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Italy-Paraguay: The Title Defense Starts Slowly, but not Poorly

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I know this is the Juventus Offside and not the Italy WCB, but I'll probably be venting my ramblings here anyways during most of the World Cup. Overall, I was pretty pleased with the game. Paraguay is a tough opponent, they play physical, defensive, very Italian-style tactics which saw them defeat Brazil and Argentina in qualifying. Without a doubt, the best team in our group and we probably deserved to win by a bit. We just need to take it to Slovakia and New Zealand. Full thoughts after the jump.

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Italy started out with a 4-2-3-1 that worked well enough in the beginning portion of the match, but after 40 minutes or so, Paraguay had figured it out, and the next 20 minutes or so saw the match drift into Paraguay's hands. Marcello Lippi made timely and smart subs- the Marchisio substitution which many groaned at wasn't sacrificing Marchisio for Camo, it was a direct shift to a 4-4-2. It worked well for much of the match, and I think Lippi might give up the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 experiments and go back to something Italy knows.

Some interesting stats from ESPN.

• Neither team was crisp passing the ball, as the 67.0% combined passing accuracy was the lowest total in the past two World Cups by more than 5% (second-lowest was 72.1% in the England-United States match on Saturday). Italy's 69.9% passing accuracy was its second-lowest since 1966 and its lowest in 40 years. Paraguay's 63.2% passing accuracy was the 10th-worst mark ever over that time period.

• Paraguay is just the 18th team to create two or fewer scoring chances (when a pass from a teammate leads to a shot) since 1966 and one of just five to do so and score a goal.

• Italy is 5-0-3 in its last eight World Cup games and are on a 10-game unbeaten streak against South American sides.

• Eight of Italy's last 13 goals in the World Cup have come from set pieces.

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De Rossi- "STOP SAYING ROMA LADRONA!"

Personally, I was impressed by Montolivo and Pepe today. Pepe worked hard and put in some good crosses, sometimes his final ball was (exceptionally) poor, but still was a protagonist. Montolivo, who there have been rumors Juve is interested in, was class in midfield, winning balls back and putting some excellent passes in, although his shooting is Candreva-ish. (weak) Criscito didn't have a stellar game, but he looked good enough at left-back and moved forward well. I've never had a high opinion of Pepe, but there's no doubt he at least merits a loan, his price only rose today and we've already got him. Criscito should be a priority to play left-back next season for Juventus.

The 4-4-2 had more stability and most importantly, players playing in their right position. Gila failed miserably as a target-man in a 4-2-3-1, while there wasn't much service it's implied that he's supposed to be a point of reference for the attack, knocking down headers and winning balls and dishing them to his teammates. This is something Amauri does very well, but of course being a forward is much more than that. Iaquinta and Marchisio were both also fielded out of position in the attacking trident, and it was very noticeable. They played opposite of where they need, Vincenzo can play up top or in a 4-3-3, but not withdrawn. He can't cut into the middle, which the explosion of inverted wingers has shown the importance of, and he's just not effective there. Marchisio showed that trequartista is probably not the right position for him, or at least not in a game where the opponents are happy to sit without possession and make Italy come at them. It might work in a more possession-balanced game, but he still should be playing deeper as a central midfielder.

South Africa Soccer WCup Italy Paraguay
Everyone recognize our ole buddy on the left?

The 4-4-2 worked alright, but I'd go for a 4-4-1-1 (or 4-5-1, depending on how you look at it) as follows:

Buffon
Zambrotta Chiellini Cannavaro Criscito
Camo/Maggio Marchisio De Rossi Pepe
Montolivo
Pazzini

Pazzini is one who thrives on service, and I believe with the amount of crossing and throughballs this formation provides, the best defenders in South Africa this summer would have trouble keeping him off the scoresheet. Montolivo would be given a position more like Diego/Sneidjer and less like a classical trequartista, he would have tactical freedom to drop back to play more of a regista. He looked good today roaming around.

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The solution to the Azzurri's attack?

Ultimately, I'm satisfied with the performance. Italy looked far better than against either Switzerland or Mexico, and against a better, very tactical opponent. The lack of creativity up top is worrying, and that was my primary concern in the build up to the World Cup, but I think a 4-4-1-1 would solve much of it. The defense looked shaky at times, but not bad for a first game out, and honestly, Paraguay very rarely tested either of the keepers, indeed they had a grand total of one attempt on goal (which scored) and hadn't looked like scoring before that. Italy had 57% possession, had 10 shots and 5 on target. If we perform similarly against Slovakia or New Zealand, we should certainly win.

LE PAGELLE:

Buffon: s.v.- Really had nothing to do aside from pick the ball out of the net. Worrying that his back injury is flairing up, Marchetti is good, but do you expect him to make saves like this?

Zambrotta: 6- Impressive, considering his Milan form. Defended well enough and got up on occasion, not 2006 form, but good enough to keep in the XI for me.
Cannavaro: 5.5- Started out very strongly, reading the game brilliantly and outjumping players he had no right to, characteristics I described in his World Cup Profile. Bad mistake for Paraguay's goal, and after about the 65th minute he started to look more and more shaky. Not a horrible outing, but not too confidence-inspiring either.
Chiellini: 6.5- Nothing outstanding, but looks assured in the back for almost the whole game.
Criscito: 5.5- Looked nervy on a few occasions, but it's this kids first game in an international tournament. Benching him would be as stupid as sending him to Genoa after he gets beaten in his 4th Serie A game ever. Which we did. I hope Lippi doesn't make the same mistake. Not sure why he's receiving so much criticism, he more or less held his own defensively, moved up supporting the attack, and wasn't ever really horribly caught out of position. I still want him back at Juventus.

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Referee wasn't that great today. Called for a lot of fouls when the player got the ball. The free kick Paraguay scored off of was not only not a foul, but a Paraguayan handball.

De Rossi: 6.5- Re-energized after his goal and the switch to the 4-4-2. Didn't look comfortable in the first half, but played excellent in the second.
Montolivo: 6.5- His shot is weak like Candreva's, but I liked Montolivo's performance a lot today. He's had a reputation like Aquilani of a player who never grew up, one who goes missing for long stretches of time, but Montolivo was omnipresent. Good passing, fought well enough to get the ball back, it was a very solid display from the Fiorentina vice-captain. Didn't exactly have this kind of finish on his breakaway, though.

Pepe: 6.5- Worked hard, put in some excellent crosses, and looked like he gave a damn all match. Some poor decision making in the box, but it's the World Cup and it's his international tournament debut as well, understandable. I liked that he was equally competent as a left or right winger, that is a very important versatility.
Marchisio: 5.5- As I said, he doesn't really work as a trequartista against a team that defends deep. Sacrificial lamb to switch to a 4-4-2, I think had Lippi chosen to take De Rossi off and drop Marchisio back, he'd have had a much better game too.
Iaquinta: 5- Played too deep in the 4-2-3-1, improved a bit when he moved up to striker, but not that great of a game. Still, I'd rather him play than Gilardino.

Gilardino: 5- Static off-the-ball movement, didn't really get into great position. Starved of service, but didn't really play the target man role.

Lippi: 6.5- The team started well, then Paraguay figured the formation out. Lippi showed something we've been lacking at Juventus for a while- substitutions and tactical changes that reversed the flow of the game. It started drifting out of the Azzurri's hands after a bright start, but his switch to a 4-4-2 and substitutions put it back in the Azzurri's hands. He still needs to sort out the offense.

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Grazie, Daniele

FORZA AZZURRI