With the end of the league season fast approaching, the World Cup is just around the corner. The deadline for the submission of the 30-man provisional rosters is on Tuesday, and a number of other nations have already declared who they'll be taking to Brazil for the tournament. One Napoli player has already been named to a squad, and more can certainly be expected to join Henrique as the rest of the teams are declared.
Of course, around these parts the main squad we care about is Italy. The Azzurri have been drawn in to a difficult group, and will have to do well against England, Uruguay, and Costa Rica in order to advance. That means Cesare Prandelli will have to put together as strong and well-balanced squad as possible to make the knockout rounds, as they will be unable to simply coast through the group stage on talent and pragmatism alone as they have at times in the past.
While Italy can go ahead and announce their final 23 man roster now if they want, given some of the injury situations that Italy face, naming the extra seven and waiting until closer to the final roster deadline of June 2nd makes more sense. With that in mind, let's look at a potential 30-man provisional roster for Prandelli and his staff to call in.
Gianluigi Buffon, 36, Juventus; Salvatore Sirigu, 27, Paris Saint-Germain; Mattia Perrin, 21, Genoa
Oh look, just three names. No real decisions to make here. Everyone knows that Buffon will start and Sirigu will back him up. Perrin has been preferred as the take-along third goalkeeper of late, and that will likely continue after a strong season with Genoa. A couple others might be considered (Sunderland's Vito Mannone, Atalanta's Andrea Consigli, maybe Udinese's Simone Scuffet), but Perrin is the favorite. There's no reason to carry extra keepers on the provisional roster and take spots away from outfield players to be considered, as there will be hard choices to make, especially in the midfield positions.
Center Backs: Giorgio Chiellini, 29, Juventus; Andrea Barzagli, 33, Juventus; Leonardo Bonucci, 27, Juventus; Angelo Ogbonna, 25, Juventus; Gabriel Paletta, 28, Parma; Davide Astori, 27, Cagliari
Fullbacks: Christian Maggio, 31, Napoli; Domenico Criscito, 27, Zenit St. Petersburg; Mattia De Sciglio, 21, AC Milan; Ignazio Abate, 27, AC Milan; Davide Santon, 23, Newcastle
There are ten total defenders named here, six central and four fullbacks. I would expect the final number to be seven, with one fullback and two central defenders dropped. Among fullbacks, expect Abate and his flexibility up and down the right side to be preferred over Santon's mediocre form, though Santon's considerable raw athletic talents certainly deserve the consideration of the provisional roster.
In the middle, Juventus' ridiculous Italian quality at center back will dominate that part of the squad list, though it's likely to be one of them who gets cut. Astori's indifferent (at best) form of late for Cagliari should probably see him cut as well, though he's likely to make the final squad on reputation alone, however misplaced that reputation may be.
Central: Andrea Pirlo, 34, Juventus; Claudio Marchisio, 28, Juventus; Daniele De Rossi, 30, AS Roma; Marco Verratti, 21, Paris Saint-Germain; Thiago Motta, 31, Paris Saint-Germain; Riccardo Montolivo, 29, AC Milan
Wingers: Antonio Candreva, 27, Lazio; Alessandro Florenzi, 23, AS Roma; Alessandro Diamanti, 31, Guangzhou Evergrande; Romulo, 26, Hellas Verona (on loan from Fiorentina)
This will be a tough group to trim from. Pirlo, Marchisio, and De Rossi are virtually locked-in. Veratti will almost certainly be included after a reputedly strong season at PSG (though I remain far from convinced as to how "complete" his game has become). Motta and Montolivo have long been included in the national team, but age and the numbers game could force one or both of them out.
Florenzi has only limited experience with the national team, but has had a fantastic season for Roma and even if he doesn't start, his energy and quality off the bench could be valuable in the World Cup. Diamanti offers experience and wonderful crosses, and quality set pieces should something happen to Pirlo. Candreva offers an industrious nature down the right flank and more quality than Romulo, but Romulo's no poor shake and is more versatile than his Lazio-based counterpart.
At least two cuts will come from this group, and none of them will be easy to make.
Mario Balotelli, 23, AC Milan; Mattia Destro, 23, AS Roma; Ciro Immobile, 24, Torino; Giuseppe Rossi, 27, Fiorentina; Lorenzo Insigne, 22, Napoli; Alessio Cerci, 26, Torino; Antonio Cassano, 31, Parma
Prandelli has already said he will name five strikers to his final squad, with seven to the provisional roster. Based on previous national team selections and recent form, these are the seven that seem most likely to be in that initial group. The two to be cut, to me, will come down to Rossi, Cerci, and Cassano; if Rossi is healthy enough to compete, he will be on the plane. If not, it will be down to Cerci's creativity and finishing or Cassano's experience and ability to win matches. Knowing Prandelli, Cassano would be the pick, though Cerci has more recent national team experience.