Confederations Cup 2013: Italy Consider Tactical Switch to Combat Spain

Christopher AtkinsContributor IJune 27, 2013

It has been a strange tournament for Italy at the 2013 Confederations Cup, with a semifinal place arriving off the back of three distinctly average performances in the group stage.

At last year's European Championship, the Azzurri were similarly slow in the early stages but went on to beat a much-fancied Germany side and reach the final. On that occasion, though, they were cruelly dismantled by a wonderful Spain performance.

Over the past few days, head coach Cesare Prandelli will have been busy plotting to avoid a similar outcome on Thursday night. Struck by the loss of injured forward Mario Balotelli, the coach will also have to factor in enforced changes in attacking areas.

The suggestion is that, to combat the defensive problems that have struck thus far in the tournament, Prandelli's side will switch to a three-man defensive line for the encounter.

That will likely see a Juventus reunion at centre-back, in an attempt to utilise the familiarity of Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. It will also, in turn, allow right-sided defender Christian Maggio to play his more familiar full-back role.

The hope will be that Maggio and the industrious Emanuele Giaccherini, who may be used at left wing-back, can help limit the influence of Spain's wide outlets, Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa.

If the two Italian wing-backs can help to pin back the two Spanish full-backs and pressure them higher up the pitch, then it will limit the options of La Roja's central midfield players.

It is a strategy that has worked against the similarly styled Barcelona in the past, with the wing-backs a key element of the Spanish attacking setup.

Italy will not have as much possession as they would usually expect, so they must be as efficient as possible in possession.

The likes of Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva are known for their industry and stamina, and it is they who must ensure that Italy are able to push forward quickly to supply striker Alberto Gilardino.

Gilardino may not be Balotelli, but he has a good record at international level and has the potential to cause the Spanish defence problems if given quick supply on the counterattack.

Despite the hitches in preparation, and Spain's position as firm favourites, the Azzurri must believe they have a chance of reaching the final. La Roja are not infallible, and Italy can take advantage of that if they can maintain concentration and work rate for the entire 90 minutes.

It is what makes Spain such a powerful force—they are relentless for the entire duration of the match. One lapse in focus can undo 89 minutes of hard work, and that is something Italy will be well aware of.

A repeat of the destruction that ensued in the final of Euro 2012 is unlikely, with Italy better prepared for the onslaught that they are about to face. However, we will find out on Thursday night whether they are capable of putting their best-laid plans into action.