Both managers have seriously revised their teams since meeting in the quarterfinals of Euro 2012, with each coach fielding only five players who appeared in that earlier tie–though injuries probably kept two other starters, Riccardo Montolivo and Gigi Buffon. Both seem to be doing a nice job of integrating new players into their respective sides.
Idle hopes that Roy Hodgson would take a page from Brendan Rodgers’s book and deploy England in Liverpool’s 4-3-1-2 with Wayne Rooney as Luis Suárez (at least someone else was thinking this, right?) were not completely dashed, but neither were they fully realized. Hodgson opted for a 4-2-3-1, but with Raheem Sterling reprising the central role he sometimes played for Liverpool. Rather than playing up top alongside Daniel Sturridge, however, Rooney was banished to the left wing. Reports suggest that Rooney will be back in the middle against Uruguay, as well as confirming that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will not play. Adam Lallana seems unlikely to start (if reports are true), while Ross Barkley or Jack Wilshere would probably have to replace Jordan Henderson in a shuttling role to get into the starting XI. Whatever happens, Hodgson seems unlikely to depart from 4-2-3-1 against a team with strikers of Uruguay’s caliber.
Prandelli’s Italy was probably the most tactically interesting team at Euro 2012, shifting from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 with a narrow midfield diamond. Coming into this tournament, however, Italy’s formation remained a mystery, with Montolivo’s injury further complicating matters. For the opener, they deployed a 4-5-1/4-3-3, but with Daniele De Rossi rather than Andrea Pirlo as the deepest of the midfield trio. This is a big shift, Prandelli essentially deploying Pirlo in the high-lying playmaker role usually occupied by Montolivo. That’s obviously not a reflection on which player Prandelli values more, as Pirlo’s centrality to any Italian success is unquestionable; but it would suggest that, tactically, the manager believes a high-lying playmaker is more important than a deep-lying one–at least against England. Reports on Prandelli’s anticipated changes suggest changes in personnel rather than an altered system: Buffon (possibly) for Salvatore Sirigu, Thiago Motta for Marco Veratti, and Christian Abate for Gabriel Paletta. The last of these changes would seem to move Matteo Darmian off the right flank, which is slightly surprising given his effectiveness in that role. Perhaps Prandelli’s goal is to broaden Italy’s avenues of attack, as they were relentless down the right against England.
Performances to Consider
Wayne Rooney (Eng) – Rooney contributed almost nothing in this game–except of course, for creating England’s only goal (with all due respect to Daniel Sturridge’s fine finish). Once a striker who spent too much of his energy dropping into midfield to win back the ball, Rooney increasing seems to be a defensive liability–especially in systems that require defensive shifts from all players, as is usually the case under Hodgson. Uruguay will not require marking on a deep-lying playmaker, so Rooney should get a chance to prove that his create spark is worth the loss of defensive effort (and of pace, if the alternative is Raheem Sterling). This may be Rooney’s last chance to secure his position as England’s star player; another poor game would likely give Hodgson license to explore other options.
Leighton Baines (Eng) – Baines did not have a good game against Italy, pinned back by a relentless Italian attack down his flank. This England squad relies on its full backs for attacking width, and while moving Sterling out wide should help on this front, Baines will need to do better if England wants to advance.
Antonio Candreva (Ita) – Candreva played a large role in limiting Baines, and was quite possibly Italy’s most important player on the day. Working with full back Matteo Darmian, he dominated Italy’s right flank throughout the game, eventually delivering the game-winning assist. If he can continue to dominate from the right, Italy will feel the loss of Montolivo less sharply.
Andrea Pirlo (Ita) – Though Pirlo’s advanced position was quite effective against England, it should theoretically leave him more open to man-marking by a holding midfielder. Part of the brilliance of Prandelli’s formations at Euro 2012 was the protection they allowed his aging playmaker, largely forcing teams to call a striker back in order to mark him. Higher up, Pirlo is more exposed to defensive specialists, and if he does not swap roles with De Rossi, it will be interesting to see whether Costa Rica’s Yeltsin Tejeda, and looking ahead Uruguay’s holding duo of Edigio Arévalo and Walter Gargano, are able to blunt his influence.