England vs Italy – The Key Battles That Matter For Hodgson
So, here we are. Twenty-four hours away from the European Championships quarter final against Italy who, as demonstrated in their group, have been the most unpredictable team so far. Pretty much the only team to have radically tinkered with their formation Italy have match-winning assets in every area of their team. Yet they’re also one of the weakest Italy sides for a generation. The same, however, could be said of England.
In a recent press conference Gianluigi Buffon, Italy’s 34 year old captain said of tomorrow’s game: “I think it is a very balanced game against England, totally equal.”
That the game is a fair match up is a contentious issue. Italy seem to posses more individual talent yet the organisation Hodgson has instilled in this England team has proved it can stand up to strong attacking opposition. Whether Cesare Prandelli will opt for the 3-5-2 as he did against Spain and Croatia or the 4-4-2 as he did against Ireland remains to be seen. What we do know is that the match will be won or lost in a number of battles going on around the pitch.
As Italy’s captain said: “On paper against England it is 50/50 who will win. It will be a game where little episodes will make the difference.”
So what are the key battles for England to overcome if the Three Lions are to take their place in the semi finals of Euro 2012?
Wayne Rooney vs. Andrea Pirlo
Easily the most important match up of the game. Rooney is, on his day, England’s most dangerous player whilst Pirlo totally controls the game for Italy. Pirlo will sit in between the defence and midfield spraying passes out to the rest of the team, controlling the tempo of the game and generally trying to snub out attacks. Rooney will be sitting in the hole between midfield and attack trying to do a not dissimilar playmaking role from the number 10 position.
The battle between these two will not be an ordinary ‘attacker vs. defensive midfielder’ match up as Pirlo will have to worry about Rooney closing him down as much as Wayne will have to worry about stifling Pirlo’s attacking threat.
Ultimately the best way for both players to do so is make no mistakes in possession. The more time either player has to spend worrying about the other’s attacking threat the less chance they have on concentrating on their own job. One thing England fans can be certain of is that if Rooney’s touch and use of the ball does not improve from the Ukraine game then we will be in for a difficult evening.
Joleon Lescott vs. Mario Balotelli
It remains to be seen whether or not Balotelli will start against England. You get the feeling that Prandelli would like to select the enigmatic Manchester City man but may be worried about his temperament, especially against England.
Nevertheless, should he start then Joleon Lescott will surely be the man charged with keeping tabs on Mario. Both know each other’s strengths and weaknesses from their time together at City and, as Ibrahimovic proved against Terry in our Group game, the Chelsea captain no longer has the required pace to deal with quick, powerful forwards.
Whatever friendship Lescott and Balotelli may have is totally irrelevant. It might sound like underhand tactics but England should be looking to exploit their knowledge of Balotelli’s quick temper and, often poor, judgment.
Ashley Young vs. Christian Maggio
Whether Italy play 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 Young and Maggio will inevitably end up facing each other. When Italy play a three man defence Maggio is used as a right midfielder/wing back and when they play four at the back he is the full back.
Both Young and Maggio’s key strengths are revealed when they are higher up the pitch and it is an area that England can look to exploit. Young’s cross against Ukraine, which Rooney missed, demonstrated why he is in the team. If he produces similar crosses tomorrow don’t expect them to be missed.
However it will not be plain sailing for Young how needs to recognise that Maggio will be looking to pen him back by marauding forward himself. Moreover, with Ashley Cole pushing forward as well England must ensure they do not underestimate Maggio’s threat and leave themselves exposed.
Steven Gerrard vs. Daniele De Rossi
The Italian midfielder has expressed his delight at the prospect of coming up against England’s captain on Sunday. De Rossi is, after all, the Italian version of Gerrard. Admittedly he is slightly more defensive than Gerrard but so is Italian football as a whole. De Rossi said himself that he would like to attack more and in this game he will undoubtedly see more of the ball than England’s captain. The stereotypes of each player will be reversed on Sunday. Gerrard will play the more defensive role and will have to choose his moments to break forward extremely wisely.
Each player will be waiting for the other to wander out of position before venturing forward with any real purpose, let’s hope that Gerrard is the more disciplined of the two tomorrow night.
So these are the four key areas that I have identified that really matter for Roy Hodgson ahead of the game; however our friends at Samsung are curious to know what you the fans believe will ‘matter most’, whether it be a Rooney cameo, or a Joe Hart master class – let the good people of Samsung know and who knows your entry may win you a whole host of goodies.