Euro 2012 is over, but big question marks still linger over Prandelli. He has done a good job, very good job to bring Italy only 1 step away from the trophy. But, one can’t help being questioned after heavy defeat on final stage. Now, let’s see the analysis of every Prandelli’s decision :
1. Stay offensive
Experience told us tiki-taka Barcelona only lost to defensive and counter attacking football such as Inter Milan, Madrid, and Chelsea. Exception goes to Arsenal who were able to fight them offensively, but statistics suggest the most effective way to defeat tiki-taka football is by soaking it up then executing the blitzkrieg. Prandelli is known for his attacking football and he didn’t leave his trademark even in final against Spain. The question is, should he emulate defensive approach like clubs above ? Or should he stick to his primary plan ?
For me, Prandelli has chosen the right decision to attack Spain. Sudden change in the final would confuse the entire team and weakened the confidence of the entire team. You can’t expect the players have confidence if the leader himself doesn’t. Also, history told us that sudden defensive approach against Spain would hardly work as Germany did it in Euro 2008 final and World Cup 2010 semifinal. Loew decided to betray his own philosophy because his opponent was Spain whose quality was about equal or a bit stronger. The outcome were Germany players didn’t have any idea what they were doing on the pitch. They defended well, but they hardly threatened Spain. Although Spain players didn’t feel comfortable against such defensive method, neverthless they still found the solution to eliminate defensive Germany, twice.
Tactically speaking, Italy would underwent bigger problem if they chose to defend. Remember, this is not Italy we used to know. The current Italy has its biggest weakness in backline, yes it is something unimaginable for a nation who has produced plenty elite defenders. Did Italy have the defensive quality to withstand heavy onslaught of Spanish quick thrust ? I don’t think so.
2. Changed to 4-4-2 diamond
This is the most criticized decision. Italy did well with 3-5-2 against Spain in group stage, but they left it for 4-4-2 diamond in final. Okay, lets analyze the comparison of both formation against Spain.
The 3-5-2 suggests Italy would have stronger midfield than 4-4-2 as they have more numbers in that zone. But it was actually no. Prandelli has chosen absolutely correct decision in 4-4-2. The diamond in midfield was very effective to break the attack that came from middle and Italy succeeded to destroy Germany rhythm from the midfield. If Prandelli used 3-5-2, Italy would have only 3 players in midfield zone because the wingbacks were on the flanks. When Spain menaced the midfield zone of Italy, the wing back would be at risked being sucked into middle zone to assist his teammate fighting Spain dominance in midfield. Then, either Alba or Arbeloa would bomb forward exploiting such big hole on the flank.
One surprising feature of the final is, how Spain fullbacks actively helped the attack. This was so different with previous meeting where Arbeloa rarely contributed anything in offence and Alba struggled to make impact on left flank. In final, Arbeloa was really brave to leave his post at risk of being exploited by Cassano. Well, perhaps Del Bosque and Arbeloa had confidence after managed to handle Ronaldo in semifinal with such method. At other side, Alba produced his best performance in Euro and his goal really summed up what he was capable to and what Spain really needed. So, would 3-5-2 help Italy against such aggressive wing attack ?
When Italy used 3-5-2, the wingbacks would consist of Maggio and Giacherini. The question is, could both of them peg back Spain fullbacks ? Could they instill fear on Arbeloa-Alba from going forward ? To peg back opponent’s fullbacks from goinf forward, the team must have dangerous attacker on flank (example : Mourinho always put Ronaldo in left flank to prevent Dani Alves going forward). Based on their performance in club level and previous meeting, Maggio-Giacherini didn’t have enough capacity to occupy opponents fullbacks. And if they replicate such performance in final, it would turn out Arbeloa-Alba pegged them back instead not vice-versa. No, 3-5-2 wouldn’t work in both flanks department.
Last, Spain formation was either 4-6-0 or 4-5-1. To deploy 3 center backs against 1 striker was an overkill defence, let alone if there was no striker at all. Such defensive pattern would leave shortfall somewhere and the effects are : 1) Italy didn’t have attacking outlet as the extra man was on backline, not midfield, 2) the midfield struggled to withstand Spain’s dominance in that zone.
3. Starting line-up
Abate filled right back role although Maggio was available. This is correct as Maggio is more comfortable playing rather as wingback than fullback. All season long Maggio played as right wingback in 3-5-2 Napoli while Abate played as right fullback in 4-4-2 Milan.
Chiellini as left back ? Well, this is the least understandable decision for me. If Prandelli really wanted to attack, why did he put defensive-nature back as left back ? Chiellini is left back, not left fullback, and both of them has huge difference in term of offensive contribution. Okay, maybe Prandelli wanted some insurance in flank defence, but he already knew even before the match started Chiellini would deal with Arbeloa, the least offensive-capable player in Spain squad. Did Prandelli anticipate Silva who always drifted inside ? But Italy already had enough players in midfield zone. And Silva cut inside should be good news for 4-4-2 diamond Italy as Spain would have very little space in the zone. Or, did Prandelli think it would be a waste to bench one of his best defender ? I don’t know, I cannot find any justification for it.
Chiellini injury was a blessing in disguise. Balzaretti proved to be only Italy attacking outlet. As Pirlo was heavily closed down by Spain, Italy couldn’t rely on his long diagonal thoughball to Cassano and Balotelli. And, the simple ball to left flank eventually became the solution as Balzaretti provided the forward drive and helped Italy relieving the pressure.
Chielline got injured and Balzaretti came in. As explained above, Balzaretti was more useful than Chiellini in such situation and Prandelli got the substitution correct.
After 2-0 down, Prandelli subbed in Di Natale for Cassano. Di Natale loves to station himself at the shoulder of the defence and breaks offside trap. Such approach yielded a goal in Spain-Italy first match. Also, Cassano has fitness problem which preventing him to play 90 minutes in optimum level. Let alone in such grand stage against Spain. The pressure and the game’s quick tempo would drain his weak stamina even quicker. So, like it or not, Cassano were ought to be substituted and any coach wouldn’t want to waste his substitution slot. Right call for Prandelli.
The third substitution was the most decisive. It was Motta for Montolivo. The latter was deservedly pulled out as he couldn’t replicate his form against Germany. As the most advanced midfield in diamond, Montolivo was given a task to break Spain rhythm from their half, just like he did against Germnay. Then, he failed. He didn’t play badly, instead it was because Spain’s passing was in other world level, a league away from Germany or any nation in the world. Any player wouldn’t stand a chance chasing such quick accurate passing with telephatic understanding among the players. Ran out of stamina because of fruitless chasing, Prandelli got his decision right to bench Montolivo.
But, at the other end of pitch, his presence raised many eyebrows in bewilderment. Thiago Motta introducement sure was the unanticipated surprise. At 2-0 down, Italy were supposed to catch up Spain, but why did they introduce Motta ? The reason why Italy couldn’t get the game within their grasp was their lack of creative player. Their main creativity source, Pirlo, never got away from Spain attention. De Rossi couldn’t provide the service like Pirlo does. Marchisio had terrible game. Montolivo rarely impressed in attacking department in his national team career and now he ought to help in defence too. I expect mobile creative players, the likes of Diamanti or Giovinco as attacking outlet. Pirlo is static playmaker and when he was closed down tightly, he urgently needed someone to assist him to distribute the ball out (just like Xavi-Iniesta relationship). Did Prandelli doesn’t have enough faith in Diamanti or Giovinco ability ? It makes sense as both of them are hardly tested in tough international game, let alone in final against Spain.
So, the introducement of Motta suggested Prandelli still wanted to keep his old system, but with fresh legs. Did he believe Motta was able to disrupt Spain midfielders and slowly enabled Italy to get back to the game ? By watching the game, anybody would tell it was virtually imposibble to defend such ball circulation and I believe Prandelli thought the same too. So, did he surrender and he put in Motta to prevent the score gap from getting any bigger than 2-0 ? Who knows ? Either way, it was not Prandelli’s fault. Italy didn’t have adequate squad depth to compete with Spain and the dire situation put him in 2 dilemmas in 2-0 down. Option 1 : put in reliable uncreative midfielder, Italy could prevent the conceding and hoped for Spain caught offguard. Option 2 : put in explosive unreliable player at the risk of conceding. Then, Prandelli chose first option only to see the fresh legs turned into damaged leg. It was nobody’s fault, nobody to blame, it was utter misfortune, and the sign that the wheel of fate still rolled in Spain favour.
Sounds pesimisitic maybe, but there is no solution to fight against currently world best team in their highest gear. Regardless what Italy did, which players they used, which formation they deployed, etc, Spain would achieve victory with such playing level. This is the legendary level of football , only can be equaled by Magic Magyar 1954, Brazil 1970, and Total Football 1974.
The only team who are able to beat Spain are Spain themselves and that were what from their first match until semifinal. Spain hadn’t shown their true class until final. Narrow and predictable attack, uncapable to break through the defence, and slow passing. Italy was unfortunate that they fought true Spain in final, not in group stage.
Prandelli did a great job here. Admitted, there were some imperfections within his plan, but nobody’s perfect. Italy fans should respect him for his contibution to deliver the national team to the final. Few expected Italy could make it this far, but Prandelli managed to. My hats off to Mr. Prandelli.