Lippi’s indecision hindered Italy’s World Cup progression
Marcelo Lippi came into this World Cup with a series of systems and nearly all appeared at some point in the group stages, not due to flexibility within the team, but more out of desperation and trying something ‘different’.
Italy went through qualification with Andrea Pirlo playing behind the strikers but Pirlo’s injury cut these plans short, there was also talk beforehand about Lippi playing a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system. It seems that Lippi did not really know what their best system was, for in all three group games, he changed the system in the second half.
In qualification Lippi used a 4-3-1-2 system in the latter stages to squeeze through and qualify first. With Andrea Pirlo playing in the ‘hole’, this system had to be scrapped when he got injured as they had no direct replacement in the squad.
Lippi made some strange decisions over the three games, he seemed intent on playing a 4-3-3 system and the only game he did not start with it was against New Zealand, where interestingly, he opted to start with a 4-4-2. A three-man defence was built to deal effectively when playing against a 4-4-2 and it was not until the second-half that Lippi swapped things around.
In the second-half Lippi changed it so New Zealand’s back-three had a man each to deal with, giving runners from midfield the opportunity to exploit the space produced from the movement by the three-strikers. It was through staunch New Zealand defending that kept Italy from scoring a second, the same type of defending that has been shown throughout the tournament.
Lippi would probably have regrets have over starting with two up-front, especially when it was well-known that New Zealand would start with their 5-3-2 system and playing a 4-4-2 would be playing into the Kiwi’s hands.
In this poor game Italy opted for a 4-3-3 with Iaquinta wide on the left and Pepe on the right. Iaquinta actually only received eight passes when he was on the left. The forwards were very isolated and the first-half and the passing was not helped by Claudio Marchisio and his lacklustre passing (63%). The failure to make inroads in the game caused Lippi to change system again to a 4-4-2.
Admittedly, Italy did improve in the second-half, especially with the introduction of Camaronesi, who added some much needed running from deep. His runs made the Paraguay wary of implementing a high line as he could run beyond the defence, allowing Italy more time on the ball and allowed them to keep possession easier.
In the first half, Lippi set up Italy in a 4-3-3, similar to the formation started with against Paraguay but instead of Iaquinta playing in an unnatural position on the left, Di Natale replaced him and was more comfortable and was more influential in the game. Out of the attacking players on the pitch, he was the player who was most passed to. Slovakia were dominant in midfield by playing five in midfield in a 4-2-3-1, the first time they had played this formation in the World Cup. It worked wonders as Hamšík, who got two assists was often the extra man and his creation and ability to keep possession helped Slovakia control Italy’s midfield.
In the second half, Lippi reverted to a 4-4-2 with the wingers pushed high up the pitch. The system change did not really make any difference to the lack of cohesion and penetration showed by Italy in the first-half until the last fifteen minutes. Italy seemingly panicked and realised that they could go out of the World Cup and they played with more fluidity and less touches. The introduction of Pirlo also helped. He looked for the right pass and saw passes that Montolivio is incapable of producing consistently.
Pirlo’s omission from the first two and half games cannot be understated enough. He is the focal point of the Italian team and his composure on the ball helps give direction to the Italian possession. However, what would have helped Italy in this World Cup would have been a preferred system. In all three games Lippi changed at half-time or early in the second half, indicating the team did not have a comfortable system where they knew what to do and where teammates were. Without a recognised system, a team is not able to create ‘linkages’ between the team. These are what I see as the way in which once a system has been chosen, players should play in accordance to this strategic plan. These linkages are the understanding and connections between players that manifest in formations, without a clear direction, the understanding of how to implement a tactical plan loses its penetration and the chances of success.
Lippi’s call for Gattuso in their final game is indicative of a manager who, after resigning after winning the World Cup in 2006 and then returning, harking back to the heroes of that era and feeling an emotional connection to them when in truth, better options may have been available to him. Frankly, Marcelo Lippi did not come prepared to this World Cup, the lack of clear direction and plan evident in his constant system changes is indicative of indecision and lack of confidence in his team. The poor attacking options available as well as disastrous defending combined with indecision from the manager culminated in Italy being knocked out, bottom of the group, in possibly the easiest group of the World Cup.