It’s difficult to pay any kind of lip service to pre-tournament friendlies; France lost 1-0 against China on Friday, Serbia lost 1-0 to New Zealand last week and England achieved uninspiring and undeserved victories against Mexico and Japan. Except for ensuring that plenty of big name stars will not be appearing at this Summers tournament and giving journalists a look at the new rounder, better, faster, stronger Adidas ball so that they can publish their concerns and condemnations. What have we learnt from these friendlies?
Italy boss Marcelo Lippi sent out his side for their first International friendly on Thursday evening, they had played some practice games against local Serie D sides near their training base in Sestriere, Turin. Italy are one of the only sides to have waiting until after the June 1 squad deadline before unveiling any sort of team. Italy lined up in a 4-3-3 formation similar to the one which had taken them through the early rounds of qualification. Di Natale and Iaquinta were to provide with as well as support with Andrea Pirlo playing from deep to try and create.
This plan to wait for any kind of competition appeared to have backfired though, with Italy starting very slowly and conceding a poor goal in the 11th minute to Arsenal’s young striker, Carlos Vela (he didn’t try and chip it this time). The goal came from a communication error between the two Italian centre backs, Bonucci and Cannavaro, Cannavaro was looking to step up to play the Mexican runners offside but Bonucci follows his man into the box after having already lost him.
Italy were unable to keep up with the Mexican full backs, I really hope Mexico continue to play like this when the World Cup starts. Whenever Mexico had won the ball back the full backs bombed up the flanks, Salcido on the left and Aguilar on the right. Marquez sat in front of the two centre backs as a sweeper, yet another attempt to resurrect the role of sweeper.
To try and counter this Italy were defending very deep as soon as they lost the ball. Forcing Iaquinta and Di Natale to try and pursue the fullbacks, a task that Iaquinta was openly refusing to do stating “He [Lippi] asked me to follow the full back. But if I did this I didn’t have the energy to join the attacks.” Asking his wide men to track back meant that Alberto Gilardino was isolated against 2, or at times 3, centre backs high up the pitch. It was difficult for Italy to maintain possession in any attacking areas and they struggled to put any kind of threatening passing moves together.
In the second half Lippi changed the system around to what looked more like a 4-2-3-1, bringing on Simone Pepe to play on the right wing, moved Iaquinta further infield towards his favoured left hand side and Maggio came on at right back for Zambrotta. Marchisio was playing from a bit deeper than the other two players attacking players. This change did have the desired effect in the attacking third of the field, Pepe and Iaquinta were able to provide better support for the lone Gilardino. But Mexico dealth with the Italian attacks very well.
The midfield and attack were pushing forward together and pressing well when Mexico had the ball in their own half, but the back four were still rooted to the Italian 18 yard line. There was acres of space between the lines for the Mexican midfielders to pass and move into and they were able to hold onto the ball with few objections from the Italians.
Arrigo Sacchi sums up the need for the team to move as a unit with the following quote: -
“I used to tell my players that, if we played with twenty-five metres from the last defender to the centre-forward, given our ability, nobody could beat us. And thus, the team had to move as a unit up and down the pitch, and also from left to right.”
If the defence are close to the attack then it is difficult to put passes together as easily as Mexico did on Thursday evening. My only thought would be that Italy were worried about the attacking speed and guile of the Mexican players, they have 3 very quick talented young strikers in Vela, Hernandez and Dos Santos. The second goal was setup by Cuauhtémoc Blanco, the oldest player going to the World Cup, he was able to drop off 10-15 yards, turn and put a ball in for Medina to rifle into the net. Bonucci was unsure whether to follow his man into the space or remain in the back four and once the ball had been played Cannavaro was caught ball watching and failed to track Medina back into the box.
Italy will certainly need to work on their passing as well as defensive movement before their first game against Paraguay on June 14. After the game they received a further piece of bad news with Andrea Pirlo likely to miss at least the first two games because of a calf injury, Ricardo Montolivo is the most similar replacement otherwise Lippi will need to redesign his Italy side.