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Cesare Prandelli had no answer to Costa Rica's tactics.
For the first time since the final of Euro 2012 Cesare Prandelli was seriously outcoached.
Two years ago in Kiev Prandelli erred by shifting from the 3-5-2 that was so effective against Spain in the group stage to his base 4-3-1-2. The decision gifted Spain the advantage on the wings by letting their full-backs rampage forward, depriving Italy of width and overrunning them.
Much has been made of the 4-1-3-1-1 formation that Prandelli has been trotting out recently. I myself was impressed with the tactic—but only under certain circumstances.
The success of the 4-1-3-1-1 is dependent on Andrea Pirlo and Marco Verratti being on the field at the same time. When the two are together and in sync, opponents lose the ability to man-mark Pirlo because it would simply open the field up for Verratti to carve holes in the defense.
That was well evident against England, where Verratti's presence clearly made Roy Hodgson shy away from putting a man on Pirlo the entire match.
Thiago Motta replaced Verratti in the starting XI and that advantage was totally lost. Costa Rica tasked Yeltsin Tejeda with dogging Pirlo and it worked. L'architetto never had the space to work his masterful passing. No one on the field could pick up the slack.
If Prandelli continues to use this formation against Uruguay Verratti must return to the field. If the PSG man doesn't play, Prandelli needs to adjust his tactics to give Pirlo more cover and allow him to dictate to a weak Uruguayan defense.
It was also a big mistake to leave Mario Balotelli alone at the top of the formation against a five-man defensive line. In the first half when Balotelli was able to get the ball in decent position in the first half he was swarmed by white shirts before any midfielder was able to come up in support. Balotelli's confidence visibly eroded as the game wore on because he had no help up top.
Another forward should have been playing with Balotelli from the beginning of the match to stretch the Costa Rican line a bit and leave more space to punch holes. He should be given a strike partner from the opening whistle on Tuesday to ensure that he doesn't check out again.