In one of my previous blogs, I talked about how Italian national team coaches have had a habit of making odd selections or picking certain players, much to the dissatisfaction of Azzurri fans.
This time I will be talking about what I reckon is the best starting 11 for Italy and also talk about an Italian starting 11 if I was Italy’s coach and showed favouritism to certain players.
In the first section, I will talk about my best starting XI for Italy as well as possible subs. In the latter section, I will discuss the pros and cons of picking my favourite players but there are certainly more cons.
Part 1: My Best Azzurri XI
My preferred starting 11 for Italy would line-up in a 4-3-3 formation. Gigi Buffon is a clear choice in goal and in front of him are centre-backs Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, his Juve teammates. I’ve taken Leonardo Bonucci out because he is still prone to errors. If the team used a 3-5-2 formation instead, he would stay in.
Milan full-backs Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio are included and they are great attacking weapons. Defensively they are a bit suspect but not many modern full-backs possess great defensive skills. That could possibly explain why most Serie A teams are going for the 3-5-2 formation.
The midfield features Juve duo Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio. Pirlo has been Italy’s number one playmaker for the last decade and Marchisio is an excellent box-to-box midfielder. Roma’s Daniele De Rossi is more of a defensive midfielder but he can function well as a box-to-box midfielder too.
De Rossi and Marchisio haven’t had their best seasons this year but in peak form, they are excellent players to have in the team. Milan’s Antonio Nocerino is another box-to-box midfielder who can be valuable when in peak form.
Pirlo is in his 30s but he is still in great form. If I wanted another playmaker alongside him, I’d pick either Milan’s Riccardo Montolivo or Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, who is considered to be Pirlo’s heir in the Azzurri. Even Fiorentina’s Alberto Aquilani would be useful because he looks like he is finally in his prime.
Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy from AC Milan are in my attack. They are the present and future for both club and country. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has opted for Emanuele Giaccherini in the trequartista role in a 4-3-1-2 in recent matches but I prefer Torino winger Alessio Cerci. He cuts in like a modern winger and has trickery like a classical one.
It’s a very attacking team and it can use the wings well, which is something Italian teams aren’t usually known for. This side has two box-to-box midfielders so they can support Pirlo, cover of the full-backs and even join the attack.
Marcello Lippi wanted to use the 4-3-3 formation but he never picked the right players when he coached the Azzurri. Prandelli has the right players at his disposal for that formation. His concern might be in the centre of defence but the midfield and attack are excellent.
His options off the bench would be ideal in attack. On the right, he could use Giuseppe Rossi if he returns to full fitness or Fabio Borini if he returns to form.
Antonio Candreva is more of a right midfielder but he is a scorer of great goals, even though he is not a great goalscorer. He does have good stamina and is versatile. Bologna’s Alessandro Diamanti could be used on either side and has more flair than Candreva.
On the left side, Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne or Juve’s Sebastian Giovinco could be used. Inter’s Antonio Cassano would be another one to consider if he is in good health. Prandelli used him regularly in the Euro 2012 qualifiers and the tournament itself.
Italy has some good centre-forwards but they need to get into form. The likes of Giampaolo Pazzini, Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri aren’t consistent but one good season before the World Cup could change that. At least Bologna’s Alberto Gilardino, one of Prandelli’s boys, is having a career revival.
Alberto Paloschi, Manolo Gabbiadini and Ciro Immobile are quality strikers for the Azzurrini but they need to be prolific in the Serie A. If they can do that, they can make that step from the youth team to the senior squad.
Although Serie A clubs are using the 3-5-2 formation, Cesare Prandelli can still fit players into the 4-3-3 formation. If these players gel, the Azzurri might have a good run at Brazil 2014, maybe going as far as the final and winning it.
Part 2: An Azzurri XI with “My Boys”
Italy’s national team is sometimes known as “ItalJuve”, a nickname used cynically by non-Juventus fans in reference to the Turin giants providing many players for the national team. If I played favourites with the Azzurri, a likely nickname for my Italian team would be “Caladoria”.
In this team, I have picked players who aren’t from Calabria but there are some players in the team who are Sampdoria players or they had played for the blucerchiati. The rest are Juve players or former bianconeri players.
My dad is originally from Calabria so that’s where the favouritism towards Calabrese players would come from. When Italy won the 2006 World Cup, there were players like Vincenzo Iaquinta, Simone Perrotta and Gennaro Gattuso in the squad.
Iaquinta and Gattuso were born in the region. Perrotta, on the other hand, was born in the UK but he was raised in Calabria and his parents are of Calabrese origin.
These days the only decent players from Calabria are Lazio striker Sergio Floccari and Siena winger Alessandro Rosina. I could use them off the bench but they aren’t good enough for the Azzurri. It would be a case of me showing blatant bias.
Including former and current Sampdoria players is another case of bias on my part. Being a Sampdoria supporter and a Doria, this would really stir up controversy. Realistically only Daniele Gastaldello and Andrea Poli are good enough for the Azzurri and as subs at best.
The remaining players are from Juve and that’s because I was a bianconero supporter as a child. I have only switched to the Sampdoria cause in recent years. I still admire some Juve players though and the ones here are of genuine quality.
The starting 11 here is lined-up in a 3-4-3 formation. Angelo Palombo is a central midfielder playing as a centre-back here. He has played very well in that role for Sampdoria this season and he has Gastaldello alongside him here. Roma’s De Rossi is the best in that role though.
Federico Balzaretti was an ex-Juve player but he was outstanding at Palermo and started off OK at Roma until Zdenek Zeman was sacked. Lorenzo De Silvestri has played more often now Delio Rossi is coach of Sampdoria. He too could make a case for the actual Italian side but if it was me being blatantly biased, he would be locked into that position!
Pirlo has been taken out and Poli starts in my team of favourites. He would be better off if the team played in 3-5-2 formation, not a 3-4-3 because he hasn’t got Marchisio’s stamina. The trident attack remains because it symbolises this XI, even with Poli possibly not adapting well to that midfield.
The pièce de résistance (or not) of my team is the forward line of Quagliarella, Pazzini and Cassano. “Quags” had his breakthrough season in 2006/07 with Sampdoria, scoring 13 goals and most of them worthy of “Goal of the Season”! Cassano and “Pazzo” were essentially “I Gemelli del Gol Mark II” at Sampdoria.
Currently the three strikers have been inconsistent. When on form, they epitomise my philosophy of football or calcio, known as the “Doria-style”. They have flair and they are capable creators and goalscorers on their day. They just need to have a team built around them and coaches to understand them.
Overall this team wouldn’t work, not just because some of the players aren’t in great form but the system work take a while to figure out. In Poli’s position, another box-to-box midfielder would be ideal but there isn’t a quality Calabrese player or Sampdoria player who I would be there to be that extra dynamic midfielder.
This blog has shown you two things; you can think with your head or think with your heart. The first team is a more logical, sensible and realistic option. Option two was definitely from the heart and the stuff of fantasy football.
In short, don’t pick your boys, pick the best!