Cesare Prandelli only sprang one real surprise in his Italy squad to face France on Wednesday evening – Roma midfielder Alessandro Florenzi getting rewarded for his fine efforts in the capital.
Apart from him, the names are familiar – Davide Santon the only other noteworthy inclusion, who makes a return after a year’s absence – suggestive of a Coach who wants to use a good team like France to make small adjustments to what he has rather than try a set of new players.
It is a sensible decision – Italy are in a good moment, and there is little need to destabilise that by introducing a flock of new players, only to ignore them again when qualifying matches come around.
The squad highlights Prandelli’s admirable determination to prevent the national team stagnating and becoming old, but also the differing standards he has to apply to each area of the squad to do this, dependent on the choices he has.
For example, Antonio Cassano continues to be left out because he wants to “try out a few younger players,” but he is only able to do that because the options are there. As he said himself last month, “we are lucky because in this moment we have a lot of strikers.” It is probably for this reason that Fabio Quagliarella, who is only six months younger than Cassano, was also left out despite incredible goalscoring form. It would be difficult to justify exclusion of one if the other ended up at Coverciano the next day.
By the same token, it is youth that is keeping Mattia Destro in the squad. He has not done a great deal since the last international break – one goal in 28 minutes of football to be exact – but because he is young, because there is potential for him to grow with the group, he retains his place over others who have achieved more.
In comparison with the attack, there are not a great deal of full-backs to choose from, hence why he has to keep going to a left-back in Federico Balzaretti who will turn 31 next month, an apparent contradiction to his reasons for omitting Cassano – the Roma man is actually older – but one he has to make for the sake of the team.
It is why the return of Santon could be very important. His ability to play on both sides is useful, but his settling at left-back for Newcastle can help Prandelli make the transition in this area of the team smoother and easier.
In midfield he is blessed. He has players of the right age to such an extent that it is easy to see where the gradual generational change will occur. That he can leave out Daniele De Rossi for a code of ethics breach and still have this section looking strong is testament to the options he has.
He does need to be a little more proactive in finding Andrea Pirlo alternatives. Marco Verratti has been called up to every squad since August, surrounded by talk that he is the next Pirlo – but we will never know until he actually plays. So far he has been afforded few minutes.
Pirlo is suspended for the weekend, so the temptation may be to leave him on against France while the team around him changes, but that does not bring Prandelli any closer to dealing with a situation where he is unavailable.