Big brother Joleon
It is assumed that Cesare Prandelli will start with Balotelli up front despite the Italian firework having to be physically gagged by a team-mate to prevent him mouthing off towards the bench following his sublime strike against Ireland.
Balo is acclimatised to the English game and knows where our weaknesses lie; he certainly had the measure of John Terry at Stamford Bridge last season slotting home early and looking threatening throughout.
However in this instance the onus on marking the solitary front man will surely fall to Lescott who knows the genius man-child better than most. Having trained with him day-in-day-out for two years Lescott will be instinctively tuned in to the movement and propensity to dart to his right which could see Balo frustrated and drifting out into wider areas.
Anyone who has seen the behind-the-scenes footage on Manchester City’s official website will know that the squad generally regard Balotelli as a mischievous younger sibling, tolerating his erratic nature but having no qualms about bossing him about. The England man will be confident he can keep his little brat brother in his pocket.
Terry Won’t Be Turned
Even if Di Natale is preferred again to Balotelli as he was against the Irish the Azzurri have little up front to trouble Terry’s profound weaknesses namely his lack of pace and possessing the turning circle of an oil tanker. The Udinese hit man may be quick but he’s hardly the type to push up on the shoulder of the last man much preferring to seek out the channels or pick the ball up from deep. This will allow Terry – and the covering Lescott – to set themselves up and defend facing forward, something both excel at.
Had it been Spain and Torres I’d have been greatly concerned.
Or simply ‘Rooney’ as those outside commentary boxes and tabloid circles know him. The Scouse dreamweaver was as rusty as Terry Waite’s handcuffs on his return against Ukraine but having sharpened himself up in those 86 minutes now the positives from his absence can come to the fore. Having only played once in the past month we can expect him to be fresh and chomping at the bit, running the Italian back line ragged, a rearguard that is significantly weakened by the injury to Chiellini.
Having been schooled for four years in the art of calico by Capello England are now tutored by a man also grounded in the Italian mentality. Hodgson’s vast experience includes three separate stints in Serie A with Inter (twice) and Udinese and our new-found hard-to-beat carapace is directly born from these times.
Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci alluded to this on Wednesday when he pointed out that England have become ‘more Italian’ and are now ‘defending better and play on counter attacks’.
We can certainly expect anything but the depressing spectacle of the World Cup qualifier in 1997 at Wembley which saw England run around like passionate headless chickens only to be clinically undone by a Zola strike.
History is against us. Thankfully.
Italy are one of only four nations who enjoy a better head-to-head record against England (the others being Uruguay, Romania and Brazil) and the last time we beat them in a competitive game (disregarding the Tournei de France in ’97) was in 1977. Which all bodes well for a Three Lions victory.
Call me superstitious but when such facts are trotted out I always prefer to be backing the side with the inferior historical record and I bet you do too. How many times have you been happily supping a pint seeing your team coasting to a 1-0 win with ten minutes to go only to hear the idiot commentator jinx everything by stating data that suggests you’re home and dry. “Nooo, don’t say that you fool! They’re bound to concede now!”
History is against us which means the present owes us one.