Italy is a country of football managers, and before every single friendly match that the national team plays, all those managers discuss the squad, not to mention what happens before big events such as the European Championships or the World Cup. Sacchi, Zoff, Trapattoni and Lippi know that very well, as each of them was criticized for leaving certain players at home.
Prandelli has not left behind any world-class footballers, let alone a potential "hombre del destino", but still his provisional list is set to spark a lot of discussion for some highly unexpected picks: he called upon 2 players from Serie B and 4 players who are yet to be capped in his preliminary squad.
As the provisional list contains as many as 32 players, 9 of them will be discarded before the 29th of May. The core of the team that gained the qualification looks pretty safe to travel, but Prandelli may still be thinking about some choices, especially in midfield and attack, and many of the decisions will depend on the manager’s chosen tactics.
Despite his mistake against Lecce, there is no doubt Gigi Buffon will be the in the starting XI. Sirigu had a solid season in Paris, even if PSG are not likely to win the title. He has managed to keep a sheet clean 11 times from 37 matches and hasn’t missed a single game. De Sanctis and Viviano are likely to fight for the third spot. The latter suffered from a major injury in the first half of the season, and when he went to Palermo he had very little help from an unbalanced team. De Sanctis had a season of highs and lows that included some great saves and poor decision-making.
The Juventus defensive trio should be pretty safe to go to the Euros. Prandelli could think about playing with all three of them if they are available, and then switching to a 4-man backline in case one is injured or suspended. He could, therefore, bring just 4 centre-backs to allow more room for midfielders.
That would leave four players battling for just one spot. Bocchetti has never played a minute under Prandelli, while Ogbonna may have been called up to let him have a taste of the action, as he is considered to be the most talented young defender in Italy. Training with the senior players would be a great chance for him to improve his skills.
Ranocchia and Astori are more likely to be in the final squad. When Ranocchia was on the pitch, Inter conceded fewer goals than their seasonal average, but Cagliari conceded even less when Astori was playing. In the end, Ranocchia looks stronger in aerial duels but weaker in 1-on-1 situations, and he's a little more experienced in European and International matches. Prandelli may feel safer with him, despite Astori having a very good season.
With the temptation of playing with 3 defenders on his mind, Prandelli must also think about players who can be deployed as full-backs but also join the midfield. This theory may have influenced Schelotto’s inclusion in the provisional squad list, to offer a more offensive option than Maggio and Abate. On the left side the race is far more open, as Balzaretti is just back from an injury and Giaccherini is a very good candidate as an offensive solution. Prandelli may take a chance due to his impressive form and then pick between Balzaretti and Criscito as a back-up, also considering the opportunity of fielding Chiellini as left-back in a 4-man defence.
No matter which formation Prandelli adopts, the manager will need at least six players able to play in the middle of the park. Except for Pirlo, the coach undoubtedly wants to rely on complete midfielders of an almost British mould; great ball winners equally capable of a decisive pass or even a finish. Journalists struggled for superlatives to praise Pirlo’s performances this year, and Marchisio and Nocerino have had their best season so far. De Rossi can't be ruled out easily, while Prandelli has always held Montolivo in great esteem. For these reasons, it seems surprise pick Verratti and Cigarini have very little chance of catching the flight to EURO 2012.
Of the seven attacking players Prandelli called up in his provisional list, three can play behind true strikers. Giovinco and Cassano have moved closer to the goal in recent years for Parma and Milan, while Diamanti has always been the connection between midfield and attack at either Livorno, West Ham, Brescia or most recently, and perhaps effectively, Bologna.
Diamanti has proven to be consistent and skilled, and at the same time is in his prime and very hungry for international glory. He could well be the real surprise from Italy. Also, he would be the only left-footed attacking player in the squad (the others being Criscito, Chiellini, Balzaretti, T. Motta), and is a very good set-piece taker were Pirlo to get injured. Cassano and Giovinco are so eager to play for different reasons. The man from Bari will finally have a real chance in the national team, as he seems to have found balance in his life off the pitch. Giovinco has proven worthy of playing for a big club this season, and becoming a key player for Italy would be the final step in his growth as a player.
When looking at Italy's squad, one can't help noticing that Prandelli didn't select any out-and-out target man up front. The manager picked four players with good finishing skills, but all of them are quick and skilled with the ball at their feet. Di Natale became a top-scorer late in his career, but he is the finisher in a complex playing system at Udinese, and not the real striker Italy tend to bring to the big events. So Prandelli is focusing all of his attention on technique and speed in attack, possibly aided by some runs from deep by the midfielders. Six of the seven attacking players should be selected, so Borini and Destro will be competing with one another, along with Diamanti.
Destro has played for a fairly sustained period of the season as the lone leading man in Siena's attack. In comparison, Borini has played in a team that has looked to keep ball possession all of the time, so may well fit into Prandelli's playing style. Balotelli shouldn’t fear competition, as he is the only physical forward in the list; even if he were not certain to be in the starting XI, he would be the only player to rely on when you need to keep the ball as far from Buffon’s goal as possible.
The feeling is that Prandelli will choose 3 goalkeepers, 4 centre-backs, 4 players to patrol the flanks, 6 midfielders, and then 6 attacking players from the seven he has in the provisional list. The line-up could switch between a 3-5-2 and a 4-4-2 with a diamond formation, and dynamic midfield. One of either Giovinco or Cassano should always be on the pitch, and at least 4 Serie A Champions will also be present (Buffon, Chiellini, Barzagli, Pirlo).
Prandelli looks likely to be the man Italy needed to bring in fresh ideas, but that does not mean Italy will lose their traditional, well-organized defensive system. The manager is doing a good job, especially when thinking of the future, even if it's too early to tell if the Azzurri are ready yet to rule Europe once again.