Germany are a juggernaut. That is what we are told. They can pass with the ability of Spain; they can tuck in to defend; they can go directly to goal if that is what they need. In short: Germany are everyone’s favorite following Spain’s stumbling performance against Portugal.
However, whilst all the talk of their game with Italy has centered around how Germany change style to defend against Andrea Pirlo –the midfielder being talked about as a potential Ballon D’Or winner after his strutting and control against England –there is no denying that Germany are more dangerous.
So how do Italy defeat Germany?
They must sort out their defensive midfield and they must isolate Manuel Neuer if they are to prevail, it appears.
First, let me clarify. Italy are predicted to play with a flat back four, just as they did against England. Many believe that they can compress more easily with three at the back, but manager Cesare Prandelli will be fearful of Germany’s advance ‘midfield’ of Mesut Ozil with either Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller, or Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle.
Italy will play four so as to have full-backs ready to drop deep, and by the same token Giorgio Chiellini is set to replace Federico Balzaretti. Chiellini is not 100% fit, but despite Balzaretti’s fantastic attacking display against England the former is much more of a natural defender.
Cesare Prandelli has claimed that he will not implement a defensive strategy against the Germans, but this is for the press.
Against England Andrea Pirlo was superb, but one of the main reasons for this is because Daniele De Rossi was so dominant in the tackle. He stole ball after ball from the English and laid it off to Pirlo.
Now Pirlo will be marked tightly by Bastian Schweinsteiger or Sami Khedira. De Rossi will still need to tackle as well as he has done, but he must form a passing partnership with the like of Riccardo Montolivo or Antonio Cassano himself.
If he does do this with heat on Pirlo there is a chance that balls will spill out beyond that crowded defensive midfield area. Once midfielders are isolated Claudio Marchisio can work with Montolivo and Cassano to move the ball quickly. If Italian passing is slicker than it has been in the final third then Mario Balotelli becomes a very potent threat.
Balotelli has had fantastic movement throughout this competition and only Cristiano Ronaldo has had more shots at goal. He has been talked over and discussed as disruptive, but he looks like he is determined to prove a point. De Rossi said of Balotelli yesterday that “there are no problems with him and there have never been any. He is a very good player.”
There is pressure on the young man, of course. Issues of racial abuse have always whistled through this tournament, and Balotelli has been outspoken about this. Rightly so. Then, yesterday, Gazetta dello Sport, a widespread Italian newspaper, published a cartoon depicting the 21-year-old as King Kong.
The insidious illustration has been lambasted, with Gazetta issuing an apology shortly after it came to attention. There is no way that there will not be added focus on the Manchester City striker. He must focus like has never focussed before.
Therefore, if Balotelli is accommodated by his teammates and the midfield is shaped to spring quick attacks, Balotelli could find himself one on one with the goalkeeper. He is so unpredictable that Neuer may be forced to come out. If this happens Italy could turn it on.
This game revolves around the performances of some key individuals. If De Rossi, Chiellini and Balotelli help out Pirlo Italy have a chance. If not then Phillip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez, and Manuel Neuer will control the match.