By Mark Doyle | Italy Expert
According to the Italian media, Manchester United sent scouts to watch Claudio Marchisio in action in the Azzurri's Confederations Cup opener against Mexico on Sunday evening.
They would have followed him closely, which is just as well, really, because a casual observer would not have noticed that the Juventus midfielder was playing for much of the contest.
The Red Devils representatives would have left the Maracana wondering whether they really need Marchisio in their midfield. They would not be alone in that regard, because Juventus, and now Italy, are asking themselves the same question. Other interested parties such as the nouveau-riche Monaco - who have been considering a €30 million bid - will also be thinking twice about tabling such a huge offer.
Marchisio is, on his day, an indefatigable, industrious, multi-tasking midfielder with an eye for goal. However, when he is not making timely and lethal late runs into the area, it is difficult not to wonder if he brings much else of value to the party.
The 27-year-old functions best in a midfield three, but it has become abundantly clear over the past six months that he is no longer among the top three midfielders at Juventus. He has never been in the same class as either Andrea Pirlo (in fairness, so few are) or Arturo Vidal, and now he has arguably been overtaken in the pecking order by Paul Pogba, who, coincidentally, arrived in Turin on a free transfer from United last summer.
|MARCHISIO'S LAST TWO ITALY STARTS
| PLAYER RATING VERSUS CZECH REPUBLIC
|2.5||Absolutely anonymous for the 90 minutes he was inexplicably afforded, failing dismally to even offer his customary goal threat.
| PLAYER RATING VERSUS MEXICO
|2.0||Worked hard but failed to have any influence on the game. Looked out of his depth in a role that clearly didn't suit him.|
Now, while that decision to sacrifice a striker was a damning indictment of the quality of Juve's forwards at Conte's disposal, it was also an obvious, tacit admission that Pogba was more worthy of a place in midfield alongside Pirlo and Vidal than Marchisio, who had been moved forward in support of lone striker Mirko Vucinic as a consequence of the tactical rethink.
Marchisio, though, is no trequartista. He does not have the requisite vision, technique or range of passing to play what is a highly-skilled position.
That was once again painfully evident in Italy's Group B clash with Mexico. With Stephan El Shaarawy out of form and seemingly incompatible with Mario Balotelli, Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli opted to play 'Super Mario' as a lone striker against el Tri, with Emanuele Giaccherini and Marchisio in behind.
For all his failings, Giaccherini made a reasonable fist of the role. Yes, he took the wrong option several times and lost possession in inexplicable circumstances, but the Bianconeri utility man also drifted out to the flanks to good effect, embarked upon a couple of threatening runs and even played a part in Balotelli's winner.
Marchisio, by complete contrast, was virtually anonymous. One could not fault his energy or desire to get involved but, at times, he resembled a headless chicken who had been drinking heavily before his decapitation. He looked lost and confused in an advanced role - and not for the first time.
Indeed, Marchisio's performance has now left Prandelli with a problem. The 'new Tardelli' did net in a cameo appearance during last week's 2-2 draw with Haiti, but in his last two competitive starts, against Mexico and the Czech Republic, he may as well have not been playing, so little did he contribute to the cause.
And that begs the question: does Marchisio deserve to remain a first-choice player for his country?
This time 12 months ago, Prandelli preferred to play Riccardo Montolivo in the troublesome trequartista role because of a dearth of viable alternatives, and the former Fiorentina captain made the best of an unwelcome assignment at Euro 2012 - witness his pass for Balotelli's second goal in the win over Germany.
However, over the course of a stellar debut season at San Siro in which he was deployed in his preferred position in the middle of the park, it became clear that Montolivo, like Pogba at Juventus, had overtaken Marchisio in the Azzurri's midfield pecking order. Montolivo, therefore, deserves to once again start alongside Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi against Japan.
But does Marchisio really warrant another start in an advanced role, in light of his no-show at the Maracana? It is not as if Italy do not have other options: Alessandro Diamanti, Alessio Cerci and Antoni Candreva are all in better form than Marchisio; not only that, they are all far more suited to playing as attacking midfielders.
The noises coming out of the Italian camp on Tuesday night suggest that Marchisio will indeed be dropped for the game against Japan, indicating that Prandelli has now realised what Conte reluctantly accepted last season: that while he has a couple of indispensable midfielders at his disposal, Marchisio is no longer one of them.