When Roy Hodgson names his team against Italy, you can almost guarantee that we will either be in a flat 4-4-2 formation or a variation of the 4-3-3. Personally I'm putting my money on it being a 4-3-3 with Sturridge being flanked by Rooney and Welbeck and a combination in midfield that includes Gerrard and Carrick.
There isn't anything wrong with that, the 4-3-3 worked well for us against Poland in our final qualifying game, although that seemed to turn into more of a 4-4-1-1 with Welbeck playing left midfield, Townsend playing right midfield and Rooney just in behind Sturridge. Same can be said for the game against Montenegro which was again a 4-4-2/4-4-1 formation.
However when researching the Italian national team, I have seen just how many formations they have played dating back to the 2010 World Cup and switching at will throughout their undefeated qualification campaign. You have anything from a 3-5-2 to a 4-2-3-1. One regular feature is the need to control the midfield.
This is where England may well come unstuck against the talented Italians. Regardless of formation they play, they will try to control the centre of the park with Pirlo, Rossi and Marchisio. However they have such a talented crop of players they can quickly switch from a 3-5-2, to a 4-2-3-1 or even a 4-3-2-1 if they are willing to sacrifice a little bit of width to control the centre of the park. With Balotelli as their feature striker and the likes of Montolivo, Candreva and Giaccherini supporting him through the middle with Lorenzo Insigne and Stephen El Shaarway supplying the attacking threat down the wings, Italy are a very dangerous unit.
4-3-1-2 was for the formation used during the Euro 2012 final defeat to Spain, and Spain exposed this formation for it's lack of width, adapting to the formation and focusing their passing down the flanks, away from a lot of their central midfield strength. This is exactly what England are going to have to do if they hope to beat the Italians in Manaus.
The one important area for both teams in the opening game is possession. In the soaring heat you don't want to be chasing down the football. You want to have controlled possession, so I would imagine Italy will go with a packed midfield with Pirlo, De Rossi, Marchisio and Montolivo. I wouldn't be surprised to see them play a 4-5-1 formation to dominate possession in midfield. He could move back to a 3-5-2 formation, something we saw Coach Cesare Prandelli do against Spain in the Confederations cup, that worked well removing the dominance Spain possessed in midfield while not sacrificing width. However when they tried it against Croatia at Euro 2012, they were by far second best and had to revert to the tried and tested 4-3-1-2 formation.
The problem that England face is that Italy can play a number of formations and they have tested these formations throughout qualifying. We on the other hand don't have a great deal of versatility and our most natural formation will see us concede too much possession in midfield in a climate where that can be deadly. Roy needs to start looking at formations that enable England to control midfield without being exposed down the flanks, could be dare try a 3-5-2 formation? I highly doubt it, but a 4-3-2-1 could control the midfield battle where a 4-2-3-1 could allow us to control both inside and out with some discipline.