Referee Björn Kuipers blew the final whistle and the match was over. Italy held on to an uninspiring 1-1 draw at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza against Croatia.
Although the Azzurri remain unbeaten in Antonio Conte’s first five matches in charge, his side have failed to produce convincing displays while operating a 3-5-2, including narrow wins over Azerbaijan and Malta in European qualifiers.
With Conte’s 3-5-2 seeing limited success on the international stage and a great number of wide players available, it is now the right time for the tactician to test out a 4-3-3.
Historically, Italy have produced very few wide men—Mauro Camoranesi and Simone Pepe coming to mind within the last decade. Although Italy have not seen too many No. 10’s flourish after Antonio Cassano either, recent history has seen a flurry of new wide attacking talent in the form of Stephan El Shaarawy, Antonio Candreva, Alessio Cerci, Domenico Berardi, Federico Bernardeschi, and others.
For Italy to play to their utmost strengths, Conte needs to cater to his profound pool of wide players. This can be achieved by introducing a 4-3-3.
Italy’s setup has afforded them very few real opportunities on goal and chances created. Recent matches were marred by poor, sluggish performances all around. Non-creative play and slow ball movement ensued and the side lacked any real spark or desire. This phenomenon was especially evident against minnows Azerbaijan and Malta, sides that Conte’s men should thoroughly put quite a few goals past.
The ineffectiveness of the 3-5-2 was possibly overshadowed in these aforementioned matches due to the fact that Italy have historically struggled against smaller sides that generally like to sit back in numbers.
Altering the setup to a back four will help Italy rely less on defenders Mattia De Sciglio and Matteo Darmian to be seen as key components to sparking Italy’s attacks. The duo have operated as wingbacks under Conte, but are still fairly inexperienced at international level. Both defenders have not impressed in their offensive displays for the Nazionale as well, often delivering mediocre service and being unsuccessful in engaging Italy’s forward play.
Italy’s midfield three could also see benefits from the change – allowing play to be developed more in the centre than on the wings. A starting future trio in the centre of the pitch could feature the likes of Daniele De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti.
Midfield roles would serve as follows: De Rossi would sit back deep; Marchisio to recover balls and break up play from box-to-box; Verratti would be the key in linking midfield with attack. Although Marchisio has recently played in Andrea Pirlo’s role for Juventus, De Rossi has more experience playing right above the defence.
The front three represent Italy’s greatest weapon in a potential formation shuffle. If changed, Conte will have an enjoyable dilemma in sorting out his attacking trident. The pace of modern football is something that Italian football needs to come to terms with.
A switch in formation will allow Italy to play much quicker and utilise the speed of their players up front. A potential attacking trident could feature El Shaarawy, Graziano Pelle and Cerci. Italy would surely be much more threatening on goal given this new look.
Whether Conte will play to his strengths available remains to be seen. The 45-year-old has show indication of change in switching to a 4-1-4-1 against Croatia after taking off the injured Pasqual. This demonstrates a new side to the ex-Juventus coach once hesitant to move away from his dominant 3-5-2 in Serie A, but which failed to produce great waves in European play.
By introducing a 4-3-3, Conte can help liven up a stale Italy attack. The necessary players are at his disposal. It is up to him to make the first move.