Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti, Filippo Inzaghi, Luca Toni, Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta. That was the list of forwards with which Marcelo Lippi’s team lifted the World Cup in 2006. Yet despite having the comfort of choosing from so many quality attacking options, the tactician never actually fielded more than two strikers, as he stuck with his preferred 4-3-1-2 formation throughout the tournament.
Totti was Lippi’s first choice for the trequartista role behind Gilardino and Toni, who occupied the two striker positions in most games. This means that players like Del Piero and Inzaghi were often left outside the starting XI, which brings the question are Italy’s current attacking options good enough to compromise the team’s balance and tradition?
Andrea Belotti, Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne and Antonio Candreva are all talented players and there is no doubt that Ventura’s 4-2-4 formation can be extremely effective against the so called lesser teams. However, the defeat against Spain proves that fielding such an attack-minded setup against a top-notch opponent might not be the best option for the Azzurri.
Belotti’s injury is a big blow for Italy ahead of the crucial games against Macedonia and Albania, but it also gives Ventura the perfect chance to modify his approach and test another formation. The absence of Il Gallo means that his former Coach at Torino should not feel the pressure of fielding so many attacking players together, as he can switch to a 4-3-3 or even a 3-4-3 formation. Both tactical setups could provide more cover at the back and improve the team’s balance in the middle of the pitch.
With Ciro Immobile’s fantastic form since the start of the season, the Lazio man should lead the attack, as either Insigne and Simone Verdi, or Federico Bernardeschi and Stephan El Sharaawy, could provide support from the wings.
Adopting such an approach should also see extremely talented defenders like Daniele Rugani, Alessio Romagnoli and Mattia Caldara getting more time on the field and taking over from the ageing BBC trio. After all, with some exciting young attacking talents emerging, people tend to forget that Italy’s strength has always been at the back.
And while every Azzurri fan is hoping to see the next Roberto Baggio, Del Piero or Totti, the tifosi should remember that each of those players had someone like Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta or Fabio Cannavaro covering their backs.
In order for Italy to get the most out of both their attacking and defensive talent, Ventura should recognize that sacrificing the team’s balance and abandoning Italy’s tradition just for the sake of playing attractive football can and is already backfiring badly. Therefore, switching to a 4-3-3 or even a 3-4-3/3-5-2 hybrid formation with the two wings helping out the midfield, might be the best way of achieving short-term results as well as integrating Italy’s young talents in to the squad.
After all, it’s no coincidence that the Azzurri earned an unbeaten run of 56 international qualification games throughout the last 11 years by sticking to their strengths and playing style. Ahead of two decisive games and hopefully the World Cup in Russia next year, Ventura should be smart enough to take a step back and rediscover Italy’s balance and cohesion, which were found under Antonio Conte during the Euro 2016 campaign.