5 Things for Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli to Test in Friendly vs. Luxembourg
Cesare Prandelli has his final squad picked for Brazil, but there's one last friendly against Luxembourg in Perugia before the Azzurri set off for the World Cup and their opening game with England in Manaus.
Luxembourg is one of Europe's smallest countries, with a population of just over 500,000, so they're not going to provide the Italians with a stern and telling test before they leave for South America. The game is still important, however, as it will give the manager one last chance to tinker with his plans and consider his options before the real action begins later in the month.
There's no doubting Lorenzo Insigne's talent, but he's a surprise inclusion in Prandelli's final 23-man roster, not least because Giuseppe Rossi and Mattia Destro failed to make the cut.
Rossi's fitness was always a problem, but Destro seemed to have done enough to merit a final place. The Roma forward missed the first half of the season with injury, but on his return racked up 13 goals, including his first hat-trick in the game against Cagliari.
Neither player is happy with their exclusion, and now Napoli's Insigne now has a lot to prove. He's not a striker, meaning Prandelli heads to Brazil with just Ciro Immobile and Mario Balotelli as full-forward options, but his pace and creativity could be crucial if he finds form on the wings, or in the No. 10 position in place of Antonio Cassano.
Like Destro, Immobile and Marco Verratti, it was only last summer that Insigne was wearing the Azzurri shirt at the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship. They lost the final to Spain, at Jerusalem's oddly-named Teddy Stadium, but the Napoli star was a key figure and impressed at the tournament. Now, he needs to do it with the big boys.
There's never a dull moment with Mario Balotelli. The Milan striker had his most prolific season ever this year, but he was also widely criticised for some bafflingly poor displays. His commitment to fitness, and his overall contribution to the team, have also been questioned.
He goes to Brazil with doubts remaining about his current physical condition and where he'll be playing club football next season. There's been plenty of talk linking him to a return to the Premier League, per John Cross of the Daily Mirror, and the Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that the player has been complaining of groin pain (here, in Italian).
Prandelli only has Balo and Immobile as proper striker options. He needs to know what he'll be dealing with before they head to Brazil.
Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci
Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci were both brilliant for Torino this season, and they should be a key pairing for Prandelli in Brazil. Immobile finished the season as Serie A's capocannoniere with 22 goals and three assists, while the former Roma and Fiorentina wide-man ended the year with 13 goals and 10 assists.
To put into context just how vital they were, Toro's next highest scorer, Omar El Kaddouri, only managed five strikes. If they can continue that magic for Italy, the Azzurri won't need to worry about scoring. Prandelli just has to find a way to get the best out of both of them—while complementing the pair with the rest of the attacking talent he has at his disposal.
A 4-3-3 Formation
The loss of Riccardo Montolivo and Giuseppe Rossi means that it's unlikely Prandelli will try the 4-3-1-2 formation he used against Ireland in their last friendly.
Finding a successful formation in which he can rotate Ciro Immobile and Mario Balotelli is important, because if he loses either now he's in trouble. A 4-3-3 would get the best out of Italy's 23-man squad with the likes of Cerci and Insigne playing behind a striker, and Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo running midfield assisted by either Thiago Motta, Claudio Marchisio or Marco Verratti.
Matteo Darmian at Left-Back
Having chosen to pack his squad with central midfielders, Prandelli looks a little light on cover at full-back, especially on the left, where Mattia De Sciglio is the only recognised natural option. The Milan youngster has plenty of talent, even if he is better going forward than at the back, but if he's injured the Azzurri could be forced into a very uncomfortable defensive compromise.
Torino's Matteo Darmian is better suited to the right, but he did feature on the left flank on 10 occasions this season for the Granata.
Against Ireland, in his natural position, he was one of the best players and if he can put in a decent shift against Luxembourg, Prandelli can travel to Brazil comfortable in the fact that, while Darmian isn't a likely starter in his ideal XI, he can be an important member of the squad and provide cover on both flanks.