The Barzagli Injury Conundrum

Italian center back Andrea Barzagli is reportedly in danger of missing Euro 2012.  Football-Italia states that the Juventus player could be out for up to 20 days, and could be replaced in the squad by Inter defender Andrea Ranocchia.

Given that Barzagli and Juventus teammates Giorgi Chiellini and Leonardo Bonnuci formed one of Serie A’s most formidable defense last season, there was talk that Italy should line up in a three-man central defense, as opposed to the 4-3-1-2 manager Cesare Prandelli has favored. Using three center backs would have allowed Italy to include the entire Juve trio in its starting 11, at positions they are used to playing, as well giving Christian Maggio the opportunity to play wing back, where he lines up with Napoli (as opposed to right back; Maggio struggled at the position in Friday’s friendly vs. Russia, particularly in defense).

With Barzagli out, one would expect these plans to be in jeopardy.  However, according to a tweet from @ItalianNT (an account dedicated to Azzurri news and opinions), Prandelli has been trying midfielder Daniele De Rossi out at center back. I would hope this move is not implemented in the tournament. Not only would it take one of Italy’s best midfielders out of his natural position, can De Rossi play center defense at a high level?

According to WhoScored.com, De Rossi did make four appearances in central defense for his club Roma last season, so it would be a mistake to say he is completely without experience at the position. Still, I have my doubts this is the best course of action.

At this rate, perhaps Prandelli should just stick with the 4-3-1-2. While players like Maggio, Chiellini, and Bonucci line up in a three-man defense with their clubs, Italy has not played with a 3-5-2 in a competitive fixture under Prandelli. Making a drastic formation switch on the fly on such short notice runs considerable risk.

Furthermore, looking to Italy’s first group game against Spain, consider the fact that the Spanish often line up in a 4-2-3-1. Against a single striker formation, teams often face problems when using a three-man defense. One of the center backs is redundant, as the team already has one defender to mark, and the other one to sweep up at the back. Thus, the third is surplus, leading to deficiencies elsewhere on the pitch (for an excellent and more detailed explanation of the plight of the 3-5-2 against the 4-2-3-1, see Zonal Marking’s piece on the subject)

Looking at the big picture, Barzagli’s injury is yet another piece of bad news for an Italy team that has already had their fill of it.

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