How are Italy planning to defend their title?

Four years since the last World Cup, Lippi’s resignation seems like it was a mere sabbatical. Lippi has set out his stall, in principle, to take as many experienced heads as he can, even trying to persuade Alessandro Nesta The déja vu feeling does not stop at personnel with the Calciopoli case being re-opened with the intention of stripping the title from Inter.

4-3-3 in opening qualifier against Cyprus

Lippi inherited a squad who had had a lacklustre Euro 2008, losing to Spain on penalties in the quarter finals. They got off to a shaky start against Cyprus, winning 2-1 but only after a very late Di Natale winter. Italy have lined up with a variety of formations over the course of their qualifying campaign but have favoured two. To begin with they were playing in a 4-3-3 with Di Natale and Gilardino featuring alongside a combination of Pepe, Toni and Iaquinta (see above). Toward the end of the qualification campaign Lippi had moved towards a 4-3-1-2/4-4-2, this essentially constituted a midfield diamond with De Rossi as the destroyer and Pirlo playing in the hole behind the two strikers.

A number of centre back pairings have been tested the most reliable and experienced pair are Cannavaro and Chiellini. Despite them having had a very poor season at Juventus they are the two men to whom Marcello will look to steer Italy toward their title defence. There is also the possibility of playing 3 at the back as we saw when the Azzurri came up against Cameroon in April, in that particular friendly Lippi played a 3-4-3 (short highlights / longer highlights). Leonardo Bonucci of Bari played in that back three and gave a very good account of himself after a season where he has helped the newly promoted club maintain a good mid-table finish.

Stale in the middle

In the midfield Lippi has installed Daniele De Rossi as his destroyer with Reno Gattuso showing his age. De Rossi has looked the part and some would say has improved on the work that Gattuso had done in the national side for so many years, Daniele looks a lot less clumsy or reckless when going in for challenges. He has matured somewhat since the last World Cup where he picked up a red card in the group game against the USA (1-1).

The weight of expectation will be lugged around in the midfield by Mauro Camoranesi and Andrea Pirlo, 33 and 31 years of age respectively. Also available to work as creative influences in the midfield will be Palombo and Marchisio, two players who have been quietly impressive in previous games for the national side will hopefully be able to bring a fresh set of ideas to a stale Italian midfield.

Lacking width

Italy hasn’t been blessed with natural wingers in recent years and the trend seems set to continue for the foreseeable future, with such a narrow midfield Marcello Lippi will have to look toward his full backs to get forward and provide attacking width across the pitch.

The man who scored the winning penalty in Germany 4 years ago, Fabio Grosso, has already become one of the first casualties of the selection process being dropped from the 30 man squad earlier this month. Over the course of the qualification campaign the left back role has changed hands numerous times, with Grosso, Dossena, Cassetti and Criscito all laying claim to the spot. It looks likely that Maggio and Criscito will go to South Africa and fill the spot. On the other side of the defence the ever present Gianluca Zambrotta will look to carry his aging legs up and down the Italian right hand side and replicate some of the magic he was famous for at the last World Cup.

Shape and line-up

In the group stages there are two ways I am expecting Italy to line up. The first will be the 4-3-3 formation (below) that was utilised early on in qualification, Gilardino and Di Natale seem certainties as do the midfield trio of De Rossi, Camoranesi and Pirlo. The left back position will be up for grabs and if Camoranesi plays in the middle then there will be a 3rd forward spot to get. The forwards will cut in leaving plenty of space for the full backs to utilise when coming forward.

Italy: 4-3-3 possible line up

We might also witness the 4-3-1-2 shape that Lippi used to get Italy over the line in qualification, here again the left back spot is undecided but also the 3rd midfielder could be one of Palombo, Marchisio or Montolivo. Again there is plenty of space for the full backs to get forward, which they will have to. There has also been suggestions of Marchisio being pushed further forward to play as the trequartista, something that Lippi has experimented with in the squad’s training matches against local sides in Italy.

Italy: 4-3-1-2 with Pirlo in the hole, possible World Cup line up

While I am sure that Lippi will try to instill in his players the belief that they can go on and win the tournament using their experience to play good tournament football, building up momentum as the competition progresses. I think fans back at home will be looking at the current squad and will be pleasantly surprised if they achieve anything more than a quarter final finish.


You can read more of my writing at The Football Express, where I talk about Brazilian and Italian football as well as looking at tactics in a number of European games.

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Aarony Zade

7 thoughts on “How are Italy planning to defend their title?

  1. I think based on the players that Lippi has chosen, they seem more suited to a 4-3-1-2 or some sort of 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond.

    I’ve been a bit sceptical of Lippi leaving some of the oldies and picking mediocre players. Ironically enough, it was the young’ins (24 and under) who did contributed anything good of note in a rather miserable friendly today.

  2. How are Italy planning to defend their title? Your technical analysis is persuasive, I’ll admit. But my gut still says they’ll do it the same way they always do-by flopping about…

      1. But, they werent very good 4 years ago either. They barely go out of their group- the only good game they probably had was against Germany. And that was not really a good game so much as a good couple of minutes. The game vs the Aussies still annoys me- and Im not even a Socceroo fan really…

        Even when Italy are terrible, they still win. At least when France are terrible, we generally lose…

        1. I thought four years ago despite some rather fortunate wins they had players or were at their very peak and seemed destined to go on longer in the tournament, ie. Cannavaro.

          The final was a sham, but I felt they played well enough to get their with some decent players.

          Now though, I don’t think their squad is strong enough to go far into the knockouts, Last 16 at best for me.

        2. The title of the article is slightly misleading, I intended the article to be a guess at how Lippi might approach his defence but also try and highlight areas where I think the squad will fall short.

          There is no talisman player, and Andrea Pirlo’s injury means that someone else will need to carry the midfield forward. I wrote about this on my blog as well, against Mexico the team was so disjoint and out of sync. So while I hope I’m wrong, I could easily see them going out to a good counter attacking Denmark side in the second round, or a QF vs Spain (I think).

          Its a bit much to speak of luck in Italy’s last campaign. Every side that gets to a World Cup final has some luck on their side. In 1998 France had Saudi Arabia and South Africa in their group, and they were taken right to the line by Paraguay in the second round.

          Similarly in 2006 Italy had their luck, the penalty against Australia in the dying moments of the match. It may have been soft, but was it definitely not a penalty? The Zidane headbutt/sending off was the most influential piece of luck I guess. That sort of behaviour cannot be defended though, and there’s no guarantee France would have won if he was still on the pitch. During the 90 minutes France didn’t truly threaten the Italian goal.

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