Thursday October 17 2013
The formations of Italy

What system should Italy boss Cesare Prandelli use at World Cup 2014? David Swan looks at the options.

The 2-2 draw with Armenia brought to an end another successful round of tournament qualification for Italy - securing their place in Brazil two games early and going unbeaten through a second campaign. It makes Coach Cesare Prandelli the first since Ferruccio Valcareggi to lead Italy through two qualifying sections unbeaten. To put that into context, Enzo Bearzot, Azeglio Vicini, Arrigo Sacchi, Giovanni Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi have all had chances to do so since Valcareggi and failed.

That Prandelli has been present for both Euro 2012 and 2014 World Cup qualifiers offers a chance to analyse where his Italy team is now, heading into Brazil, compared to where it was three years ago heading into Poland and Ukraine.

We knew before Euro 2012 how the team was going to play – Prandelli had used 4-3-1-2 for each game leading up to the event. It was only during his first four in charge, where he attempted to play with width, that he used a different system (4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1). Although he threw a curveball by introducing 3-5-2 for the first two games of the tournament proper, he soon changed back to what was then his stock formation. The team was set, they knew what he wanted, and by crunch time he had settled on a combination of players in midfield and attack.

Fast forward a few years and it is all change. He has used five different systems since the 4-0 Final defeat to Spain, a multitude of player combinations, and seems no closer to deciding how he wants his XI players to line up.

It is reminiscent of Lippi’s 2010 World Cup preparations, which also contained a number of system changes. He justified it using the ‘tactical flexibility’ line, but as useful as it was to be able to switch, all it produced was a confused team, albeit one not helped by the lack of talent available at the time.

The reality is that most tournament-winning teams do not win it by being able to change through a plethora of different systems – the majority use two at most, with one of those the alternative for when plan A isn’t working – similar to Lippi’s World Cup winning team in 2006.

The bottom line is that if Italy are to enjoy a successful tournament next year, Prandelli needs to pick a system now and stick with it. The last two qualifying games saw him start the match with two different formations – indicative of the luxury he had to experiment, but also the indecision that has been evident for the last 18 months. He probably has more talent to pick from than he did three years ago, particularly in forward areas, but it seems the options he has are leading to the difficulty in nailing down a choice. Here is a rundown of the five systems he has used since the Euro 2012 finale, and the pros and cons of each.


Pros: It offers the width that most teams desire at the top level, and allows Mario Balotelli – one of the most important players in the team – to be the focal point of the attack. Playing with two wide players also offers the chance to fit Lorenzo Insigne – who so far is playing in such a way that it is difficult to justify leaving him out in the team – in his best position. The Napoli youngster was one of the best players against Armenia and is forcing the 4-3-3 issue with his performances.

Cons: The left side is fine – Insigne and Stephan El Shaarawy are not a bad duo to have competing for one spot. The problem is finding someone who can have an impact on the right side. The first thing to make clear is that Prandelli does not want to play with three forwards, so this spot has to go to a midfielder. Prandelli obviously likes Antonio Candreva, but it is debatable whether he has the quality to make a dent against the sort of teams Italy will need to beat to win the World Cup. Alessandro Florenzi has been brilliant for Roma at the start of this season, and his efforts in Naples on Tuesday did his chances no harm at all. Matches in which he has tried 4-3-3 have also seen Italy experience a lot of difficulty controlling the game – the midfield has often been overrun, and it has left Prandelli switching in the second half more often than not in an effort to regain control, even if he then returns to it for the next game.


Pros: It works incredibly well against Spain – still the team everyone is measuring themselves against in the international arena, regardless of the Confederations Cup. In the two games where they have played an Italy team lined up this way, they have been arguably second best. It allows the Azzurri to compete with the Spanish in the middle, but offers the width you need to hurt them when their wide midfielders inevitably wander inside to try and create superiority. That a large number of teams in Serie A are playing 3-5-2, including the reigning champions, is also a strong bargaining factor.

Cons: As great as it is against Spain, 3-5-2 doesn’t seem to work against anyone else. Croatia were comfortably the better team at Euro 2012 when Prandelli carried the 3-5-2 into the second group game (so much so that he reverted back for the rest of the tournament), Bulgaria took it apart in Sofia last year on their way to a 2-2 draw in qualifying, and it was so bad against Czech Republic last month that Prandelli switched to a back four after just 20 minutes.


Pros: The players are more than familiar with this, having played it for the best part of two years under the ex-Fiorentina boss. Italy have controlled games the best in this formation – the four central midfielders generally allowing for the lion’s share of ball possession, while also protecting Andrea Pirlo without the ball. Similar to the 4-3-3 and Insigne, the 4-3-1-2 allows another star performer in Serie A so far – Giuseppe Rossi – to play in his favoured position.

Cons: The lack of width is a problem – Spain exposed that in front of millions in Kiev just over 15 months ago, and that game seemed to trigger the experimentation with various shapes. There is also doubt over the trequartistaRiccardo Montolivo has little competition for the role in this system, even though he is not a classic exponent of the position.


Pros: A small variation on the above that sees Prandelli remove a striker and add a midfielder that, in theory, allows greater control of games with the extra man in the middle. It plays to Italy’s strengths in the middle – there is going to be fierce competition for midfield places in the squad next year, and if he picks the right combination this system could prove useful.

Cons: Unfortunately, Prandelli doesn’t usually pick the right combination. Candreva and Emanuele Giaccherini behind a striker are unlikely to concern top opposition. The options are there for the CT – if you assume a standard midfield three of Daniele De Rossi, Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio, that still leaves him with Montolivo, Marco Verratti, Alberto Aquilani and Alessandro Florenzi to pick from and move around in the five midfield spaces. But such is the determination to pick other players that it weakens the potential value of the formation. This also suffers with the width issue detailed above for the 4-3-1-2.


Pros: It’s in fashion, to say the least. Width, close support for Balotelli and probably the most opportunity for different player combinations perhaps make it surprising we have not seen this more often under Prandelli. He switched to this during the second half against Armenia, though this is probably because he wanted to chase the win, rather than a desire to test a team with Giuseppe Rossi, Insigne and Balotelli all on the pitch.

Cons: Prandelli has used it twice from the start of matches – most recently was against Brazil in the Confederations Cup group stage, the other was his very first game in charge, all the way back in 2010, against Ivory Coast. Both were defeats, and the Brazil game in particular saw a ludicrous double pivot of Montolivo and Aquilani get overrun – a problem that was repeated on Tuesday night (and against lesser opposition) when the team’s double pivot consisted of Montolivo and Pirlo. That Italy, or indeed many Serie A teams, has not used this too often means we probably won’t see it in Brazil next year.

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Have your say...
No one is mentioning Immobile. Insigne, Florenzi, Immobile and Verratti work well together. The only thing missing is experience at the national level.
Prandeli needs to find a good chemistry on the attack. Take Rossi, Balotelli, Insigne, Casano, El Shaarwy and Gioinco and see what combination works best together mentally and physically. Have 2 combinations for 2 formations. Diamanti, Cerci and especially Totti if they're in trouble, are good subs.
on the 24th October, 2013 at 5:24pm
I favour the 4-3-1-2:

Buffon, Sirigu, Marchetti

Abate, Bonucci, Chiellini, Criscito
De Sciglio, Ranocchia, Ogbonna, Santon

De Rossi, Cigarini, Marchisio
Poli, Verratti, Candreva

Florenzi, Saponara

Balotelli, Insigne
Destro, El Shaarawy
on the 23rd October, 2013 at 8:47am
I think we need attacking mindset n also players with stamina who can withstand brazilian heat. We need combo of Wisdom, experience, new ideas, power & fresh legs

Abate, bonucci, Chiellini - defenders

De rossi holding MF, pirlo - playmker

Insigne, Motta - attacking MF \ wingers, Verratti central MF

Giuseppe Rossi - second super striker


Subs : Giacherini, marchisio, Montolivo, balzareti, florenzi Diamanti, candreva, Totti, pasqal, maggio

GK : Buffon, Sirigu, De sanctis
on the 22nd October, 2013 at 12:09am
I have full confidence in Prandelli, he brought Italy from grave and made them euro runner up, 3rd in Confed cup and then qualified for WC before 2 round to spare, he deserves some credit. I think the best formation for Italy is 3-4-2-1 with:

Bonucchi-De Rossi-Chiellini

Maggio-Pirlo-Montolivo-Marchisio or Giaccherini

Candreva/sub:Cerci Insigne/sub:SES

Balo/sub: G Rosi

This formation can be converted to 4-4-2 or 4-3-2-1 or 3-5-2 on the fly depending on match situation.
on the 21st October, 2013 at 12:34am
Italy hv to play wid attacking mindset, italy r going to let in many in brzil .
barzagli ogbonna Chiellini

De rossi


Insigne Verratti Motta

Giuseppe Rossi


Subs : Giacherini marchisio Monto balzareti florenzi Diamanti Totti pasqal bonucci abate
on the 20th October, 2013 at 9:32pm
Prandelli was to bring us goals with his attack minded play and team selections. So far all iv seen is conceded goals, very few goals being scored and more formation changes than all of the teams in our group. Italy were always known for tight hard clever defending n tactics, in 2006 we conceded 1 goal until the final and that was an own goal. Prandelli has turned us into a team that concede goals against minors and has 10 men running around balo like he is jesus! We will get murdered in brazil!
on the 19th October, 2013 at 11:53pm
Everyone is talking Pirlo but i honestly think he will not be starting at next year's world cup. i would have him on the bench but have a "hard three" of de rossi, marchisio and motta. recall totti for the trequartista and play him behind balotelli and the little pharoah. i wonder if totti and balo can get along though? remember when he kicked out at balotelli? (inter / roma)
on the 19th October, 2013 at 10:34pm
Please Cesare get rid of Marchetti (replace with Bardi) Astori, Ranocchia, De Silvestri, Aquliani, Gila, Giovinco. These players would be better suited to playing for San Marino, although if I was their coach I wouldn't consider them good enough. Even with Prandellis attacking philosophy we hardly score any goals. In our group we should have scored I'd say 30 goals in the 10 games based on the opposition. We didnt scored anywhere near that, yet still took 9 goals.
on the 19th October, 2013 at 9:08pm
Prandelli will cock up on his selections for WC and leave the best players at home. We conceded 10 goals in 5 games in Confeds cup. 9 goals in 10 games in WC qualifiers in a pretty average group and 7 goals in 6 games in Euro 2012 all be it 4 in the final. How can anyone think that with stats like this we are going to win anything. Our defense is dire, the work needs to be on this. Roncaglia and Chiellini would have been a great partnership. Buffon needs to be at his best in WC he will be busy.
on the 19th October, 2013 at 9:00pm
Unfortunately Argentina called roncaglia up although he was injured so he didn't play. Prandelli has missed his chance. He is a good player and far better in my view than Astori, De Silvestri, Ranocchia etc all the donkeys that Prandelli calls. I think we will concede shed loads of goals in the WC. I think we will score a few but concede more. Great Italy teams in the past where built on defense, maybe not as attacking but more effective in winning games.
on the 19th October, 2013 at 8:56pm
Prandelli is not as confident as say a Walter Mazzarri (my fav) but imo he knows there can be magic between a front line of insigne/Giacherini/ElShar--Balotelli--Florenzi/Candreva/Diamante. He needs to find a back up to Balo though and imo it should be either the youngster Gabiadini or Paloschi. Balotelli needs to tuck his shirt in and point to it being out of his pants everytime he is fouled but u know he will miss a goal tucking it in.
on the 19th October, 2013 at 7:37pm
The right side between Candreva and Maggio was tactically dominant but rather non effective in the final 3rd. No more attack was created by that crazy super midfield he was playing in the end where Barlzagli was taken out and Bonucci moved over to rcb. Montolivio then replaced de rossi and a attempt to control more possesion. In fact Del Bosque had stuck the CDM Martinez in St, it was the strangest tactical game I have ever seen.
on the 19th October, 2013 at 7:31pm
I understand the doubts about Prandelli but he has shown some guile within his experimentation. When Italy faced Spain in the confederation cup he used the 3421 with marchisio flanking Balotelli very loosely on the left and Candreva on the right and giacherini was in left midfield but effectively moved into the space left by Marchisio who was rather poor in that role. By the end of the game Giovinco was in st and de rossi was the sweeper in 3 in the back. Essentially it was a giant midfield.
on the 19th October, 2013 at 7:14pm
Prandelli is useless. It doesnt matter what formation he uses the game is always the same. Concede goals and not score many. Thats been prandelli since day 1. He has no idea how to set a defence up no idea how to pick a team. You guys here complaining about pirlo need to see the that he is the only player who comes out when called and plays with pride and all at 100%. Osvaldo is pants, Balo is greedy and unsettles the team, barzagli is useless, gilardino is at best crap. Prandelli must go!
on the 19th October, 2013 at 11:26am
the 4-3-1-2 formation has become outdated and cannot be used against top teams a variation of 3-5-2/3-4-2-1 is the best option, italy's squad right now has a mix between skill and strength and using the right formation is key to bring out these qualities and prandelli does not seem to pick or choose right... and de rossi i think should stay in midfield
barzagli, bonucci , chiellini
abate,de rossi,pirlo,giac/de sciglo
candreva/florenzi and Insigne
on the 19th October, 2013 at 9:52am
They have played Spain with both a 352 and 3421. It appears Prandelli will use a 4321 and 3421 Right to left

barlzagli(bonucci) bonucci/ogbonna/(DeRossi) Chiellini

maggio DeRossi Pirlo giacherini/pasqual

Candreva/Florenzi Balotelli Insigne/ ElShaarawy

I then imagine we will see a 4321 that includes the likes of Abate,Marchisio,Verratti,Diamante,De Sciglio, Montolivio and others. I have more faith in Prandelli than Balo not getting a red.
on the 19th October, 2013 at 9:30am
Please no Aquilani, Monti, or Marchetti. As long as the likes of Daniele de Rossi is playing i have more faith in any formation.
on the 19th October, 2013 at 8:20am
Prendeli has good talnet and young players the likes of Verrati,Insigne ,De Scegilio ELhsaraawey.
i think after 20 years italy will be finalists in amercian soul but the formation needs to be given full fitness team to be selected
my choice formatrion will be 4 3 1 2

Buffon Abate parsagliia Chellini De cciglio

Montalivo Pilro De Rossi Balatoli el sharaawey
on the 19th October, 2013 at 5:09am
I respect the "ludicruous double pivot" line. It's even more ludicrous when you consider that the the 2 behind the 1 in the 4-2-3-1 would likely be the 2 he used as the double pivot.

Also absurd is putting a playing like Montolivo alongside Pirlo. Uhh, Pirlo doesn't need someone fighting him for his space. I love Prandelli (genuinely) but he makes stupid decisions. He's weak tactically and his choices are usually poor and fail to follow his supposed meritocracy. He's great for the longterm tho
on the 19th October, 2013 at 12:27am
Whatever the formation talented confident players will do well- problem of 2010 lack of confidence and lack of talent- the lineup has to be tweaked we need some talent like Totti Cassano Insigne Rossi who have talent and confidence -like Diamanti as well
on the 19th October, 2013 at 12:12am
What a night. Grazie Roma. 8 games 8 wins, amazing. God I love you roma. Pray Totti and gervinho injuries not serious. What a player Pjanic is amazing technique. Only 4 words left to day DANIELE DE ROSSI INCREDIBLE.
on the 18th October, 2013 at 8:57pm
I can't believe how many of the suggested teams are missing Verratti out, have you not seen him play for PSG this year? Motta and Verratti have been excellent this season with the latter playing further up the pitch starting the attacks and creating several chances for PSG...exactly what Italy miss at times.

One thing I can say is I think Italy have a very good squad, maybe no individuals like Messi but as a unit is it very strong, and that's what will be needed in Brazil
on the 18th October, 2013 at 7:57pm
Abate-Chiellini-Bonucci-De Sciglio

Abate-Chiellini-Bonucci-De Sciglio

on the 18th October, 2013 at 5:07pm
4-3-3 , buffon- abate,barzali,chiellini,Dechilio

Derosi, Pirlo, Marchisio

Rossi Baloteli Giovinco
on the 18th October, 2013 at 12:22pm
Osvaldo sucks is right its like u read my mind. Osvaldo is not good enough for Italy and neither is Aquilani and maybe even montolivo should take a seat. Why not take cannavarro instead of astori he deserves it and we need solid experienced defenders. Either way I trust prandelli
on the 18th October, 2013 at 10:58am
There isn't anything wrong with a back four, but when your fullbacks cannot defend, & your midfield anchor is Pirlo, then you are going to get torn to shreds. Add to that the constant tinkering of the CB pairings then it is no surprise that we are shipping goals for fun. A back 4 of Di Sciglio, (RB), Barzagli, Bonucci, & Chiellini may be a bit more solid. De Rossi as the anchor accompanied by Verratti & Florenzi would also be interesting. But 352 would still be my 1st choice.
on the 18th October, 2013 at 10:41am
Di Rocco, I have to disagree mate. It all depends on the players. For instance you couldn't call the following side a workhorse team: (352) Barzagli, De Rossi, Chiellini; Candreva, Florenzi, Pirlo, Montolivo, Di Sciglio; Rossi, Balotelli. Also, imagine this Brazilian side: Marquinhos, Luis, Silva; Alves, Paulinho, Hernanes, Ramires, Marcello; Neymar, Pato. Not very workman like is it? Mazzari's Napoli were hardly a workman like side & they were based on a 352.
on the 18th October, 2013 at 10:27am
Tony, I am completely with you. The 3-4-2-1 formation and players you picked would work well. Unfortunately Prandelli doesn't have much common sense. If Conte was manager of Italy they would be positioned much better.

Also, Ogbonna and Rannochia have looked okay in 3 CB set-ups this year, while De Rossi can play in a back 3 in an emergency. Why not keep all of our defenders comfortable Prandelli?

Prandelli has a loser mentality, one that just focuses on scoring, which never wins you anything
on the 18th October, 2013 at 10:06am
3-5-2 is the only way for Italy to compete against teams of quality like Brazil, Spain, Argentina. Their center-backs are too weak for 4-man set-ups, Antonio Conte knows it. Italy have been embarrassed quite a lot with the 4-man defense. In the Confed Cup (Brazil took apart Prandelli's 4-man backline), Euro Final (Spain took apart Prandelli's 4-man backline), The Pope friendly match (Argentina took apart Prandelli's 4-man backline).

Against weak teams he should make the 3-5-2 more aggressive.
on the 18th October, 2013 at 9:53am
formation should be specific to the opponent. Against the team that like possession and attack from center, then 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-3 is answer. However against counterattacking team or team with pacy wingers than switch to 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 where the wide player supporting fullbacks. I would prefer 3-4-3 with wingback and winger, balance between the wide areas and center with switching to 3-4-2-1 when opponent plays more centrally and then 4-2-3-1 when playing against counterattacking team
on the 18th October, 2013 at 8:09am

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