Here is what my starting XI for the Euros would like if I were Italy coach Cesare Prandelli:
The presumption here is that Italy plays in the 4-3-1-2 formation Prandelli has favored in recent qualifying matches and friendlies.
Some of these choices frankly do not need an explanation. Buffon should and will start, as will Chiellini and Barzagli in central defense, Maggio at right back, and Pirlo in midfield.
I give the nod to Federico Balzaretti over Ignazio Abate at left back, but am high on Abate as well. Italy could also go more defensive and play Chiellini at left back, and insert Leonardo Bonucci to play in the center alongside Andrea Barzagli.
Daniele De Rossi will almost certainly start in the midfield, bringing his usual tenacity to the position.
Opposite De Rossi, I chose Claudio Marchisio over Ricardo Montolivo, Thiago Motta, and Antonio Nocerino. All would be good choices, but Marchisio is the best all-around choice. The Juventus midfielder completed an impressive 85.7% of his passes in 2011-12, with four assists, and played 1.4 key passes per game, according to WhoScored.com.
At trequartista is where myself and Prandelli will probably differ. In my XI, I include Sebastian Giovinco, while Montolivo will likely be the one who actually gets the nod behind the strikers. While I am a fan of Montolivo, Giovinco is the better creator of the two.
Consider their passing statistics in Serie A this past season:
Montolivo completed a higher percentage of passes (80.9% to 76.4%) but Giovinco played 2.5 key passes per game, almost twice as many as Montolivo. In fact, only four players in Serie A were better than Giovinco in this regard. Giovinco was also third in the league with 11 assists (all stats according to WhoScored).
Montolivo would provide much more of a defensive presence than Giovinco, so admittedly there is some risk involved with starting the Parma playmaker. And while, as a whole, the midfield I field here would not be the most tenacious Italy has ever deployed, the creativity Pirlo, Marchisio, and Giovinco bring the table would be impressive.
The main reason Giovinco gets the nod is my choice of strikers: Mario Balotelli and Antonio Di Natale. Both are prolific scorers, given Balotelli’s tremendous talent and Di Natale’s great success over the past few seasons. That said, neither are prototypical creators, necessitating a player in the mold of Giovinco to play in the hole.
There are other options here, and what Prandelli will actually do is up in the air. The coach essentially said the team will experiment with formations in Friday’s friendly vs. Russia (via 101GreatGoals.com).
Italy could play Giovinco in a more advanced role, allowing the more versatile Montolivo to play behind the strikers. However, that would mean either Di Natale or Balotelli would have to start on the bench, and it would be beneficial to have both of them in the starting lineup.
Alternatively, if (and it is a big “if”) Antonio Cassano is match fit, I would welcome him taking one of the starting striker roles. Cassano would bring the requisite creativity to the table, so it would allow for the well-rounded Montolivo to play in the hole (as opposed to attack minded Giovinco).