Predicting the Italy Squad 60 Days from the 2014 World Cup
With just two months of the 2013-14 season remaining, attention has slowly begun to shift away from domestic matters and onto the forthcoming World Cup in Brazil. Now, every injury to a major player is discussed with the FIFA showpiece in mind, and debate immediately begins on whether or not the victim is likely to miss out on the event.
As such, it is only right to analyse the various men looking to form part of Cesare Prandelli’s squad, with a number of spots still up for grabs. Since our last take on the matter, a number of players have had superb runs of form and are looking to make the selection process as difficult as possible for the former Fiorentina coach.
Over the following pages, you will find the various players who can be almost guaranteed a place in the squad, with a final slide devoted to those on the cusp of earning the Azzurri call.
The Italy captain is enjoying a superb campaign and has kept 15 clean sheets as Juventus have once again been hugely impressive defensively. Cesare Prandelli confirmed he is the only player guaranteed his place with the Azzurri, telling RAI television last month: "For me, the only certainty is Gigi [Buffon,] for everybody else, I'm going to have to evaluate their physical and mental condition.” (via ESPN)
The Paris Saint-Germain stopper has become the regular alternative to Buffon, with the retirement of Roma’s Morgan De Sanctis making him the only other automatic choice in the goalkeeping position. Having 18 clean sheets to his name, his form for the Ligue 1 side has been consistently excellent.
Perhaps nothing has highlighted the importance of the 32-year-old Barzagli as much as his recent absence due to injury, the Juve back line looking nowhere near its usual solidity without his presence. Martin Caceres is an admirable deputy, but the former Palermo defender’s calming influence is essential for club and country.
The central player in Antonio Conte’s back three at Juve may find himself the odd man out in Prandelli’s four-man defence. However, he is the player most likely to step in should either Barzagli or Chiellini be unavailable. Always excellent on the ball, his defending has improved markedly this term, making him an excellent back up to either of his Juve team-mates.
Without a doubt the most impressive of the defenders available to the Azzurri, the Juventus number three has enjoyed another dominant campaign for the Bianconeri. Chiellini has won 3.2 aerial duels while averaging 2.5 tackles and 2.2 interceptions per game, according to WhoScored.com. The same site also shows he has made 67.6 passes per outing, completing an impressive 91 per cent.
The Zenit St. Petersburg man has always been a favourite of Prandelli, benefitting further from the injuries to the other left-backs available to the coach. With Federico Balzaretti and Mattia De Sciglio missing large portions of the season, and Newcastle’s Davide Santon suffering a major dip in form, the Neapolitan is guaranteed to be among the final list of 23 players.
The form of the ex-Liverpool man has been a major factor in Parma’s impressive campaign and led to a fully deserved maiden international call up last month. Averaging 3.0 tackles, 1.7 interceptions and 5.3 clearances per game, he has emerged as a possible transfer target for Juventus and has likely earned a place at the World Cup.
Daniele De Rossi
The Rome native has enjoyed another solid campaign at the heart of the Giallorossi midfield, buoyed by the fact Rudi Garcia’s arrival has finally seen the side match the talent of their vice-captain. Despite falling foul of Cesare Prandelli’s “Code of Ethics” recently, the 30-year-old is certain to be taken to the tournament.
Losing his Juventus place to Paul Pogba has only served to spur on the Turin native, and his versatility and tactical awareness make him a vital player for club and country. Defensively solid, he has a Paul Scholes-esque ability to find space in the opposition box and net a crucial goal at just the right time.
Like a number of others, the Milan captain has long been a Prandelli favourite—always seeming to find his way into the Azzurri XI. His defensive contribution and passing have both been excellent this term as he adjusts to a new formation under Clarence Seedorf at Milan.
The bearded genius has continued to exert his influence over Juventus, directing play and contributing some vital goals from free kicks over recent weeks. With four league goals and five assists, his creativity continues to ignite both the Serie A champions and the Azzurri.
Despite suffering due to the poor state of Milan this term—his part in which was discussed here—the former Manchester City striker has still netted 13 goals in 24 league appearances. While concerns over his form and maturity continue to be upheld, there is little doubt his natural talent makes him a sure-fire choice for Cesare Prandelli, the one coach who has consistently brought the best out of “Super Mario.”
Another player discussed as a potential transfer target for Juventus, the Torino playmaker has perhaps enjoyed the best season of his career. Scoring 12 goals to go with his nine assists, his ability to play either behind a striker or out wide offers a tactical alternative many of the other forwards cannot provide.
After recovering from an injury which ruled him out until December, the Roma striker has gone from being an impact substitute to a vital member of the revitalised Giallorossi. With his 13 goals coming from just 37 shots and 18 appearances (via WhoScored.com,) he has proven to be a prolific scorer who can change the game from the bench—a vital quality in such a tournament.
Benefitting from the stellar play of the aforementioned Cerci, the 24-year-old Juventus youth product has shone for their cross-town rivals. With 18 goals to his name already, the Torino striker must surely have passed the likes of Alberto Gilardino and Daniel Osvaldo in his bid for a place in Brazil.
Still sidelined after knee surgery, the situation with the Fiorentina striker is remarkably simple: if he’s fit, he’ll be at the World Cup. Having been so central to Prandelli’s Italy, his form for la Viola has made him indispensible should he recover in time.
On the Edge
Mattia Perin would seem the logical choice for the third goalkeeper spot, with his form for Genoa giving him the clear edge over his rivals. The 21-year-old has kept an impressive nine clean sheets this term, and won his first call up from Prandelli last month.
At full-back, the Azzurri have suffered due to injuries to Christian Maggio and Milan duo Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio. The latter offers a versatility the others lack, and his ability to provide cover for both flanks would be invaluable at a World Cup. Juve’s Angelo Ogbonna could also be added to the squad, as he is able to play both centrally and on the left side of a back four.
The midfield sees three of the coach’s favourites in contention, with Lazio’s Antonio Candreva battling with both Thiago Motta and Emanuele Giaccherini of Sunderland. Also uncertain of a place is Marco Verratti, a player whose attitude is the only issue, as his natural talent would otherwise make him an automatic choice.
“Why am I not a regular with Italy?” the 21-year-old pondered to La Repubblica last week (via FootballItalia.) “The real question I ask myself is whether or not I will be called, and at the moment it is not clear.” His average of 81.3 passes per game come at a completion rate of 91.6 per cent, according to WhoScored.com, but the fact he has picked up nine yellow cards in 26 appearances is worrying.
Up front, injury to Stephan El Shaarawy—a player whose importance was underlined here—has opened up the opportunity for 2006 heroes Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino to claim a spot, while Daniel Osvaldo’s Juve form could yet see him edge out exciting Napoli youngster Lorenzo Insigne.
Finally, talented youngster Domenico Berardi could find himself in Brazil, with the Sassuolo winger making the headlines after scoring four goals against Milan earlier this season. While the goals have dried up since then, his form for the Neroverdi has been consistently good and may see him chosen by Prandelli.