such little time remaining until the departure for Brazil, utilising a system not planned to play much of a role in the tournament makes little sense for Prandelli.
How the attacking trident is fielded is debateable. The Gazzetta dello Sport believes they will start in a 4-3-2-1 formation. Prandelli has a number of creative and attacking options, such are the dynamics of the squad. This match may offer a glimpse into the tactician’s thinking.
This will be the fifth time a Prandelli-led Italy has faced Spain. Come June, it may well be six, with nations in Group B and D on course for a quarter-final showdown. Reportedly, Italy tried to prevent this fixture, but Prandelli sees both positives and negatives: “Spain are World and European Champions, so we run many risks, but these are games that can give us a boost in terms of growth and character.”
With so little time to prepare until the end of the club season, tonight’s friendly is an important test. Italy have a number of attacking options and now is the time to start honing towards the preferred choice. Hopefully this friendly offers an insight into Prandelli’s thinking.