• Striking... Mario Balotelli compares haircuts with Italy team-mate Stephan El Shaarawy during training (Getty)
Italy could start Mario Balotelli in a new two-man attack when the Azzurri hosts France in a friendly in Parma on Wednesday.
Source
AFP
14 Nov 2012 - 6:00 AM  UPDATED 14 Nov 2012 - 8:07 AM

Balotelli returned to the Italy squad for the last batch of World Cup qualifiers against Armenia and Denmark after his absence in September due to an untimely eye operation.

But in England the 22-year-old Italy striker remains an enigma.

Balotelli was left out of Roberto Mancini's 18-man City squad at the weekend for a 2-1 win against Tottenham, prompting suggestions he could be set to quit the English champion.

Indeed, Balotelli attracted more headlines for showing up to training with a Bentley car that had been given a camouflage vinyl wrap treatment.

In Parma, Prandelli could help end Balotelli's frustrations by partnering him with AC Milan sensation Stephan El Shaarawy as Italy tests its World Cup credentials against the team it beat to the title in 2006.

At a training session on Monday, Balotelli played alongside Roma's Mattia Destro, but Prandelli explained: "I tried Balotelli and Destro together because they are the only ones, along with (midfielder, Emanuele) Giaccherini not to have played ninety minutes.

"But the idea is to try to unearth a new attack."

Sitting top of Group B with 10 points from four of its 10 qualifiers, Italy looks well poised to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

But Prandelli's search for the formation that works best in his all new, attack-minded team - which has replaced Italy's defensive tradition of 'catenaccio' - continues.

After steering Italy against all odds to the Euro 2012 final, and a subsequent 4-0 defeat to Spain, Prandelli has experimented with 3-5-2 and 4-3-1-2 formations.

He has made only one notable change in defence for Wednesday with Federico Peluso of Atalanta being called up to the squad in place of injured Zenit St Petersburg defender Domenico Criscito.

Peluso, who scored in the 2-0 win over Malta in September, will be vying for a place amid Juventus trio Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, as well as Roma's Federico Balzaretti.

It is Prandelli's midfield, however, that perhaps best exemplifies Italy's new approach.

Andrea Pirlo is the midfield orchestrator who provides quality at set-pieces while Juve teammate Claudio Marchisio, who plays on the right, has hit a rich vein of form and should prove a handful in and around the area.

With Daniele De Rossi on the left and Riccardo Montolivo just behind the strikers, Prandelli has a potent midfield at his disposal, although De Rossi is absent for Wednesday after being handed a three-match ban Monday.

Prandelli said: "At the start of this quest we looked for things that would propel us forward.

"And apart from our tactical game we saw that we have the potential for a really strong midfield. We've tried to develop this to create a more attractive game."

France, which has the same points at the top of Group I as fellow qualifying candidate Spain, is also in a strong qualifying position and should put Prandelli's players to the test.

Les Bleus coach Didier Deschamps is set to go with a four-man defence although questions remain over who will spearhead his attack.

Balotelli, meanwhile, could be given the chance to find out if he can produce the magic alongside 20-year-old El Shaarawy, who sits joint top of the Serie A scoring charts along with Napoli's Edinson Cavani, on eight goals from 12 games.