How Italy will stop England in opening group game

De Rossi Tackle On Rooney - England v Italy Euro 2012

After England revealed they have been working hard to neutralise the threat of Andrea Pirlo, how will the Italians set up against Roy Hodgson's men?

Jack Wilshere revealed this week that England have been working hard to stop Pirlo replicating his performance in the their Euro 2012 encounter, but how will Italian boss Cesare Prandelli be preparing is players for the English threat?

During the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine he used both a 3-5-2 system and a Christmas tree shape, the 4-3-2-1. At this tournament, his preferred shape is again undecided, which is a slight worry with their opening game just three days.

What we can draw from Italy's World Cup qualification and recent friendlies is that Prandelli will again opt for a 4-3-1-2, a 4-3-2-1, a 3-5-2 or even a strange, Y-shaped midfield. ”If you haven’t worked out (the formation), it shows we are on the right track, we don’t want anyone to understand anything.” he told journalists last week.

Italy will no doubt continue to play attack-minded football, something Prandelli has enforced since taking over from Lippi in 2010, but how will they lineup against England on Saturday. We take a look from defence to attack.


Italy are historically known for having a strong defence, and despite not boasting the likes of past greats like Franco Baresi or Paolo Maldini, this backline aided by Gianluigi Buffon's experience will stuff be a tough nut to crack. Firstly will they play three, four or five at the back?

Juventus’ use of a 3-5-2 over the past couple of seasons under Antonio Conte, means the Italian boss could use Giorgio Chiellini, Leo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli in their club positions. However, in recent times Prandelli has opted for four at the back more often than not and Bonucci is usually the man sacrificed.

Come Saturday expect a back line of Ignazio Abate at right back, Chiellini and Barzagli in the centre with the Mattia De Sciglio at left back despite begging naturally right-sided.

Against England he will want to nullify the threat down the wings so by using two very defensive minded wing backs, Prabdelli is limiting the possibility of England getting in behind with pact players like Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck or Daniel Strurridge.


Midfield is where Italy are strongest. Pirlo, cited by many as the best creative midfield in the world despite his 36-years-of-age, is still their main man. Wilshere, Paul Scholes and Hodgson himself have all earmarked him as Italy's most dangerous player. If you can stop him, you can stop Italy. This has been the game plan of so many teams before, but players like him find space and time that others cannot.

He will sit in front of the defence dictating play but if England do successfully stop him, Prandelli has a contingency plan. That plan is PSG's Marco Verratti. He will probably play next to Danielle De Rossi in the middle, slightly further forward than Pirlo. He is a similar player to Pirlo in that he can control the game and set up attacks which means England will have to try and stop both. 

If Prandelli wants to be slightly more defensive he may leave Verratti out, and replace him with either Thiago Motta and Claudio Marchisio, but it's unlikely.


Up top Lorenzo Insigne will probably fill the inside-left position after a productive season under Rafael Benitez and Napoli in Serie A. On the opposite side Antonio Candreva, who scored 12 goals for Lazio last year will probably start on the right, not incredibly talented - think Dirk Kuyt - but he's the kind of player loved by managers and will help protect the defence from runners from deep like Wilshere or Henderson.

Other options include Antonio Cassano and Alessio Cerci but Prandelli will probably want discipline from his attackers as well as flair, something Cassano especially does not guarantee.

And finally the lone striker role. It's Mario Balotelli's to lose at the moment but if he isn't performing, Dortmund's new signing Ciro Immobile is a great replacement. In the recent 5-3 friendly win over Fluminese, Immobile may have gone ahead of the ex-Man City striker in the pecking order after scoring a hat-trick and as assisting the other two. He was also Serie A's topscorer last season with 22 goals for Torino.


If Prandelli goes for a 4-3-2-1, the team will read like this:

Buffon: Abate; Chiellini; Barzagli; De Sciglio: Pirlo; Verratti; De Rossi: Insigne; Candreva; Balotelli.  

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