Why a switch to 3-5-2 could see Italy repair Russia damage in time for Euro 2012 clash with Spain

Cesare Prandelli could use a back three for the first time as Azzurri coach in his biggest game to date after the defeat in Zurich left question marks over his side's shape
By Kris Voakes | Italy Editor

Euros talk in Italy is full of the letter S at the moment. Last week, it was Scommessopoli, then came the slip-up in Switzerland, and, after the strain to Andrea Barzagli’s calf, next comes Spain on Sunday. But as the Azzurri approach their biggest game under Cesare Prandelli, the coach is seriously considering a switch of systems as he looks to get his squad playing at the kind of level they have been demonstrating domestically.

Friday’s 3-0 friendly defeat to Russia in Zurich highlighted a number of issues which threaten to undermine Italy’s bid to go deep in the European Championship this month, with many pointing to a change of formation as the potential resolution. Now it appears that Prandelli could be set to roll out a 3-5-2 for the first time as commissario tecnico in the opening game in Gdansk this weekend, with the continuing trend in Serie A forcing his hand somewhat.

Juventus’ Scudetto triumph was achieved with a back three in place for much of the season, meaning that three of Prandelli’s four centre-back picks are extremely familiar with the formation, while Christian Maggio and Federico Balzaretti are much more comfortable making runs from deep than they are seeing off opposition wingers.

For Maggio in particular, a switch to wing-back would be massively beneficial. With Ignazio Abate having also travelled, the Napoli man is a distant second best when it comes to attributes as a right full-back, as he proved when put under the slightest bit of pressure – and sometimes under none at all – against Russia. But when asked to start further upfield ahead of a three-man back line, Veneto-born Maggio really comes to his own.

Meanwhile, Domenico Criscito’s absence has left Balzaretti as the clear favourite to start on the opposite flank, and he too has arguably more pedigree as a wing-back, having looked far more at home when playing there under a string of Palermo coaches over recent years.

ITALY'S 3-5-2 | How the Azzurri could line up


Gianluigi Buffon


Davide Astori

Leonardo Bonucci

Giorgio Chiellini



Christian Maggio

Federico Balzaretti



Daniele De Rossi

Andrea Pirlo

Claudio Marchisio



Mario Balotelli

Antonio Cassano

Much of Prandelli’s thinking may hinge on the fitness of Barzagli. With the current prognosis suggesting he could be out for up to 20 days, he surely cannot be kept in the squad simply in the hope that Italy can make the quarter- or semi-finals without him. Leonardo Bonucci has never really convinced in a back four, with greater space for error when flanked by two other centre-halves, meaning the squad would suddenly look thin defensively without Barzagli.

Prandelli confirmed on Tuesday that he will wait for Barzagli but will call up Davide Astori if the Juve man fails to recover in time. Andrea Ranocchia – the last defender omitted from the coach’s final shortlist – is nursing an injury and is not available. Domenico Criscito, who has claimed he had an assurance from Prandelli that a late injury could see him recalled, will watch the tournament from the comfort of his own home.

Ahead of the rearguard, the switch would make further sense in that the midfield three of Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio can remain untouched, unless the Roma man moves back to centre-half as he has during training this week, maning the regularly ineffective Riccardo Montolivo will be the sacrificial lamb. The lack of a trequartista would be more than covered by the extra attacking width supplied by the wing-backs.

Another potential alteration which some had touted was to a 4-3-3, but with Fabio Borini representing Prandelli’s only real option as a right-sided forward, the coach may not wish to give the Roma man such a baptism of fire, even before taking into account that defensive questions would still remain.

But the bottom line cannot be overlooked. The performance against Russia was not solely down to complications with the formation. Professional players should not make the kind of mistakes that were made in Zurich, and no matter what formation you play in, a bad display remains a bad display.

Italy must improve from Friday’s performance come kick-off on Sunday, and Prandelli may well decide that a drastic switch of systems is the best way to ensure that happens.

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