Assessing Italy: Where are the goals coming from?
Many have cited the Azzurri defence as a potential weak point for the team, potentially giving attackers as many chances to win as Party Casino. Especially given the recent performance against Russia in which defensive weaknesses were well and truly exposed.
However, you can also make an argument that the forward line is going to be just as much of a problem. In the same friendly Italy did managed to have 22 shots but only six were on target and of those how many actually troubled goalkeepers Vyacheslav Malafeev and Igor Akinfeev?
Coach Cesare Prandelli chose Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli, Antonio Di Natale, Sebastian Giovinco and Fabio Borini as the men to lead the Azzurri attack, which on the face of it seems a formidable line up.
Balotelli scored a number of key goals as Manchester City won the Premier League and Cassano, even though he missed a large chunk of the season, was AC Milan’s most effective creative outlet; contributing 10 assists – though most were pre-injury.
Those two are deemed by many as the pair which will lead the Italy frontline, but for me doubts over both remain, as Balotelli’s temperament is almost always in question and he could potentially be a target for racist abuse, and has threatened to ‘kill’ anyone who does so.
Cassano is a bit of a dilemma, as in my opinion he is the most naturally talented of all the attackers taken by Italy, but it seems fitness and form have eluded him somewhat. Going back to the Russia match, he looked overweight and seemed to be tired after just 20 minutes, so in a tournament as intense as the European Championships, fitness is key and Cassano doesn’t seem to have much of it.
It is even more of an issue when you consider that Di Natale has been probably the form striker of recent years in Serie A, topping the Capocannoniere charts for two of the last three seasons, scoring an impressive 110 goals in 137 Serie A games. Yet he is not considered a starter for the national side.
Many wheel out the argument that ‘he hasn’t done it at international level’, and while this holds truth to an extent, has he consistently played for the Azzurri? Winning the first of his 37 caps back in 2002, he has been a bit part player at best and a number of the Italy sides he has played in haven’t exactly oozed quality. Especially the 2010 World Cup squad, of which he was part, yet he was one of the only members of that team to come out with any credit at all.
At 34, Di Natale is entering the last furlong of his career, but is arguably in the best shape of his life. If given the chance he could be the man to lead the Azzurri front line, but whether or this will be the case is probably doubtful.
Elsewhere Parma’s Giovinco has come a long way this season, his spectacular form took the Gialloblu from a potential relegation fight to the verge of European football.
As the heartbeat of the side, his 15 goals and 11 assists earned him a place in the Forza Italian Football team of the season as well as a deserved call up to La Nazionale. Doubts still remain over his strength on the ball as he can sometimes be squeezed off the ball a little too easily. Plus his lack of experience at international level may also be a hindrance as he comes up against Europe’s best.
Though, if you are to drop Cassano, which I think should be done, he is the most natural replacement, as after FantAntonio and Pirlo, Giovinco is the most creative in the squad.
Borini is the wildcard. After a breakout season with Roma where, at times, he was unplayable, but went off the boil in the final couple of months, not scoring for the Giallorossi since their away match with Palermo in March.
It may be that Prandelli has to rely on Balotelli for his goals which is always risky given his unpredictability, or indeed ask for plenty help from the midfield.
Forget the defence, for me, the biggest problem Italy have is finding out from where exactly the goals will come.