Caesare Prandelli’s Italy side is all about the next generation. Legends such as Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon will undoubtedly play very influential roles in what promises to be an exciting World Cup campaign, however, there is more of an age balance in this Italian side than we have seen in previous years.
Roma hard-man Daniele De Rossi, is the oldest player after the Roma duo who can consider himself a guaranteed starter, and at 30, De Rossi still has a number of years at the top level left in him.
Prandelli’s tenure has overseen an important generational transition, in particular with Italy’s forward line.
Emerging talents such as Torino’s Ciro Immobile, Roma forward Mattia Destro and Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne are all under 24, as is star man Mario Balotelli.
In addition to an exciting front four, the Italians will also be excited to see 21 year olds, Marco Verratti and Mattia De Sciglio impressing in central midfield and right-back respectively.
There is an image surrounding Italian football that guile and experience is valued above youthful enthusiasm, however, the landscape appears to be changing.
Given the players at Italy’s disposal there is still a large part to be played by the experienced players in their squad.
Players such as Pirlo, Marchisio and Chiellini will be very important assets for the Italians this summer; however, the influx of youth has come at the right time for Prandelli.
Youth will be important for Italy, not just in the sweltering conditions in Brazil but also as Prandelli’s side progress as a team and into the European campaign for France 2016.
The former Fiorentina boss has signed a two year extension as national coach after this summer's World Cup, and with a squad full of players in their prime, continuity could be a valuable asset for the Italians.
As far as this summer goes, Italy could be a surprise package going into the tournament. The versatility of Prandelli’s side will put them good stead for tournament football, given the variety of opponents and the quick turn around between matches.
Prandelli has a variety of systems at his disposal with a choice of three different formations that could be effective for the Azzuri.
Firstly is a 3-5-2 formation with a back three of Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli with De Sciglio and Abate operating as wingbacks and Marchisio, Pirlo and De Rossi marshaling the midfield behind Cassano and Balotelli.
Prandelli will look at the success of Antonio Conte’s system at Juventus and may well be tempted to follow suit and ensure that he plays to the strengths of his side.
This system was used successfully against Spain in the Euro 2012 group stages.
There is also the option for De Rossi to move into central defense, as has been seen in the past, and allow Montolivo to come in as an extra creative option.
Alternatively, a 4-1-2-1-2 formation could be very effective with Bonucci dropping to the bench and the wingbacks playing a more reserved role.
Montolivo would come in for Bonucci and provide a link between the holding midfielders and the attack and with Marchisio and De Rossi breaking down the play, Pirlo would also have a freer role to start attacks.
This system has often been used in big games by Prandelli and provides a more compact central midfield, though can often be a little predictable for teams with good organization.
The third possible system could be a more simple 4-3-3 formation.
This may not be a system that Prandelli starts with but could well be a strong option if he feels a change in structure is necessary late on in a game.
Cerci and Candreva would replace Montolivo and Cassano and play either side of Balotelli who’d be operating as a target man.
Pace on the flanks would open the game up more for Italy and provide the midfield three with more space to create chances for the front three.
Youngster, Verratti, is likely to be used as a replacement for Andrea Pirlo and would easily slot into all three of these systems with ease, as would the experienced Thiago Motta.
Defensive options such as Christian Maggio will also provide strong back up in the wingback positions and Guiseppe Rossi and Insigne have the ability to hurt teams in the latter stages of games.
Italy are by no means favorites for this summer’s World Cup, however, with a more youthful looking squad, a settled coach and a versatility to their style of play, they could well be a dark horse to make the Final in Rio on 13th July.
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