With the 2014 FIFA World Cup finally underway, we bring you the next in an in-depth series of match previews that centre on tactics, team selections and predicted XIs.
England vs. Italy is the second game of Group D and the third on an action-packed June 14, so let's take a look at the blockbuster fixture of the day.
How England Will Shape Up
England played almost exclusively through a 4-3-3 base formation during the qualifiers, with the only exception coming when lowly San Marino came to town.
Steven Gerrard has been remodeled into a regista like Andrea Pirlo, hiding his tiring legs and accentuating the epic passing range and comfort on the ball he possesses. It also breaks, for the most part, the Three Lions' woeful, embarrassing attachment to the straight 4-4-2.
The two midfield roles either side of Gerrard represented revolving doors through the qualification process, but in truth who is fielded doesn't matter too much.
Roy Hodgson trialed a 4-2-3-1 against Peru with Wayne Rooney in the hole behind Daniel Sturridge, Gerrard and Jordan Henderson as a double-pivot and Danny Welbeck off the left.
Welbeck is an injury doubt and could drop out of the starting XI, meaning Raheem Sterling looks favourite to play centrally as a buzzing, dribbling, positive No. 10.
How Italy Will Shape Up
Your guess is as good as ours here.
Italy boast one of the most tactically flexible rosters at the finals, and at both Euro 2012 and the 2013 Confederations Cup, Cesare Prandelli proved he's comfortably chopping and changing his formation on a game-by-game basis.
The boss told La Repubblica (per B/R's Paolo Bandini) after their final friendly that if the media can't guess what he's set to field then he's done his job, reiterating how important it is to stay unpredictable in tournament football.
The full-backs are the biggest question, with no one sure if Italy will even play 3-5-2, 4-3-3 or 4-4-1-1. Giorgio Chiellini will play, but where? Depending on his slot, Ignazio Abate and Matteo Darmian's prospects will be confirmed.
Ciro Immobile is still a long shot to start with Mario Balotelli looking likely to get the nod.
Three Tactical Clashes
1. Stopping Pirlo
Hodgson watched firsthand in 2012 as Italy—and more specifically Andrea Pirlo—passed his side off the park in the European Championships. England, tired and jaded, got nowhere near the Italian maestro as he completed 115 passes and lulled them into a sense of sleepiness.
Pirlo has proven fallible at club level, though, as teams such as Real Madrid and Bayern Munich put a mobile, hardworking No. 10 on him and shadowed his every move.
The role, informally known as the "suffoco," was executed perfectly by Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller when Bayern crushed the Old Lady back in 2013, and if Hodgson is thinking about doing the same, it could explain the 4-2-3-1 experiment against Peru.
Sterling, as stated above, looks the pick.
2. Game Plan Versus Conditions
Whatever game plan Hodgson and Prandelli decide upon could be heavily, heavily influenced by the fact that these two will face off in Manaus—a city just shy of the Amazon rainforest.
Humidity and heat are serious considerations as both managers select their XIs, and the fact it's so hot benefits England far more than it does Italy, bringing the Azzurri down to the Three Lions' level.
Hodgson's young guns can start fast and claim an advantage, but if they sit off in the heat, chasing the ball, they'll fade fast. There's every chance the game is played at two miles per hour.
3. Italy's Width
There's a real chance Italy will press ahead with a formation lacking natural width in advanced areas against England, and Prandelli's full-back selection will be influenced by the need to stretch the pitch.
The Azzurri will build slowly and move players into the wider areas as and when they need, sending the likes of Ignazio Abate and Matteo Darmian bombing forward, with quick turnovers from England spelling opportunities to break down the flanks.
If the Three Lions can identify two-vs.-ones quickly enough and move into dangerous pockets of space, Adam Lallana, Sterling, Rooney and Sturridge can conjure three or four strong chances and hurt Prandelli's men.
Sterling, particularly, is a complete physical mismatch against the entire Italian team in space.
Bleacher Report will do a tactical preview and review of every single 2014 FIFA World Cup game.
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