World Cup 2014: Italy Need to Play 3 at the Back Against Uruguay

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World Cup 2014: Italy Need to Play 3 at the Back Against Uruguay
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

With their 2014 World Cup future at stake, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli faces a tough decision in the hours leading up to their Group D clash against Uruguay in Natal.

After a 2-1 win over England and a poor 1-0 defeat to surprise package Costa Rica, the Azzurri need only draw with their Tuesday opponents, who are led by forwards Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.

After contesting the opening two matches with a back four, the likelihood is Prandelli will opt for a switch back to the 3-5-2 formation which has served his side well in the past.

It was the system which held world champions and eventual tournament winners Spain in the opening match of Euro 2012. With many of the squad from two years ago featuring once again, there should be no problem with a transition back to it.

 

The Defence

Juventus: Italy's predicted defence v Uruguay.

Despite a subpar performance from Juventus stalwart Giorgio Chiellini against Costa Rica, it is likely he will start alongside club team-mates Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci. Bianconeri legend and Azzurri captain Gianluigi Buffon will, as ever, start in goal.

The three are, arguably, the most cohesive unit in the tournament, if not the best individuals. They will provide the best hope for stifling Suarez and Cavani, with the highly publicised Serie A battles between the latter and Chiellini set to be reignited.

Another positive for the Italians is the return to fitness of Milan defender Mattia De Sciglio.

The 21-year-old has been missed in both matches so far and is predicted to start at left-wing-back, with the impressive Matteo Darmian moving once again to the right-hand side.

 

The Midfield

Five: De Sciglio may be back but De Rossi will be a massive miss in central midfield.

Assuming Prandelli decides to play five across the midfield, and not four with a three-pronged attack, Claudio Marchisio will likely partner Andrea Pirlo.

The third central midfield berth is the subject of much debate. Thiago Motta has been criticised for his performance against Costa Rica, particularly by the Metro, with Marco Verratti expected to start in his stead, per Football Italia.

Verratti's energy and superior technical ability to that of his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate will complement Marchisio and Pirlo as the three try to defeat a likely Uruguay midfield quartet for control of the midfield.

Nevertheless, it would be foolish to underestimate how big a miss the combative Daniele de Rossi will be. For this reason, Motta may yet be given the nod ahead of his more inexperienced club-mate. 

As usual, much of Italy's creativity will stem from Pirlo, though it would be disingenuous to suggest he is the only player capable of penetrative passing. 

From his favoured regista position the 35-year-old is just as deadly as everthough his forwards let him down badly against Costa Rica with their inability to take chances and stay onside.

The likely addition of Bonucci behind him, however, will add another dimension to the Azzurri. 

With Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez almost certainly giving the tireless Edinson Cavani the task of keeping tabs on Pirlo, the responsibility of spraying the ball into forward positions from deep could fall to Bonucci.

Verratti, meanwhile, has not been dubbed Pirlo's heir for nothing.

 

The Attack

Not incompatible after all: Balotelli and Immobile may start up front together.

Despite his wasteful performance in the defeat to Costa Rica, it is almost inconceivable that Prandelli will drop Mario Balotelli.

With that realisation comes a question: Does this rule out a start for Serie A top scorer Ciro Immobile?

It would seem not. 

Previously, Prandelli had been reported as saying the two could not play up front together. The last few days have seen the 56-year-old deny making such a comment, per Forza Italian Football:

I’ve never said those two cannot play together. If and when we decide to play two up front there will be modifications we need to make.

And usually it’s not how many strikers you have on the field but how decisive they are.

He is right, of course. Balotelli led the line himself in the first two matches, scoring the winning goal against England before twice misfiring against Costa Rica in the first half prior to Bryan Ruiz's winning goal. 

The mercurial Lorenzo Insigne, Torino's Alessio Cerci and even Antonio Candreva or Marchisio could feasibly line up behind Balotelli in a 3-5-1-1, but almost every outlet expects Prandelli to favour two strikers.

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Nevertheless, Football Italia reports that Antonio Cassano, who tends to drop deep, has been tested as a partner to Balotelli in training recently. This would see a return to the strike pairing from Euro 2012. 

With six Juventus players expected to start in a formation Antonio Conte favours at club level, there is room for a certain level of confidence in the Azzurri camp.

Expect Prandelli's side to rise to the occasion, as they so often have before.

However, as England found out to their misfortune, Uruguay don't need to be dominating play for Suarez and Cavani to punish the slightest of defensive errors. In fact, they thrive on it.

 

Twitter: @smarti51

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