England beware of… Marco Verratti
England will have their attention drawn on Italy’s star playmaker Andrea Pirlo when both teams open their World Cup account on Saturday evening but there is another midfielder that the Three Lions should keep their eyes on.
Marco Verratti might be an unknown quantity to the English fans and press but at 21-years-old he is already seen as Pirlo’s heir in the Italian squad.
That seems rather remarkable for a player at his age and for someone who has actually never played in Serie A.
Verratti made his professional debut as a 15-year-old in 2008 when he came on for Pescara in a 2-0 win against Mezzocorona in the Coppa Italia.
Originally a player who could play as a support striker or attacking midfielder, he became a regular under Eusebio Di Francesco in 2010-11, when the club returned to Serie B.
Verratti’s breakthrough season was in the 2011/12 Serie B season, in which Pescara went on to win the title and gained automatic promotion into Serie A.
He played alongside future Italy teammates Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile while under the tutelage of Czech coach Zdenek Zeman.
Zeman made the decision to convert Verratti into a deep-lying playmaker, a role in which he still operates in to this day.
French club Paris Saint-Germain bought Verratti from Pescara in the summer of 2012 for around €12 million and the young midfielder has won two Ligue 1 titles and a Coupe de la Ligue since his arrival.
Verratti has made the National Union of Professional Footballers’ Ligue 1 Team of the Year for the last two seasons and also won the National Union of Professional Footballers’ Best Youngster award for this season.
So far has six caps for Italy and has scored one goal, which was an equaliser in Italy’s 1-1 draw away to the Netherlands in February 2013.
Despite being capped at senior level, he managed to play for the Azzurrini when they reached the 2013 European U-21 Championship Final, only to lose 4-2 to Spain in the final.
At club level he has already achieved a lot but he does not have much experience at international level. So why should the English keep an eye on him?
Verratti has fantastic dribbling skills and he is confident and calm for someone his age. He can dribble in tight areas and he is confident enough to even dribble from the defence. He can drag the ball back constantly like former Italy winger Bruno Conti and can also change directions in an instant.
Pirlo is Italy’s best passer, especially when it comes to completing long passes, but Verratti is also capable of finding teammates in space with his long passes too.
England clearly knows about Pirlo after his excellent performance against the Three Lions in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals. English coach Roy Hodgson is trying to come up with a plan that will limit the Juventus midfielder’s influence in Saturday’s game.
Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli is not expected to place Verratti in the starting line-up but he can make an impact if he does play. Hodgson and even his players might have their minds on Pirlo but that could be to Verratti’s advantage, especially if he gets the space to play.
If Marco Verratti plays against England, Hodgson and his men might have another Italian star that they have to keep their eyes on.
Follow Vito Doria on Twitter: @VitoCDoria