Mexico vs. Italy a Confederations Cup Preview
The 2013 Confederations Cup rolls into Rio this evening as Mexico take on Italy in the newly refurbished Maracana Stadium in the second fixture in Group A. Mexico enter the competition in the midst of a golden age for their national teams following victories in the Gold Cup and the Olympics and boss Jose Manuel de la Torre is hoping his side can add the Confederations Cup to the countries’ recent list of honours. Italy will too under Cesare Prandelli be hoping to build on their impressive performance which took many by surprise at last summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine with a good offering in Brazil this summer ahead of next year’s showpiece event.
With Brazil having gotten off to a near perfect start with a 3-0 win over Japan last night both sides will know the importance of avoiding defeat today and as such we may well see less of an open game than the neutral would hope, especially with Prandelli’s Italy being very concerned with ball retention and slow passing build up play as we saw last summer with Andrea Pirlo used absolutely perfectly in the pivot role in Italy’s 4-3-1-2 formation.
Prandelli will look to continue to utilise the 4-3-1-2 formation which was so successful last summer in the hope they can restrict Mexico’s exciting attacking prowess by preventing them from getting hold of the ball for large periods. We first saw Italy do this last summer against Spain in the opening group match of Euro 2012 with the Italian’s restricting Spain’s possession of the ball by keeping it to themselves with Pirlo at the heart of their midfield and as a result Spain were unable to play their favoured way and could have quite easily found themselves on the wrong end of a defeat that afternoon but for an outstanding goal from Cesc Fabregas.
Twelve months on from Euro 2012 however and there are a number of different personnel in Cesare Prandelli’s thinking with Stephen El Shaarawy that one year older and wiser following a season where he was arguably AC Milan’s most important player going forward. It is expected El Shaarawy will find himself in the position just behind the two strikers allowing him to link the midfield and attacking well just as he does with Milan. El Shaarawy also has the capability to move to the wider areas should Italy’s play require him to do so which is not beyond the realms of possibility with Ignazio Abate having a great deal of pace and desire to move forward on the right flank and Mattia De Sciglio being able to do the same on the left. We expect Italy will start with a defensive pair of Bonucci and Chiellini due to the absence of Barzagli yet this is a very physically domineering defensive duo and will be very tough for Mexico to break down especially with the height of their forward line being rather small with Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos.
Italy’s 4-3-1-2 will see Mario Balotelli start up front alongside what we expect will be Alberto Gilardino, despite his recent sending off against the Czech Republic on June 8th in a World Cup qualifier, Cesare Prandelli urged Balotelli to learn from his mistake in getting a red card against the Czechs as well as preaching the importance of discipline ahead of the Confederations Cup, “Players need to have greater tolerance at times.” With Riccardo Montolivo struggling for fitness heading into tonight’s fixture against Mexico it is expected Prandelli will go with a midfield trio of Pirlo, De Rossi and Marchisio with the latter expected to perform a very energetic role in winning the ball back and joining El Shaarawy as an attacking two. Marchisio has been ask to play the very same role numerous times for his club side, Juventus with Arturo Vidal being able to sit and hold the space behind him. Italy are very much set up to keep possession in the 4-3-1-2 in a very similar manner to a 4-2-3-1 formation however the two up front in Balotelli and Gilardino ensure that when Italy get the ball in the final third they are not short of options and have to slow the move down especially with Mario Balotelli and Alberto Gilardino not known best for their ability to hold the ball up.
Mexico will favour the more widely used 4-2-3-1 formation in the Confederations Cup with de la Torre being known to favour such a system which utilises Javier Hernandez as the lone striker up front with there being a number of attacking midfield players to be selected to play off him. With Andres Guardado in the squad it is unlikely Mexico will go with the conventional 4-2-3-1 formation which for example we see Chelsea use, with Oscar, Mata and Hazard staying relatively close together in a narrow formation. Mexico will look to use Guardado’s pace further wide on the left hand side and as a result play a much wider set of three attacking midfield players with Giovani dos Santos sitting just behind Hernandez often running ahead of Hernandez and in behind defenders to try and score himself as well as feeding the two wider men.
Pablo Barrera formerly of West Ham United is likely to be preferred to Javier Aquino on the right hand side due to his willingness to play further wide on the flank and therefore fits into de la Torre’s preferred wider attacking midfield trio.
Herrera and the experienced Torrado are the likely midfield pair with Herrera very much the stereotypical box-to-box midfielder with the Pachuca man being expected to not only break down Italian attacks but look to get past De Rossi and Marchisio and move the ball on to either dos Santos or one of Guardado or Barrera. The quick tempo of Mexico’s play will be key to them disrupting Italy’s slow passing rhythm and Mexico may have to look to a high pressing game when off the ball to try and stop Andrea Pirlo dictating the play from deep in the Italian half. There is no doubt this Mexico side has goals in it with dos Santos being supremely creative and Javier Hernandez as everyone will all by now know having an eye for goal like nobody else. With Italy’s preferred choice of defender being physically dominant in the case of Bonucci and Chiellini there are some occasions where the two appear cumbersome and this is where the quick short passing and cleverness of dos Santos could really hurt Italy if he can find Hernandez in behind.
Prediction: It all depends on how Mexico stop Italy playing their natural passing game which Prandelli had drilled into his team since taking over in 2010, if Pirlo is allowed to play how he wants then Mexico have absolutely no chance however if de la Torre’s side can use their quickness to put the Italian defence under pressure then they are halfway there with their quality and ability to score goals being proven beforehand. I fully expect this match to hinge on the first goal with Mexico likely to go into their shells if they are to claim it with Italy also more than willing to do the same, with the competition still in its infancy I don’t expect to see too many risks taken by either side. I am going to go for Italy to take the three points in a 2-1 scoreline simply based on the quality they have across the board, especially up front with El Shaarawy and Balotelli having the potential to do something special in the blink of an eye.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4