On Monday Italy began their World Cup campaign against the second strongest side in the group, Paraguay. A tentative 1-1 draw was an acceptable result, but the shift in performance between halves was a positive to take forward into the next game. Lippi started the game with a 4-2-3-1 formation in which Marchisio was instructed to play as the man in the hole. Sadly he was unable to break past the Paraguayan midfield to get up and join Gilardino in attack. Lippi went to a 4-4-2 in the second half by replacing Marchisio with Camoranesi and putting Pepe on the left wing, this seemed to spark some life into the side and they created a few more chances than they had done in the first half.
Italy’s next group game will be against New Zealand on Sunday, a team who have been put in the ‘just happy to be here’ category along with North Korea and Honduras. However against Slovakia they showed that they are able to provide some shocks going forward. Will the All Whites be satisfied to take just one point away from the World Cup? I don’t think so.
The press are reporting that the probable formation will be a similar 4-4-2 to the one that played that second half against Paraguay (disregarding substitutions), this could be a problem against New Zealand’s very narrow 3-4-3. Slovakia played a 4-4-2 against New Zealand in their first game and while it was only with a last gasp equaliser that New Zealand took anything away from the game they kept Slovakia very quiet in the first half restricting them to a few shots from 25-30 yards out from goal.
Matched and outnumbered
The problem with playing a 4-4-2 against a 3-4-3 is that it is difficult to obtain a man advantange for overlaps without leaving yourself dangerously short elsewhere on the pitch. In the attacking third of the field 2 strikers will have to manouvre past a man marker each and a sweeper, being outnumbered by 3 big centre halves will make it difficult to get decent shots on target.
In the midfield it is a straight 4v4 so it will be down to individual performances to be able to beat their respective opposition men. You could argue that Italy should have the technical and physical ability to beat New Zealand man for man but this is a cup competition and poorer teams often play well above themselves.
In situations where the midfield is matched you want the full backs to come out and provide an extra man in attack. The problem with this is that New Zealand will leave 3 strikers high up the pitch as much as possible. The prospect of Zambrotta or Criscito pushing up the pitch to help with numbers on the open flanks will leave the Italian defence susceptible to 3v3 counter attacks.
New Zealand will look to play the ball up to their 3 big strong forwards who will have been told to hold the ball up and they’ll try to win as many free kicks as possible to give them a platform to play high balls into the Italian box and put Italy’s new keeper, Federico Marchetti, and the centre backs under pressure.
If we see a stifled and edgy first half where Italy fail to create sufficient chances I think Lippi will need to move to a 4-3-3 similar to the formation used in the first few rounds of qualification. This will force New Zealand to change their shape or be left 3v3 at the back. This hypothetical Italian front 3 will need to play with plenty of width to stretch the New Zealand defence and create enough gaps for oncoming midfielders (Marchisio/Palombo/Camoranesi) to run into.