Ahead of their friendly meeting this week, few will need a reminder of the last time Italy and England clashed on the international stage, the Azzurri running out 2-1 winners in the Amazonian heat of Manaus. That World Cup encounter was a promising display from both sides, hinting little at the collapse which would follow as each crashed out of the tournament after massively disappointing in their remaining Group D fixtures.
Yet despite that familiarity, it will be a vastly different Italy who run out at Juventus Stadium on Tuesday, the team undergoing major changes after that embarrassing exit last summer. Cesare Prandelli departed, the coach accepting responsibility for the poor decisions he made in selecting both the squad and team, failing to deliver on the promise that they had shown under his stewardship.
While England clearly travelled to Brazil in the early stages of their latest rebuilding phase, the Azzurri were seeking to improve on their appearance in the final of Euro 2012, a blend of veteran stars and blossoming youngsters seemingly on the cusp of genuine achievement. Now they are a team in flux, with many of the more recognisable names and faces expected to be missing from the team as they take the field in Turin.
The form of Mario Balotelli – scorer of the winning goal back in June – needs little explanation, the striker arguably the most disappointing summer signing by any Premier League club after his £16m move to Liverpool. At his best, that fee represents an absolute steal for the Anfield side, yet having scored just three goals in all competitions, it looks like he will be on the move once again at the end of the season.
Daniele De Rossi has suffered a similar slump for AS Roma and was left out of the Italy squad altogether, while Andrea Pirlo failed to recover from a calf injury in time to warrant inclusion. Joe Hart will perhaps be thankful that he will not be facing the bearded midfield genius again, having been reduced to a mere spectator as a trademark free-kick from the former Milan star struck the post in Manaus. It was a similar story two years earlier when Pirlo’s chipped penalty completely fooled the goalkeeper at Euro 2012.
It was also his wonderful cross that allowed Claudio Marchisio to open the scoring last summer too, and his Juventus team-mate has been at the centre of a club versus country row this week which quickly escalated out of control. The Turin-native pulled up in training last Friday, with the Italy medical staff announcing he had suffered a torn ACL, an injury which would have not only ruled him out of next month’s Champions League Quarter Final meeting with AS Monaco, but also potentially ended his season.
Upon his arrival back at Juventus however, the Bianconeri insisted there was no such problem and stated their belief that the 29 year old would be back in action in days rather than months. Italian FA President Carlo Tavecchio told Radio Rai that Antonio Conte had "received death threats on the internet,” as a result. The coach had of course walked out on the reigning Serie A champions before the season began, replaced by Max Allegri as he in turn took over from Prandelli on the Azzurri bench.
He has taken his 3-5-2 formation with him, calling upon the framework that served him so well with Juve over the last three years, and will also field Gigi Buffon on Tuesday. The goalkeeper – now Italy’s most capped international – pulled out of Saturday’s qualifier against Bulgaria with a cold but has recovered. Salvatore Sirigu may yet make an appearance from the bench to deputise for the captain, and his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Marco Verratti is likely to be do the same in midfield.
England will need little introduction to the 22-year-old star, having watched him turn in a stellar performance to help the French side eliminate Chelsea from the Champions League last month, while injuries have also led to a recall for Davide Santon. The former Newcastle full-back has been impressive since rejoining Inter in January and, while Italy may look very different to the team they were last summer, his presence will only add further to the air of familiarity between these two teams.