Next up in our look forward to the World Cup to help fantasy managers select their squads for our fast approaching new game, we will take a look at England’s opponents in their first game in Manaus on 14th June, the four-time world champions Italy. Coach Cesare Prandelli has thus far named a provisional 30-man squad, and so there will be some second guessing as to which players will actually make the arduous journey across the pond to feature in this year’s edition of football’s biggest spectacle, and it is easy to suspect that one or two of these players will feature in many a manager’s fantasy team when the new game launches on 3rd June.
Three goalkeepers have been named thus far, and it seems sensible to assume that all three will make the trip to South America. Juventus stopper Gianluigi Buffon, Salvatore Sirigu of Paris Saint-Germain and Genoa’s 21-year-old custodian Mattia Perin have all been awarded a place in the provisional squad, and it really seems nonsensical to travel with only two – so all three will feature. As far as the starting lineup goes, it seems logical for fantasy gaffers to go for Buffon. The legendary stopper will likely make this his fourth World Cup as Italy’s first-choice, and with 139 caps to his name it is easy to see why. However, looking on the basis of fantasy performance this season, it may (or may not) surprise some to know that, statistically at least, Buffon should be warming the bench. Perin has 195 points earned this season, which pales in comparison to Buffon’s 520, but it is actually Sirigu who has had the best season of the three.
With 19 clean sheets from his 37 starts, and only 23 goals conceded in total, the 27-year-old appears to be Buffon’s natural successor to the Italian no. 1 jersey, but whether he can snatch a start against England ahead of the Juve keeper is somewhat doubtful. Buffon to start.
Moving towards the defensive line, 10 are currently in the provisional squad – Christian Maggio seems the natural choice for the right-back berth given his international experience with 33 caps. Only 40 points to his name does not necessarily instill the utmost confidence for fantasy managers, but he has a great shot at being the man on the defensive flank. While Giorgio Chiellini could fill in at left-back, he plays his best defensive stuff in the middle, but Andrea Barzagli (260 points) and Leonardo Bonucci (300 points) already occupy these spots. Chiellini’s 390 points from 31 starts inspire confidence, and so he will likely start. These are the four most capped defenders in the provisional squad, but 21-year-old Mattia De Sciglio can do a job as a young full-back. He has nine caps already, and given that he only made his international debut in 2013 his presence in the squad is prominent. His domestic form hasn’t been great for any fantasy managers with him in their side this season though – despite 15 starts and one sub appearance, he has accrued a grand total of five points to his credit. Much of this is due to four yellow and one red card, 20 goals conceded and only four clean sheets – if Prandelli is looking for a secure back four against the Three Lions, go with the first four mentioned.
Given that Prandelli likes to employ a 4-2-3-1 formation, the next task would be for him to identify two defensive midfielders and three attacking midfielders to complement the lone striker up front. Antonio Candreva seems a sure bet to start, with his 395 points this season the highest among the Azzuri’s midfield, so he will likely get a berth supplying the striker from the right wing. 35-year-old veteran Andrea Pirlo could well feature, and his 290 points this season (coupled with 29 starts) proves that stamina and ability does not have to dimish with age. He looks likely to partner Daniele De Rossi in those defensive midfield roles – a combination that will surely test England’s capabilities to their very sinews. De Rossi has 175 points domestically this season – he could prove a good inclusion, though other Italian names have earned more.
Former Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani seems like a good shout in the central attacking midfield role. 205 points with Fiorentina indicates a decent season, with six goals in 31 games. A single assist may count against him featuring in this position, but he will likely be especially up for a game against his former club’s home nation – maybe that added bit of spice could swing Prandelli’s mindset to Aquilani’s inclusion.
Claudio Marchisio could be employed out on the left wing – his 235 points have contributed superbly to anyone who has him in their team, though his nature is as more of a defensive player, so if anyone is likely to give De Rossi or – arguably more likely – Pirlo a run for their money for a start it is him. Perhaps it may be best to stick with that the players know, but Marchisio could fit in well on the left wing. Expect a start for the Juventus man. His 41 caps continue the experienced theme in the squad, and at the age of 28 he is arguably at his peak round about now.
Going out on a limb, Prandelli may look for three or four strikers in his final squad, as the emphasis on packing the middle of the park would necessitate far more midfielders, but there still needs to be options up front to keep the players – and of course opponents – guessing. The three likely names are Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli, Giuseppe Rossi and Alessio Cerci the likely candidates.
Much in the vein of the goalkeeping spots, Cerci has actually had the best domestic season of the four – 400 points for Torino, despite holding a value of “only” €10.50m – his points-to-value ratio is a lovely round 100, and 13 goals from 35 starts is solid, if not spectacular.
The striker is particularly tough to call, but on this occasion it could be a good shout to go with Giuseppe Rossi. 355 fantasy points is far from a bad thing, 16 goals in 19 starts as well as three assists would surely give him a real chance to shine against England – home of his former club, Man Utd.