Italy’s defensive issues at the Confederations Cup have rekindled memories of Cesare Prandelli’s Fiorentina side for Giancarlo Rinaldi…
For Italian fans, it has been a pretty traumatic experience. Eight goals conceded in just three matches is not what followers of the Azzurri are used to. But, for tifosi of the club side where Cesare Prandelli clinched his promotion to La Nazionale, it will have had a pretty familiar ring.
Back then it was usually all about the "chains" - le catene - the overlapping work of full-backs and midfielders on the flanks in his 4-2-3-1 formation. Sometimes the left-side worked, on other occasions it was the right. And, when they both functioned simultaneously, the Viola were a glorious sight to behold. But it could be a little bit scary when it went wrong.
In truth, other than his final season in charge at the Artemio Franchi, Prandelli generally produced sides which were pretty solid at the back. In his first term in charge their defensive ranking – 4th – matched their attack. In all four campaigns after that, the backline performed better in Serie A terms than their goalscoring counterparts. Over five years in the top Division, they conceded about a goal a game.
It was once he got to elite competition, however, that the more madcap displays akin to Italy at the Confederations Cup this year started to emerge. The Viola's Champions League efforts in 2009-10 were always gripping but often induced heart-failure in their followers. It sometimes felt like they were determined to stand toe-to-toe with an opponent, trying to score one more goal to clinch victory.
In 10 outings, they managed just two clean sheets – in home games to Liverpool and Lyon. In half of their matches they conceded at least two goals. It was a rollercoaster of emotions similar to those which the Azzurri have conjured up of late.
They qualified for the group stages of the Champions League on away goals after two scoring draws with Sporting Lisbon. Their clashes with Debrecen of Hungary produced a total of 14 goals – six of them finding their way past Sebastien Frey and the ever-bungling Vlada Avramov in the Florentine goal. Elimination, when it came, was via away goals after a controversial 4-4 aggregate draw with Bayern Munich. If you wanted a Twitter hashtag to their campaign it might well have been #breathless.
Now Italy supporters are getting treated to more of the same. In his effort to put the emphasis on attack and get his team to take the game to opponents, some big gaps have emerged at the back. For veteran Azzurri watchers it is something of a shock, but to Viola followers it is bringing back a lot of memories.
And, as coincidence has it, it looks like Prandelli might have to turn to his talisman from his time in Florence if he hopes to make it any further in Brazil. With Mario Balotelli out through injury, Alberto Gilardino would be his natural replacement. And, as Riccardo Montolivo is also likely to feature, fans could be forgiven for double checking if the normal blue of their country has taken on a slightly purple tinge.