Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Lorenzo Vicini On March - 25 - 2011

Serie A Weekly’s Six To Watch: Slovenia-Italy

Prandelli’s men resume their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign for the first time in the new year. With previous matches against the likes of Estonia, Faroe Islands and Northern Ireland, the first place Azzurri will face their toughest challenge yet in Group C. Italy travel to Ljubljana to take on a talented and emerging Slovenia side who have garnered a name on the world stage. With Italy and Slovenia in first and second place respectively, the match should be exciting enough. However, here are six things to watch when the two sides square off on Friday evening:

1) The Slovenian Serie A Connection

Palermo made headlines when they signed two Slovenian players from a side they had faced in the qualifying stages of the Europa League. The pair, Ilicic and Bacinovic, quickly became starters and went on to have a tremendous impact on the club - leading many other Serie A teams to look at Slovenia for potential starlets. However, the truth of the matter is that many Slovenians already ply their trade in Serie A. No less than seven players on Slovenia’s roster currently play in the Italian top flight, plus one other Slovenian who plays in Serie B. Slovenia will be familiar with the Italian style.

2) Cassano-Pazzini Chemistry

Prandelli has chosen to reunite the pair of ex-teammates in the hope that Italy can find an effective striking tandem. Only a year after the duo led Sampdoria on a dream run to Champions League qualification, it will be interesting to see if Cassano and Pazzini can rekindle the magic they established while playing for the blucerchiati. If they manage to pick up where they left off, Italians everywhere will be able to smile.

3) The Merits of the Meritocracy

It is no secret that Prandelli has made a commitment to calling up players who deserve a chance with the national team based on their club form. With that said, the Azzurri coach has honored that promise by bringing along guys like Cesena’s Marco Parolo, Cagliari’s Davide Astori and Palermo’s Antonio Nocerino. What kind of impact, if any, these players will have remains to be seen. However, it is refreshing to see Prandelli maintain an open mind and give deserving players a shot at becoming Azzurri regulars. Perhaps none of the newcomers will be provided with that opportunity against Slovenia, but with a friendly following the qualifier, the meritocracy will be put to the test.

4) A Solution At Left Back?

Cesare Prandelli called up Federico Balzaretti once again after a lackluster debut from the Palermo fullback the first time around. Given his form for his club, the Azzurri call-up is warranted, however the question remains whether or not he can perform at the international level. All indications have pointed to Balzaretti getting the start straightaway against Slovenia. If Federico establishes himself the way he has for his club, Italy will have found a perfect left back to line up opposite the right back - his teammate Mattia Cassani. While Cassani is currently out due to injury, he has seemingly cemented his spot in Prandelli’s starting eleven. The onus falls on Balzaretti to prove that he belongs and reunite with his Azzurri teammate in the foreseeable future.

5) Tactical Flexibility

Italy will start out against Slovenia in a 4-3-1-2 formation after training all week under that module. Prandelli has chosen Lazio’s Stefano Mauri to serve as a trequartista behind the previously mentioned attacking duo of Cassano and Pazzini. The beauty of Prandelli’s call-ups is that his players provide the coach with flexibility should a tactical switch be needed. With varied players such as Giuseppe Rossi, Alessandro Matri, Claudio Marchisio and Sebastian Giovinco, the Azzurri coach can easily transition through several different formations as he sees fit.

6) Changing of the Guard?

Even just a couple of years ago, such a discussion would be absolutely unthinkable. However, Italy’s legendary number one between the posts, Gianlugi Buffon has not been quite himself since his injury woes. His performances at the club level have even led some fans to question whether or not he should be starting ahead of Marco Storari. Even though the situation is practically impossible, Prandelli has chosen two young, budding stars to sit back and learn from the master Buffon. Should San Gigi display more uneasiness and uncertainty in goal, Prandelli might begin to look at Viviano and Sirigu for the future. Any immediate switch, though, does not appear to be on the horizon.

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