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.
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.
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.
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.
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.