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Lega Pro Review – Taranto Are Cruising, This Is The Season So Far

Sadly, James Richardson was too busy for us at The Football Express. So we’ve got the next best thing, Lega Pro expert, Steve Mitchell to provide us with a round-up of the season so far in the Italian third and fourth tiers. If you’ve missed it so far, this will get you right back up to speed in no time at all.

After 1412 games, 1676 goals and 23 managerial changes, Italy’s third and fourth tiers went into their winter break. Congratulations go out to Ternana, Siracusa, Casale and Perugia who were crowned winter champions of their respective divisions.

The snow has thawed. The Lega Pro action will get under way again on Friday evening.

The snow has thawed. The Lega Pro action will get under way again on Friday evening.


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Edgar Davids – A tribute

Today – Monday 8th November 2010 – the career of a very good player came to what appears to all to be a very quiet end, for now at least. At the age of 37, Edgar Davids announced that he would be leaving Championship side Crystal Palace after 6 league appearances and an outing in the League Cup for the club playing as an auxiliary left back.

Edgar Davids

Dreaded Edgar

Davids began his career at Ajax in 1991 like most of the stars Ajax has given to the world he graduated from De Toekomst and was thrust into an Ajax side entering into the autumn of it’s years at the top of the European game. What followed however was an incredibly successful 4 season spell at the Amsterdam club winning a UEFA cup, 3 successive Eredivisie titles and a Champions League by beating defending champions, the club he would soon join, A.C. Milan.

In 1996, his first big chance to shine on the International stage at the European Championships being held in England and going into the tournament it looked like they would truly entertain. Sadly, incidents of political in-fighting and accusations of racism within the Dutch camp led to coach Guus Hiddink sending Davids home and into the International wilderness.

“In what was intended as a piece of firm leadership, Hiddink kicked Davids out of the squad, a move that didn’t address the black players’ grievances and left the team even more divided than before.”

Brilliant Orange, David Winner

A year after the Bosman ruling came into effect, this Champions League winning Ajax side was ripped to shreds and with it Ajax’s hopes of success. Davids was one of the first players to take advantage of the ruling, securing a move to A.C. Milan. His first taste of Italian football was to leave a taste of indifference in Davids’ mouth, failing to make an impact at A.C. Milan, he didn’t stick around for long.

The following summer he would join Juventus, this was to commence 6 successful season in Italy that saw Davids return to his form before his move to Italy. At Juventus he would win 3 titles, all under the stewardship of Marcello Lippi, and we would also see the fruition of his most recognisable features – his long dreadlocks and his tinted goggles (which he needs because he has glaucoma). Nicknamed “The Pitbull” early on in his career by Louis Van Gaal at Ajax, he showed exactly why when he played for Juve. Davids would charge about the centre of the pitch making sure that every other midfielder knew that the centre circle was his, they would have to go the long way round!

Edgar Davids' Goggles and Dreadlocks

Unforgettable set of goggles and dreadlocks

He would play in a grand total of 243 games in League, Cup and Champions League for La Vecchia Signora during some of the most important years of his career, the only great shame is that he could not crown them with a Champions League – Juventus were runners up twice during his stay. His years at Juventus were not to pass entirely trouble-free off the field though, in 2001 Davids (together with Fernando Couto) was suspended from football by the FIGC as well as FIFA after testing positive for Nandrolone would land him with a 2 year suspension causing him to miss the World Cup in Japan and S. Korea.

After leaving Juventus he was never to bed down as well as he had in Turin; he had spells at Barcelona (on-loan), Inter and Tottenham before moving back to Ajax, presumably to see out his playing career. Sadly, he broke his leg in a pre-season friendly before his 2nd season in Amsterdam and failed to get into the first team, he left the club at the end of the 2007-08 season. Since that point in time he has been involved in an exhibition match as part of an Oceania XI, some fairly bland TV punditry for ITV’s World Cup panel and his main area of interest has been travelling around the world skilling up kids as part of his street soccer tour.

Davids brought a bit of sparkle to the Championship this season when he joined financial strugglers Crystal Palace in August on a pay as you play deal but today decided that his time with the South London club had come to an end. He hasn’t made it clear if he is hanging up his boots, but whatever he does next.. good luck Edgar!

Preview: Slovakia vs Italy – Champions on the brink of doom

Well, the headline maybe a little apocalyptic but this certainly an important game for the Azzurri but at 3pm on Thursday 24th June 2010 they will play their final group game. For Italy there is the possibility that this will be their final game at this World Cup, drawing to a close an unspectacular tournament for Lippi’s men. When they take the field tomorrow against a Slovakian team representing their country for the first time at the World Cup they will need to show that they truly are as ready as they say.

To top the group Italy will require a favour from New Zealand. If New Zealand are able to acheive a low scoring draw against Paraguay, 0-0 would be preferable, and Italy can somehow beat Slovakia 3-0 they will go through as group leaders. This scenario is highly unlikely and most Italian fans have not even entertained the possibility of such events unfolding. Instead they are simply looking for a win to guarantee qualification. A draw would suffice if Paraguay defeat New Zealand by any margin.

Slovakia have not been a revelation at this World Cup though they were never expected to do anything more than turn up by many. This is no reason to assume that Italy will brush them aside, they have some very good players and will look to be as difficult as possible to beat. They will also be looking at the possibility of qualification in their first World Cup, if they win and Paraguay avoid defeat then they will qualify in second place. I expect them to line up in something resembling a 4-4-2/4-5-1, depending on the starting line-up tomorrow.

Opposition worries

Italy v Slovakia - probable 4-3-3

Italy v Slovakia - probable 4-3-3

Their key man is Marek Hamsik, he will be well known to the Italian players as he plies his trade at Napoli in Serie A. At 22 years of age he is one of the youngest players to be named captain at the World Cup. The flair player is expected to carry his country forward in attack and is the main creative outlet; however he has failed to live up to this billing thus far in the tournament. Fans of the Azzurri will be hoping that he has yet another quiet game. He will most likely start in the centre of a midfield duo, possibly moving to the left wing as as he did during the second half against Paraguay on Sunday.

The Slovaks also have two very quick and nimble wingers in Vladimir Weiss and Miroslav Stoch (available after being injured against Paraguay). These two have buckets of pace and energy but like many players at their age in this position, they lack consistency with their final deliveries. Nevertheless the Italian full backs will need to be wary of allowing them too much space to run at them.

Italian line-up

The news circulating from journalists who have been allowed to attend Italian training is that Rino Gattuso will be asked to start the game alongside De Rossi and Montolivo. This could be a move to shutdown Hamsik in the Slovak midfield, or simply a chance to give Gattuso some game time in what will be his last International tournament. Personally I would have liked to have seen Camoranesi given the chance to start in a slightly wider central midfield role, he had shown his worth with two substitute appearances so far.

In the past couple of games the Italians have started to put together signs of promising attacking play, despite the efforts of both Paraguay and New Zealand to get 11 men behind the ball and stop the Italians playing through them. The strikers are yet to show up at this tournament but we are hoping that Slovakia’s desire to qualify will open up some space for the attacking players.

Lippi is expected to maintain his faith in Gilardino and Iaquinta as well as partnering them with Serie A top scorer Antonio Di Natale. This will leave Pazzini and Quagliarella as the available substitutes should Lippi wish to change the course of the game.

Conclusion

It has been noted quite stereotypically that Italy are always slow starters, and many journalists have made reference to the disastrous group stage in 1982 when they scraped through with three draws on goal difference alone. But from here on in it is a straight knock out tournament for Italy, win 5 games and they will retain the World Cup.

Italy leave spaces between their lines (Italy v Mexico 03-06-2010)

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 v Mexico first half formation 4-3-3

First half: 4-3-3

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.

Italy against Mexico - Second half formation 4-2-3-1

Second half: 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-2-1

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.

Lippi announces 23-man squad: Rossi and Borrielo to stay at home

Marcello Lippi leaves his squad announcement very late after an injury scare to Camoranesi. There was none of the confusion and mayhem that surrounded the announcement of the English squad earlier on today. The players who will be making the journey will be: -

Goalkeepers: Buffon, Marchetti, De Sanctis

Defenders: Bocchetti, Bonucci, F. Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito, Maggio, Zambrotta

Midfielders: Camoranesi, De Rossi, Gattuso, Marchisio, Montolivo, Palombo, Pepe, Pirlo

Strikers: Di Natale, Gilardino, Iaquinta, Pazzini, Quagliarella

The following players will miss out Sirigu, Cassani, Cossu, Borriello and Giuseppe Rossi. The biggest surprises are the exclusion of both Borrielo and Giuseppe Rossi. Lippi has kept faith with out of form Juventus striker Vincenzo Iaquinta. Qagliarella, Gilardino and Iaquinta are all very similar strikers for me, it will mean that the second striker role will be given to Di Natale or Pazzini.

Italy squad trimmed once more

Earlier this month we echoed the announcement of Lippi’s 30-man preliminary squad for the summer’s World Cup. Back on Italy-watch, Lippi announced that he had cut a further two players from his preliminary squad. The victims of this latest cull were 32 year old left back Fabio Grosso and 23 year old right winger Antonio Candreva.

Grosso had not had the best of seasons but this could be said of the rest of the Juventus team, the biggest contributor to Lippi’s side at the moment, so his exclusion comes as little surprise. Lippi informed Grosso yesterday and described the decision as “unimaginably difficult” and said that the squad would not be picked on reputation stating that it was just as “difficult to leave behind 14 other players who were part of an important journey in Germany four years ago”.

Candreva’s exclusion is the real shame here though, he would have been a great squad member. It now seems that Camoranesi has far less competition for his place. There is also speculation that Giuseppe Rossi will be cut from the 28 man squad before June 1. Rossi is a striker who gives the national team something different to the Iaquinta/Gilardino/Quagliarella style goal poacher. He isn’t afraid to run at defenders and can come from deep if necessary.

He had been out for a few months after the sad death of his father earlier this year, and he is still very young (only 23). Lippi has outlined his desire to take fit and experienced heads to the tournament. It looks like Rossi will have to wait four more years for his World Cup berth.

Lippi announces 30-man squad with few changes

Marcello Lippi has earlier today announced his squad of 30 players for this World Cup. He will of course need to reduce this to 23 by June 1st. The only notable changes are the inclusion of Daniele De Rossi and Villarreal striker Giuseppe Rossi. However Nicola Legrotaglie didn’t make the cut.

The squad is as follows: -

Goalkeepers: Buffon, Marchetti, De Sanctis, Sirigu

Defenders: Bocchetti, Bonucci, F. Cannavaro, Cassani, Chiellini, Criscito, Grosso, Maggio, Zambrotta

Midfielders: Camoranesi, Candreva, Cossu, De Rossi, Gattuso, Marchisio, Montolivo, Palombo, Pepe, Pirlo

Strikers: Borriello, Di Natale, Gilardino, Iaquinta, Pazzini, G. Rossi, Quagliarella

The squad almost matches the one he took to the Borghesiana training retreat at the beginning of the month. In my eyes there is a decent mix of youth and experience, I was expecting a much older squad but these are encouraging signs.

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