Why Italy's World Cup 'uncertainty' isn't an advantage for England

Italy supporters with flag

Cesare Prandelli has implied that Ciro Immobile and Mario Balotelli won't start together for Italy, but beyond this England have little indication as to what the Azzurri boss has in store for them.

After an uninspiring run of warm-up friendlies for the World Cup, the Italy camp seemingly has plenty of issues to sort out in the final days before taking on England at the weekend.

A scoreless draw with Ireland on May 31 saw Riccardo Montolivo lost to a broken leg and last week’s 1-1 stalemate with Luxembourg did little to alleviate any anxiety ahead of the tournament.

The side seemed to lack cohesiveness in the pair of dour results, players looking unfamiliar with the varying systems tried out as boss Cesare Prandelli meditates on his preferred line-up for the Azzurri’s adventure in Brazil.

It’s the problem that has Italian journalists and fans alike most worried for the showpiece event in less than a week’s time. Throughout qualifying and up the present, Prandelli never settled on a particular philosophy and has continued to tinker with a broad range of personnel combinations.

In truth, however, the 56-year-old tactician is never one to show opponents his hand. And beyond that, the former Fiorentina boss is a man that puts emphasis on versatility - and getting results when they count.

The reality is that Italy are notoriously awful when it comes to friendlies, particularly ahead of major competitions, but show up when points are at stake. Look no further than Euro 2012 for evidence.

Prandelli’s listless Azzurri were smashed 3-0 by Russia nine days before their curtain-raiser with Spain. They proceeded to give La Furia Roja all they could handle as the coach outsmarted Vicente del Bosque by deploying his men in a 3-5-2 formation. Italy came away with a 1-1 draw on the day, and scythed their way to the final in the aftermath.

This time around, Prandelli seems to be playing things close to the vest once more in an effort to keep counterpart Roy Hodgson in the dark. As the Three Lions have limped through their last two preparatory games against Ecuador and Honduras, they’ve been given little to predict what exactly they’ll be up against on Saturday in Manaus.

Meanwhile, Italy’s final friendly result - a 5-3 win over Brazilian club Fluminense on Sunday evening that saw rare enthusiasm from La Nazionale in a meaningless game - has only increased debate about the composition of their starting line-up.

Serie A top scorer Ciro Immobile bagged a hat-trick and two assists, and outside calls to see him start up front over - or alongside - Mario Balotelli have reached a fever pitch.

But Prandelli seems uninterested in playing the two in a strike partnership, telling a press conference on Monday: “Everything is possible, but playing two central strikers when you have quality players in midfield tends to be a forced decision.”

Interestingly enough, it’s the first bit of even semi-concrete information Prandelli has thrown England’s way as the tournament quickly approaches. It seems one of Balotelli or Immobile will start, but not both. Whether either will be partnered by the likes of Alessio Cerci or Antonio Cassano, or flanked by a pair of wingers is still up for discussion.

Up for discussion by those outside of Prandelli’s inner circle, that is. It’s likely Prandelli knows what how he’ll set up the Azzurri for England - he’s just not inclined to tell.

“We have 23 players and all of them have to consider themselves starters,” he added in Monday’s presser.

“It’s nothing new - we will choose bearing in mind the team we are playing against and our physical and mental state.”

These quotes are cryptic stuff from Prandelli. Besides the incompatibility of Balotelli and Immobile, his current thoughts on tactics just aren’t public information.

And so, whilst it looks from a distant viewpoint that Italy have plenty to figure out before this weekend’s encounter, perhaps it’s England who have more to consider.

Sure, it’s a given that Andrea Pirlo will be deployed to dictate play in the centre of the park, but beyond that it’s anyone’s guess how Prandelli will task the remainder of his men.

England would do best to be prepared to take the game into their own hands, as only once kick off has taken place at the Arena da Amazonia on Saturday will Italy’s - rather Prandelli’s - true plans for the Three Lions come to light.

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