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Lippi’s Lack of System Worrying: However, Defensive Frailties More Worrying

June 7, 2010

Another World Cup looms for the holders Italy, whilst the Calciopoli scandal still
rages on
. In Germany 2006, Italy entered the competition with much pessimism regarding Serie A, and this time the Azzuri enter South Africa with the same pessimism, but for different reasons.

This time around Lippi is being criticised for relying on the ageing players that won him the World Cup in Germany, and not giving enough thought to talented but volatile players like Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli who were not selected. Squad cohesion is a vital part of any campaign, and Lippi maybe understands the importance of great team spirit, something which showed itself in 2006 against the backdrop of Calciopoli.

It is understandable to neglect Cassano, a player who, too many times has shown that he is incapable of working effectively in a team. The same goes for Mario Balotelli who has found himself in squabbles with his own fans, Juve fans, Jose Mourinho and respected ex-Italian National Team players.

Meanwhile the closest this Italian squad has got to a squabble so far is Claudio Marchisio calling Romans thieves. Lippi knows what constitutes a World Cup winning side; he believes that a declining set of disciplined players can perform better than a younger, more creative team that lacks collective spirit, and his judgement may be correct. Group F sees Italy face Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia, a mixed group where Italy should come out on top. However, Lippi, like another Italian coach, is finding a preferred formation hard to put his finger on.

Formation Choices

Lippi has several tactical options available to him. He may use the diamond midfield with Pirlo playing behind the two strikers in some games, but he has also has the option of using a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 too. These two were showcased against Mexico in a 2-1 loss which could have been worse.

Against Mexico in the first half, Italy played a 4-3-3 that really struggled to take control of the midfield area. Often Mexico could break straight through the central midfield after Italy lost the ball.

With the ball, Italy struggled to complete passes as there was a lack of options for the centre-backs and full-backs. The defence quite often resorted to long balls to the forward players, completely bypassing the central midfield trio of De Rossi, Marchisio and playmaker Pirlo.

When Mexico won the ball, as against England, their full-backs pushed forward making it very hard for Italy to win back possession, whilst their midfield overran Italy’s three central midfielders. Iaquinta was lethargic without the ball and didn’t play the role Lippi had given him; chasing Salcido, the Mexican full-back who is quick and confident with the ball.

In the second half, Lippi tried to counter Mexico’s control of midfield by reverting to a more traditional 4-2-3-1 with Iaquinta behind Gilardino and Pepe on the right. This worked a lot better, however, defensive frailties were shown again. In comparison to the first half where Italy sat quite deep, they attempted to play a much higher line.

However, this only works when pressure is applied to important spaces. Italy’s five man midfield failed to do this in the second half (Midfield marked red, Iaquinta yellow). When Mexico’s forwards dropped deep to find the space between midfield and defence there was no pressure on Mexico’s Marquez. He was often able to find the deeper striker comfortably through lack of pressure. This resulted in several goal scoring opportunities for Mexico as they found the space available behind the ageing Italian defence.

The lack of intelligent pressing is highlighted again here. There is no pressure on the player with the ball, which is fine if there is a high line, and the Italian midfield and defence are ready to press when the ball moves further forward.

But what happens in this situation is that a Mexican forward moves in the gap behind the midfielders marked red.

The ball is played through the midfield, where the forward takes one touch and turns with it. Chiellini rushes out to pressure him, however, the space left by Chiellini allows the other Mexican forward to use the space created to produce an easy ball over the top.

Chiellini arrived too late to put pressure on the Mexican forward and disrupt his intentions. The two defenders were caught on their heels; quick passing and clever movement created a situation where the defence are indecisive about whether to push up higher as Chiellini moves out, or go with the Mexican forward. Mexico then have a one-on-one opportunity.

From the warm-up games, it is evident Lippi is playing around with a few ideas regarding formation. However, Pirlo would have been integral to any system.

However, the Italian national team received bad news yesterday when Pirlo was ruled out, until at least the third game in the tournament. This would require a change from Lippi and this is where perhaps Lippi may have made a mistake with his squad choice. Cassano would have provided another creative player to take the mantle and create something. Not only this, Cassano can operate in different positions and would have offered more options. It seems that Pirlo’s replacement will be Ricardo Montolivio, a player who offers more mobility and the ability take the ball forward himself, rather than relying on a great passing range.

Lippi may have to call on the Calciopoli spirit to save a team in slow decline, without a clear plan and a reliance on player who will be out for at least two of the group matches. As the four year saga continues to roll on, can a squad supposedly four years past it’s sell-by-date make the headlines come July?

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), Federico Marchetti (Cagliari)

Defenders: Salvatore Bocchetti (Genoa), Leonardo Bonucci (Bari), Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Domenico Criscito (Genoa), Cristian Maggio (Napoli), Gianluca Zambrotta (Milan)

Midfielders: Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Gennaro Gattuso (Milan), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), Angelo Palombo (Sampdoria), Simone Pepe (Udinese), Andrea Pirlo (Milan)

Forwards: Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Juventus), Giampaolo Pazzini (Sampdoria), Fabio Quagliarella (Napoli)

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