Coach Prandelli changes the Italian perception
Former Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli has given Italy’s Azzurri a new look and feel. Their run to the Euro 2012 final is all down to that one man.
For those who know or have watched Italy over the last 50 years of football, there is one perception that summarised the Italians: boring, defensive, dull. Yet when Cesare Prandelli came forth and took the reigns from Marcelo Lippi’s disappointing second stint, he promised “progressive football”. Two years on, he has proved himself on the biggest stage.
In line with traditional tactically Italian managers, Prandelli has shown his tactical awareness from the onset of the tournament, but has stuck to his principles of playing a high-tempo game. Italy’s first game against Spain, he went for a 3-5-2, with Daniele De Rossi as a ball-playing defender – a libero.
It was a very German and now Spanish concept. It proved successful against the World Champions but not against the plucky Croats.
Come the crunch game with the Irish, Prandelli went back to his beloved 4-3-1-2 formation, but it turned out to be more of a 4-1-3-2, a very un-Italian and attractive formation. They convincingly defeated the Irish, but it was their performances against England and especially Germany that highlighted the genius that is Prandelli.
Flooding the midfield against England, they dominated possession, with Pirlo, who has been a star in the tournament, running riot. The decision to field De Rossi, Montelivo and Marchisio, all hard working box-to-box midfielders, overran the English, but it also provided Pirlo with a platform to deliver his supreme passing.
De Rossi, Montelivo and Marchisio are all players of drive. As opposed to the Lippi era, where Pirlo sat alongside the bulldog of Gattuso, Prandelli’s men are more likely to push forward and drop back when needed. A more energetic unit than most Italian sides.
Knowing the impact of the midfield, Jurgen Low was forced to change his dominant German side, by switching from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3. Ultimately it proved to a disaster, as the Italians held their possession with their high-tempo play. When Balotelli put the Azzurri up 1-0, they dropped deeper and played a devastating counter attacking game. Back to the original roots. It worked a treat, highlighting Prandelli’s tactical innovation.
The control of the midfield has led to Cassano and Balotelli being freed of defensive work to express their attacking prowess. Cassano has been exquisite in his ‘in the hole’ role, providing Balotelli with a number of thrilling balls, one of his best being his superb turn against Germany’s Mats Hummels to send in a beautiful cross for Balotelli.
Balotelli. The enigmatic Italian has had a great tournament; three goals, all of high class; the scissor against Ireland, the popping header and thunderbolt against Germany. His game against the Germans was his best for the Azzurri shirt after all these years. The credit ought to go to Prandelli.
The Italian manager has controlled the emotional explosion of the Manchester City player with ease and has been thoroughly rewarded. His man-management has been a delight. Bringing in anti-Lippi players such as Cassano, Marchisio, and Di Natale, he’s got the squad on his side, full of confidence in both their boss and his approach to their games.
Showing the change in the Italian football culture, Prandelli, unlike his previous managers, brought off Balotelli and replaced him with Udinese striker, Di Natale. Years ago, this wouldn’t have occurred.
Prandelli has encouraged his players to be “fearless” in their approach. So much-so that “Prandelli,” said UEFA President Michael Platini, “has made them play.” Something that has rarely been a part of the perception of Italian football.