Can Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck nullify Italy’s Pirlo?

Why Danny Welbeck might start over Wayne Rooney against Italy centrally


While England were ultimately unfortunate to exit Euro 2012 against Italy via penalties, they were essentially dominated by Andrea Pirlo for much of that quarter-final game. Wayne Rooney, operating just in front of England’s midfield, neglected the crucial task of picking up Pirlo from deep, and England- having started that game well- limped towards extra time and penalties.


Fast forward nine months to Old Trafford when United and Real Madrid faced off in the Champions League second round second leg (March 2013). It is often forgotten that prior to the dismissal of Nani, United were utterly dominant over Jose Mourinho’s side, primarily because Danny Welbeck- preferred over Rooney to partner Robin Van Persie up front- was outstanding in man marking Xabi Alonso out of the game. Madrid scored two quick goals once Welbeck was forced to move out wide, allowing Alonso to become free.




The point is relatively simple. Rooney has failed to convince in previous times that he can be relied upon to counter and nullify opposition playmakers high up the pitch. Welbeck, alternatively, appears to have the physical stamina, tactical awareness and positional discipline to see the task through.


If Pirlo resumes and maintains his pivotal quarterback role within Cesare Prandelli’s narrow diamond shape, then it would be wise for Roy Hodgson to eliminate him from the game- just as Ferguson did with Park Ji Sung against Milan in the Champions League in 2010. That day, Park reduced Pirlo to just 21 passes as Milan succumbed to a heavy 4-0 defeat. Post game, talking to MUTV, Ferguson remarked that:


We can talk about Rooney [who scored twice], but Park’s discipline, intelligence and sacrifice won us the match tactically. Pirlo is such an important player for them.


Pirlo seems to remember this as well, so much so that he publicly criticised Ferguson in his autobiography for it:


“Even [Sir Alex] Ferguson, the purple-nosed manager who turned Manchester United into a fearsome battleship, couldn’t resist the temptation. He’s essentially a man without blemish, but he ruined that purity just for a moment when it came to me. A fleeting shabbiness came over the legend that night. On one of the many occasions when our paths crossed during my time at Milan, he unleashed Park Ji-Sung to shadow me. The midfielder must have been the first nuclear-powered South Korean in history, in the sense that he rushed about the pitch at the speed of an electron.”



Two years ago in that quarter final, Pirlo dominated possession to the extent that he completed 133 passes- 19 more than England’s four midfielders put together- and the same amount as they attempted- 144. Whether Roy Hodgson would want to negate his offensive options by making this switch is difficult to know, but if by stopping Pirlo you essentially choke the Italian offense of any service, then maybe it’s a risk worth taking. It could allow Rooney to start wide left instead, which- considering the Italians tend to play without any width or wide players tracking back- might make for a decent attacking outlet.



Many thanks to @footballbutler for the guest post.

You can read more from them at

Follow @footballbutler on Twitter: Tactical Enthusiast who makes Mourinho look unprepared!







Posted on 29 May 2014, in Player Selection and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I could read your stuff all day. Always thoughtful, relevant, intriguing and on target. Great angle here!

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