So much for continuity. Only on Friday Cesare Prandelli insisted that he would not be changing his formation. "We must keep the faith," said the 54-year-old. "The players believe in this way of playing and a coach shouldn't go against that."
Yet, if the whispers are to be believed, and they are usually right, the Italy coach is going to do just that and make sweeping changes to his personnel and system. Out will go the 3-5-2 and in will come the preferred 4-3-1-2 with which his Azzurri conducted such a convincing qualifying campaign.
It certainly makes sense to field the fit-again Andrea Barzagli in defence rather than Daniele De Rossi, who, despite committed displays against Spain and Croatia, has been played out of position in the middle of a back three. Prandelli said Italy instinctively dropped too deep after taking the lead in both those matches and so by deploying De Rossi in his preferred central midfield role he will hope his team can hold their ground higher up the pitch and inflict damage more easily from an advanced position.
Emanuele Giaccherini and Christian Maggio are expected to make way for Federico Balzaretti and Ignazio Abate, who are both used to being deployed in a back four. Giaccherini and Maggio have acquitted themselves well going forward, but are defensively less proficient and have had to cover big distances in their energy-sapping wing-back roles.
Prandelli said he would analyse scientific data to see which players are in the best physical shape before choosing his side, but an injury to Mario Balotelli has made his mind up for him in attack. The Manchester City FC striker picked up a knee problem yesterday, which is not thought to be too serious, yet Super Mario's goalless displays had already raised doubts over the likelihood of him retaining his place.
Antonio Di Natale is in pole position to start, even if Prandelli said on Friday: "If you play Di Natale, you must set up the whole team to play around him". Whether a 4-3-1-2 best suits Serie A's top scorer remains to be seen. Indeed the coach could pull a rabbit out of the hat by including Bologna FC's Alessandro Diamanti, who has looked sharp in training. "I was going to bring him on against Croatia," said Prandelli, "but when they scored I had to have a rethink."
Clearly the former ACF Fiorentina trainer has had another change of mind and believes that fresh legs and a return to his favoured, more offensive, formation represents Italy's best chance of overcoming a Republic of Ireland side who have conceded seven goals in two Group C games. If Italy are to go out, they will go out all guns blazing.
Expected lineup: Buffon; Abate, Barzagli, Chiellini, Balzaretti; Marchisio, Pirlo, De Rossi; Thiago Motta; Cassano, Di Natale.
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