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Wednesday June 7 2017
New and old Italy

Italy’s friendly against Uruguay provides some cross-over for the stunning Under-21 squad, writes Greg Murray.

Gigi Di Biagio named one of the strongest ever squads for the European Under-21 Championship, including the likes of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Federico Bernardeschi, Domenico Berardi, Andrea Conti and Roberto Gagliardini. Several of them won’t be able to join up with their teammates because they’re already on international duty for the senior Italy side.

The friendlies against San Marino, won 8-0 last week, and tonight’s Uruguay outing do present some cross-over for the two generations of Azzurri.

Eight debutants started last week’s 8-0 win over San Marino, with the other players boasting just three caps between them.  And yet, despite the limited strength of their opposition, the match provided a key opportunity for CT Giampiero Ventura to learn more about his team.   

Ventura has locked in the 4-2-4 formation. This offensively tweaked 4-4-2 has long been a favourite of the Genovese tactician, and so it was more a case of when he would implement it, rather than if. The fact that the experimental side fielded against San Marino set up in this formation suggests that Ventura’s ideology is now firmly in place.

In the Azzurri’s only previous run-out with the 4-2-4, a 4-0 win over Lichtenstein, Ventura showed that the formation was equally suited to his strongest XI. With two world-class centre-backs in Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, two creative central-defensive-midfielders, Daniele De Rossi and Marco Verratti, and two of Italy’s top scorers in Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile, Italy’s strength is in its spine.

With the centre of the pitch covered, the formation allows Ventura the flexibility to affect the game, with his choice of wide players. On one hand, the likes of Antonio Candreva and Jack Bonaventura provide a guarantee of hard work and defensive rigour, whilst on the other Lorenzo Insigne and Bernardeschi deliver more of an attacking threat.

The match against San Marino, and the ease with which new players adopted the new shape, is testament to the squad depth currently available to Ventura. The hat trick scored by Gianluca Lapadula, following on from a goal in each of his final two Serie A games, is a promising sign for his Coach.

It is not just up-front that Ventura has a wealth of options, as he proved in fielding a team comprised almost entirely of players promoted from the Azzurrini.  Yet, this was far from an inexperienced side. As between them, Andrea Petagna, Andrea Conti and Mattia Caldara have over 90 Serie appearances for Atalanta this season.  

Not to be outshone by the Bergamo talent factory, Sassuolo, famed for their development of young players, were represented by Berardi, Matteo Politano and Luca Pellegrini.

Berardi, captain on his debut, has already hit the 50-goal mark in Serie A, whilst Politano showed his quality with the strike of the night, a delightful chip from just inside the box. Clearly these are young players ready for the big time.

In fact, with the European Under-21 Championships kicking off on June 16, the number of Azzurrini who were capped against San Marino might’ve caused a conundrum for Di Biagio.

There were reports Milan goalkeeper Donnarumma would not be released for the Under-21 tournament, while Bernardeschi, Caldara, Conti, Gagliardini, Bernardeschi, Berardi and Petagna all arguably belong in the senior squad.

The truly remarkable thing about Di Biagio’s selection is how many of them have a very long future ahead. Donnarumma, Manuel Locatelli and Federico Chiesa are all only 18 years old, so could comfortably have been in the Under-20 World Cup. Italy face England in the semi-finals this week, so the waves of talent coming through in the Peninsula just keep coming.

Tonight’s friendly against Uruguay is a prime opportunity for Ventura to test out his new formation against a high-quality opposition. However, as the likes of Pellegrini and Caldara are in the squad, and with Donnarumma to start, clearly Ventura’s experiments are looking well beyond the short-term and could give beneficial experience to the Under-21 talents. 

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Have your say...
If all this talent is on tap then why do we keep calling back mediocre players? Midfield is such an important area. If all you have to offer constantly in this area is Montolivo even as a backup due to player injuries or whatever then I question these claims of promising future. Idk but Montolivo even barely featured for Milan this year and here we are again with this player? wtf?
on the 8th June, 2017 at 3:22pm
How does this Montolivo keep getting called back to the NT? We finally get to see the young guys in there and this nobody takes a spot away from someone who deserves to be there.
on the 8th June, 2017 at 12:12am
Kudos to FIGC for calling up a very strong contingent, injury aside to Romagnoli this is a first choice selection.

There is quality throughout the side, but more so than previous tournaments the players have had good first team experience in Serie A.

A strong Italy usually coincides with U-21 team successes, think of how many of the 2006 vintage were winners at the U-21 level, Buffon, Nesta, Cannavaro, Barzagli, Totti, Inzaghi, Gilardino, De Rossi, etc.

Hopefully so it shall be again.
on the 7th June, 2017 at 5:57pm
I've watched more football in my life than I'd like to admit. This is a solid under 21 team BUT I don't see all this talent thats been hyped. The best ITA under 21 team i watched was the 1996 one.Berardi, Bernardeschi, and gagliardini are okay players. I don't see anything phenomenal about them at all.

The latter in particular is overrated as can be. Football Italia prematurely crowning him. The best young Italian player is actually emerson palmieri. Shame about his ACL situation.
on the 7th June, 2017 at 4:11pm
Some fine talent seems to be coming through the system. How many will actually become impactful players, only time will tell. We've often had high expectations of our young prospects and many have disappointed. Even if a handful do become solid players, that will bold well for their prospects. It wold be nice to have a competitive team by Russia 2018. Perhaps Euro 2020 is the target.
on the 7th June, 2017 at 11:17am

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