Italy are preparing for games against Brazil and Malta. David Swan ponders what is going through the mind of boss Cesare Prandelli.
The latest Italy squad, for the games against Brazil and Malta, has thrown up a new right-wing candidate. Step forward Alessio Cerci, the newest player to be thrown into Italy’s 4-3-3 as Cesare Prandelli frantically seeks a right-sided option with quality to complete the system he has been trying for so long to implement.
Cerci has been frustrating Serie A viewers for many years – games where he shows flashes of quality, followed by seven or eight where he does nothing, have been a common occurrence since 2010. It is highly debatable whether he is good enough for this level – there is a reason that there was not a long queue of suitors from the top half of the table looking to take him from Fiorentina – but at this point Prandelli is short of options and a little desperate.
Even if something bizarre happens and Cerci turns out to be the perfect man, there are deeper problems than trying to find a player who isn’t a scrub to play on the right. The continued inability to control games in midfield with this system is a problem against good sides – Italy’s strongest midfield, in terms of controlling a game, of Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo struggled against the young and relatively inexperienced Dutch trio in last month’s friendly draw with Holland.
Having grown so used to having essentially four central midfielders wandering around in the middle, it is almost as if they are struggling to adapt to just the three of them, even though they all play, or have played, in three man midfields domestically.
Claudio Marchisio’s return – he was injured for the Holland game – gives Prandelli a choice to make. He will probably play in one of the two games, if not both, meaning Montolivo will make way, which will not help Italy’s cause in terms of match control.
As consistently good as he has been for Juventus, he has been consistently average for Italy. A total of 31 largely anonymous appearances for the Azzurri do not reflect his true value, and Italy could do with the real Marchisio turning up at some point between now and the World Cup next year. He may not have Montolivo’s ability to aid the dictation of a match, but he offers a penetration that nobody else in the squad does, unless De Rossi morphs into the 2006-07 version of the player that Marcello Lippi first capped.
If 4-3-3 is what Prandelli wants the side to be comfortable with heading to Brazil in 2014, as appears to be the case, he won’t find it as easy to get into the XI if he continues to play the way he does for Italy, not with Montolivo making a strong case at Milan this season, and not when there are one or two young midfielders who look like they can make the grade.
The games also represent a chance for Mattia De Sciglio after he received his first call-up since the August friendly with England. Ignazio Abate and Christian Maggio were also convened, which suggests the Milan youngster has been summoned as a left-back, a position that Adriano Galliani claimed was his best on Sunday.
There is a bit of a flux at left-back for Italy right now. Domenico Criscito, who would normally be first-choice and who has performed well thus far, is out with cruciate ligament damage. Davide Santon had a mixed game against Holland, and combined with a loss of form for Newcastle means he was not called. Federico Balzaretti has passed 30, which is never a good thing with Prandelli’s approach to call-ups – Manuel Pasqual a case in point – and his place in Roma’s team has not been completely secure since his injury at the end of January, with Marquinho butting in on Roma’s left side.
The indecision is best summed by the arrival of Luca Antonelli, a player that has been capped before but has had a string of better options in front of him for the best part of three years. That has not changed – but this time he is the beneficiary of the first-choice being injured and the young option not playing very well.
It nevertheless allows De Sciglio a chance to take the test of international football. He has coped pretty well playing left-back at club level, and although his experience at Champions League level in the role is limited, he looks like someone who could put the left-back issue to bed for the next 15 years. The comparisons with a certain 126-capped Italian grow ever larger.