Paul Scholes has advised England to pay particular attention to Andrea Pirlo, if they want to pick up a result against Italy next week.
The Three Lions and the Azzurri will kick off their World Cup campaigns against each other in Group D’s fixture set in Manaus.
For one of England’s notable former internationals, ensuring Pirlo is not given time on the ball is paramount.
“Against Italy in the heat we need all our ‘footballers’ to play. Possession is everything. Then there’s Pirlo…” Scholes has written in his blog for Paddy Power today.
“He was outstanding in the World Cup in 2006 and got three man of the match awards six years later at Euro 2012.
“Even though England’s Euro 2012 game against Italy finished 0-0, we paid nowhere near enough attention to him.
“Pirlo is not renowned for his athleticism, and he’s 35 now, but that day he ran 11.58 kilometres, more than any England player. He also had more passes (131) than England’s four starting midfielders.”
Scholes advises that special attention is paid to the Juventus man.
“Roy Hodgson seems to have underestimated him in 2012, which surprised me given Alex Ferguson tactics previously to stifle Pirlo.
“In 2010 before Man United played Milan in the Champions League, Sir Alex gave very specific instructions on how to take care of Pirlo.
“Man-marking him was a huge part of our pre-game plan – I played against him when Milan beat us 3-0 at San Siro in 2007. We didn’t man-mark him. He destroyed us. We learned, and it was painful.
“Park Ji-Sung was the perfect man for Pirlo in 2010 and never gave him kick [in a 7-2 aggregate victory]. You could even see Pirlo getting frustrated and having little kicks out by the end.
“For Manaus, we need an ‘English Park Ji-Sung’ – one England player designated to man-mark him. Looking at the squad, Danny Welbeck – a good defender who can nick the ball well – could be an option and would be a bold decision, one which gives England a creative outlet, and saddles Pirlo with defensive work.
“[England assistant Coach] Gary Neville and the England management are well aware of Pirlo’s threat. We cannot make the mistakes of 2012 again.
“Otherwise, Italy have decent players, without being special. Mario Balotelli can be brilliant but I hope it’s the version who’s sulking and has a little stroll around the pitch.
“Right now I think the best we can hope for is a draw against Italy if we manage the heat, keep the ball and stop Mr Pirlo – we can beat Uruguay and Costa Rica.”