Italy's Keys to Knocking England out of Euro 2012
The two squads, who are scheduled to play in a friendly in August, haven’t played one another in over a decade.
The Italians took a 2-1 win at Elland Road in Leeds back on March 27th, 2002. Only Gianluigi Buffon still remains from that match.
You’d have to go back to the 1990 World Cup in Italy for the last time the two met in a major tournament. The hosts claimed third place at England’s expense in that match 2-1.
On Sunday, the squads assemble for the right to take on Germany in the semifinals, and, with a few minor tweaks, the Italians will be the men to take up the challenge next week.
1. Keep the Diamond 4-4-2
While Ireland were the proverbial punching bags of the group, the Italians looked the most comfortable on offense playing in Cesare Prandelli's 4-4-2 look.
They fixed one of the glaring holes in the defense (covering the flanks) while inviting the midfield to come upfield more often and join the attack.
With England not terribly different in a formational sense to the Irish, staying with what worked in the last game would make a great deal of sense.
2. Ball Retention
Italy held the ball very well against the Irish (discounting the last 10 minutes) and will be given the chance to do so again against England.
While some of the British papers have pleaded with England to "love the ball," it's not a skill that the Three Lions are terribly fond of.
It could easily be the pivotal factor in the match (statistically) if the Italians can make use of that possession even better than they did against Ireland.
Andrea Pirlo has been excellent in the tournament so far, and a nice, easy-going match against England would keep his legs strong going into the home stretch of Euro 2012.
3. Split Rooney and Welbeck
One of the more notable points about England's match with France in the early stages of the tournament was the lack of cohesive action between Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck.
Alou Diarra sat deep and split the two apart, hawking Young for most of the match and preventing the duo from linking up together.
While Wayne Rooney is better than either player, if the Italians can pull a similar trick in keeping the two United frontmen separate, they stand a better chance of keeping the ball out of threatening positions.
4. Keep the Defense Underworked
With Giorgio Chiellini out for at least the quarterfinal with a thigh injury, keeping the defense from having to do too much would be a coup for the Italians.
Both Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci have game experience in the tournament and should be able to cope with the movement of the England squad.
An appearance from Andy Carroll might be a more interesting proposition. If the big Geordie does take to the pitch, the midfield must help by taking every second ball away from their English counterparts.
Bonucci also needs to be careful (as do several others) as he sits on a yellow card. A second against England would be catastrophic to the defense in the semifinal.
5. To Balotelli or Not to Balotelli?
Mario Balotelli's super-sub appearance against the Irish resulted in a spectacular goal that sealed the contest in the dying moments.
But, unlike the Irish, the England defenders are very familiar with the Manchester City man and will know that getting under his skin is job one and two.
Balotelli is also on a yellow card and any rash actions would disqualify him from the semifinal.
The question becomes how to align the front three in the diamond. Antonio Cassano started up front with Antonio Di Natale but Cassano swapped with Claudio Marchisio at the tip of the diamond.
It worked alright, but if you wanted Cassano in the midfield, wouldn't it make sense to drop Marchisio?
With Balotelli also available to start, it's worth wondering where Prandelli will put his money against the English.
I expect Balotelli and Cassano to start, but whether they use Marchisio or Di Natale is a bit up in the air.