Serie A Blog: Finale di Coppa Italia leaves little to fear for Trap's men
With 9 of the 32 players in Cesare Prandelli's preliminary squad playing with either Napoli or Juventus, a trip to the Coppa Italia final to check them out seemed a good idea...
An excuse to travel to the Eternal City is never needed but last Sunday's Finale di Coppa Italia provided one anyway. With Juventus seeking an unbeaten league and cup double, a feat never achieved before by an Italian side, as well as bidding a final, final farewell to Alessandro Del Piero, the Bianconeri had much to play for.
For Napoli, the highs of progression from their Champions League group of death which included eventual finalists Bayern Munich, eventual Premier League champions Manchester City and Spanish side Villareal were tempered by a cruel extra-time defeat by the ultimate competition winners Chelsea.
And unlike their Turin opponents, the Partenopei also entered this Coppa Italia final knowing that this year's Champions League adventure would not be repeated next season following their 5th place Serie A finish.
The possible consequential summer break-up of their 'Three Tenors' attack of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marek Hamsik and Edinson Cavani also meant that this opportunity of silverware, their first since the Diego Maradona days of 1990, could not be wasted.
So following a long Saturday spent at the Rome Masters watching Russian blondes and an even longer night spent in the Fiddler's Elbow near the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore watching Leinster/Ulster and Chelsea/Bayern, Sunday was set aside in preparation for the main event.
Match tickets for the Tribuna Monte Mario were checked, passports for ID were pocketed, colours were hidden and prayers were said that we wouldn't end up on the wrong side of some excitable carbinieri or tifosi.
Of primary interest to Irish fans, the 9 players from the two finalists that made it onto Prandelli's preliminary Euro 2012 squad were as follows; goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli); defenders: Cristian Maggio (Napoli), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus) and midfielders: Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus) and Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus).
Of the Juve players named in the squad, the following took to the field that night; defenders Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci as well as midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio.
The omission of Gigi Buffon was purely down to Marco Storari being the regular shot-stopper for Juve in this competition but the omission of Giorgio Chiellini was due to a thigh injury sustained in the final Serie A game against Atalanta, while Giaccherini was on the bench.
Chiellini is set to miss the two pre-tournament friendlies against Luxembourg on 29 May and Russia on 1 June but is confident of a return to action for the start of the competition proper.
“I will be ready at the right time,” Chiellini said to Corriere dello Sport. “If I don't take part in the two friendly games prior to the tournament then it will be as a precautionary measure. I want to be ready to take on Spain on 10 June and I will be.”
Here's a shot of our man Mark in the stands for the game
Chiellini has been an almost ever-present in the Juve defence this year, only missing 4 league games and was central to Juve having the best defensive record this season with only 20 goals conceded in 38 matches. So his recovery will be of vital importance to the Azzurri and his loss would be a huge boost to Ireland's chances.
Should Pirlo start as expected against Ireland, Trap will hope that his performance is more like that of the Coppa Italia final than his form in Serie A. Pirlo was not his usual metronomic self as passes were often off-target and overhit. His cause wasn't helped by the sentimental selection of Del Piero which left Pirlo's usual target of Mirko Vucinic or Alessandro Matri resting on the bench.
But Pirlo has shown enough this season to make Milan regret his loss and Juve celebrate his arrival. His deep-lying position will make it impossible for Ireland's two holding midfielders to get close so it will be up to one of our two strikers to drop deep and try and give Pirlo less time to pick out passes.
While Pirlo will play too deeply for our midfield to pressure, one player they will more likely have to deal with directly is the Juve no. 8 Claudio Marchisio. The 26-year old midfielder scored 9 goals in 36 games this season, more than Vucinic, and in the final last Sunday was his usual dynamic self and was denied a clear penalty following a late challenge by Salvatore Aronica near the end of the first half.
Should he play against Ireland, it will be interesting to see how Trap plans to pick him up as his movement is excellent and he cannot be allowed the freedom to shoot.
Both Napoli players named in the squad took to the field in the Olimpico with Morgan De Sanctis in goals and Cristian Maggio at right wing-back. Buffon will probably get the nod in goals ahead of De Sanctis but should anything happen to Gigi, Ireland should not get too excited as De Sanctis would be a more than capable replacement, if a little less commanding of his area than the Azzurri No. 1.
Watch out for Maggio
However, Christian Maggio is a player who Ireland should pay heed to. He has been favoured in the right back position by Prandelli having taken over the position from Gianluca Zambrotta. With 16 goals in 123 appearances for Napoli, he offers an attacking threat and Napoli's slide in the Serie A table this year coincided with the loss of Maggio through injury.
Indeed, things were looking good for Napoli in their Champions League elimination game against Chelsea until Maggio limped off in the 37th minute. The physical presence and work rate exhibited by James McClean might offer a better counter-measure than the more lightweight Aiden McGeady as Maggio tries to raid down the right.
While there was a lot of Italian quality on display in the Olimpico, ultimately is was the Three Tenors who were the stars of the show – and not one of them is Italian. Lavezzi won the penalty which was converted by Cavani and Hamsik added the final flourish as Napoli ran out 2-0 winners.
A Napoli win on the night was richly deserved as they offered more threat from the very start of the game. Juve coach Antonio Conte must surely rue starting his 'Coppa' line-up rather than his 'Serie A' line-up when there was history to be made. But justice was probably done as this Juve side, while having much to admire, do not really deserve to go into the record books as the only unbeaten double-winning side.
For Napoli, the club has risen from the ashes following bankruptcy in 2004 and the silverware won on Sunday night was just reward for one of the most entertaining sides in Italy.
For Ireland, the two of most concern from Sunday night will be Maggio attacking down the right hand side and Marchisio playing through the middle. Maggio we can deal with, I'm not so sure about Marchisio.
Finally, well done to the Juve fans. You might have lost on the pitch but in the stands, it was a whitewash.