Thanks to their virtual no-show performance against Costa Rica last week, Italy now faces an uncertain World Cup future. While Italy need only to manage a draw against Uruguay to advance, you can make damn sure that Luis Suarez and Co will throw everything they have at the Azzurri, as their only hope for survival is to defeat the Italians tomorrow.
Given those stakes, it's only fitting that Cesare Prandelli experiment with a new tactical formation, right?
While the statistics are somewhat favorable to the Italians, Prandelli's posse has certainly failed the eye test, looking susceptible at the back and impotent up front, and averaging only 12 shots per game, two-thirds of which have been off target. For comparisons sake, Mario Balotelli averaged 5.5 shots per match and put nearly 50% of those on target this past season for Milan.
Speaking of Super Mario, Prandelli's reported switch to the 3-5-2 was made with the Milan striker in mind. With Ciro Immobile joining him up top, Balotelli should have more freedom to operate and space to find the ball; combine that with Immobile's 22 domestic goals this season, and Italy might have a chance of matching the Uruguayan duo of Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
That doesn't mean, however, that this 3-5-2 is an ideal setup for Prandelli. Rumors of this possible switch were floated in the media almost immediately after Italy's loss to Chile, with Daniele De Rossi set to reprise his role as centerback, a duty he performed admirably in Euro 2012.
However, now that DDR has been deemed unfit, Prandelli will rely on the Juventus trio of Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci to man the backline. For some reason or another, Prandelli hasn't had faith in Bonucci, as indicated by his initial plan to place DDR in the heart of defense over the Juve man, and Bonucci has yet to feature in this World Cup, so keep an eye on him as he acclimates to the pace of this match, which has the potential to be high octane.
While Leo will be making his World Cup debut, Matteo Darmian and Mattia De Sciglio will make the shift to wingback. While it remains to be seen how the latter two will adapt to this new dynamic, with the amount of Juventus players in this lineup, placing them in their more familiar roles can only stand to benefit Italy.
The big loss for Italy, as we're all well aware, is that of De Rossi. While Italy's back three should be able to handle Uruguay's two strikers, at least in terms of outnumbering them, without De Rossi, Italy's midfield is lacking someone to do the dirty work, someone to prevent the back three from being overwhelmed; a matter made worse by the pairing of Andrea Pirlo and Marco Verratti, neither of whom are known for defensive contributions.
On the surface it would seem that these changes will breed enough familiarity for the Juve crew to help Italy manage a draw, but the tenor of this match will surely change the longer it remains scoreless and/or deadlocked.
Uruguay are backed into the proverbial corner and will come out swinging against the Azzurri, who will be betting on this new formation to bend but not break.