Saturday July 8 2017
Assessing Ventura's Azzurri

Giampiero Ventura's first year at the helm of the Nazionale built a talented squad, but left it disjointed, writes Andrea Tallarita.

If you believe in football Voodoo, then you'll know that Italy will reach the Final of the next World Cup, and lose. This would match the pattern the Azzurri have set down since 1970, of reaching the Final once every 12 years, alternating one win and one loss.

Thus, Coach Giampiero Ventura has one devil of a tall order for his first international tournament. And yet some are expecting the opposite, considering his lack of experience (and that of his favourite players), with fears that he may repeat the embarrassing performances of 2010 and 2014.

Having had one year to assess his work, we can confirm the old adage that the truth falls somewhere in the middle. Ventura's tenure so far has been characterised on the one hand by an impressive development of the young horses, and on the other by a worrisome tactical indecisiveness.

Although both are staples of the 69-year-old's tenure so far, it seems that only the former has garnered some attention. This is understandable, especially since Azzurri fans have been starved of generational renewal for a very long time.

Some of it is just good luck. It is sufficient to look at the squad fielded by the Azzurrini for the last Under-21 Euros to see how many of them are established Serie A starters, already carrying a handsome price on the transfer market. But some of it must undeniably be credited to Ventura's foresight.

Drawing on his former Torino team as well as the phenomenal football schools represented by Sassuolo and Atalanta, Ventura has already called up the likes of Andrea Belotti, Roberto Gagliardini, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Federico Bernardeschi and Alessio Romagnoli, among others.

In combination with a bloom of players aged 24 to 28, like Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne, and backed by a phalanx of veterans like Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Daniele De Rossi, the Azzurri have nothing if not great promise.

In fact, one of the best things about the story of this group is that it isn't going to end with the World Cup in 2018, but will continue, stronger each time, for at least another two major tournaments. The same could not be said about Antonio Conte's nevertheless remarkable run at Euro 2016.

There are, as always, doubts and questions about how these ragamuffins of the sport will perform on the big stage, but that's part of the beauty. Besides, the legitimate doubts surrounding this team come in a different form.

What worries me about Ventura's Azzurri is that they still seem to have little or no tactical identity. It's fine not to have settled on a formation, and it's just as well to have more than one tactical approach. It's something else entirely, particularly at this point time, to have no clue as to how your team will eventually be deployed.

The former Torino tactician started out using Conte's 3-5-2, then scrapped it and tried every formation in the book. He lately seems to have settled on the 4-2-4, but there are important reasons why that formation cannot work, at least not without some very major alterations.

In most cases, a year is enough for any CT to impress their tactical identity upon the Azzurri. It may not be complete, but it is there. In Ventura's case, I have absolutely no idea what shape Italy will take next summer, and if he does, then it's not shining through in his work. I haven't seen a comparable tactical parable since Roberto Donadoni, and we all know how that went.

I am not trying to be negative for negativity's sake. But as much as Italy's strength lies in the energy, the talent and the drive of its newcomers, likewise their weakness is in their lack of tactical resolution, at least for now.

The problem extends beyond a simple matter of formation and on to how these hyped young footballers can combine their styles of play. Take Verratti, for instance, who is arguably the most talented of the bunch. Under Ventura, he seemed most successful as the advanced part of a three-man midfield triangle, so essentially a trequartista.

The trouble is that fielding him up there seems to rule out utilising Bernardeschi, who usually starts out on the wing and drifts into trequartista positions himself, also taking up the job of ball-distribution. The Fiorentina youth is arguably second only to Verratti himself in terms of talent, so it would be a shame to have to bench one of them.

Insigne is another player who may have integration issues. He operates best as a wide, penetrative winger, backed by the safety net of a defensively able midfield. Yet this is certainly not the type of midfield we may expect from a 4-2-4 formation, nor does Verratti meet those specifications. Once again, though, the player's sheer skill means that he cannot be wasted on the bench.

Several other Azzurri present us with similar quandaries. Belotti doesn't work too well next to Ciro Immobile (though in this case there's a clear solution: just bench the Lazio striker). Stephan El Shaarawy has fine potential, but he is tactically very inflexible. Gagliardini hasn't done too well next to De Rossi, although they haven't been tested enough.

It's not enough to have a talented group of athletes, they must also play at their best together. As things stand, it seems almost inevitable that gathering all these players together on to the pitch at the same time will force several or even all of them to play out of position, or in roles that do not optimise their skill.

Ultimately, Ventura's first year served to unearth a very promising squad, which is nonetheless still a long way from knowing how to play together. If the Coach does not address these deficiencies quickly, Spain will make short work of his beautiful Azzurri(ni) in September. Still, if this comes as a wake-up call, it may be almost desirable. 

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Have your say...
A win against Spain in the upcoming WCQ, would sure up the Azzurris self belief and launch them towards next years WC in Russia. The 12 year cycle may or may not be broken but a squad that has talent such as Buffon, Bonucci, De Rossi, Veratti, Candreva, Insigne, Chiesa, Bernadeschi, Belotti, etc are more than capable of continuing the 12 year cycle. Lets not forget Italy are a major tournament team, so anyone who understimates them, does so at their own peril.
on the 15th July, 2017 at 3:19pm




on the 11th July, 2017 at 1:20pm
U21s highlighted the issues. All overrated. We have no chance.
on the 10th July, 2017 at 12:57pm

(Perin, Donnarumma)

Abate, Bonucci, Chiellini, Criscito
(Zappacosta, Rugani, Romagnoli, De Sciglio)

Candreva, De Rossi, Marchisio
(Florenzi, Verratti, Bonaventura)

Bernardeschi, Immobile, Insigne
(Berardi, Belotti, El Shaarawy)
on the 10th July, 2017 at 11:35am

Belotti. Bernardeschi.
Spinazzola. Marchisio. Verratti. De Rossi. Conti.
Chiellini. Bonucci. Romagnoli.

Bernardeschi should be the SS, while Immobile would be a nice asset off the bench with Gabbiadini late in games. Candreva, Insigne, and Berardi could be inserted on the flanks if we want to go more offensive. 4 2 4 won't work against any decent side.
on the 10th July, 2017 at 2:49am
I'll bet Eder makes that team and plays! A guy the rest of you forgot... Eder seems to be a fixture on Italy the past few years... Not a big fan but somehow he plays alright for italy
on the 10th July, 2017 at 2:43am
I guess we have to see how he can maximize potential of all youngsters and also get the best out of veterans for whom 2018 will be the last chance.
That includes Buffon, BBC, DDR, CM, and not sure if their class will be replaced by the youngsters in the future, so have a lot of hope for next year.
on the 9th July, 2017 at 8:19pm
4-3-3 / 3-4-3 seems to be the formation that'll be a mix of solidity and flair in attack, but Ventura has so far always had 2 forwards.
But a DDR, CM and MV midfield looks interesting if all are fit. Pellegrini can be good with a good year at Roma.
We need to see how he does vs Spain. I don't think 4-2-4 will work, not for 90 mins.
I'd like to see Rugani And Romagnoli integrated along with Bonucci, as Chiellini doesn't play more than a game per week and Barzagli also has become slow.
on the 9th July, 2017 at 8:14pm
@Tommaso - I really like your selection and formation. Pending everyone is healthy by fall and next year, we may have a decent chance to get to the knock out stages. Mind you, we haven't gotten out of the group stages in the past 2 world cups. Extremely unacceptable......
on the 9th July, 2017 at 3:46pm
@dan they were and some of still are exceptional but for me in that tournament every single player for Italy was equal in terms of ability. None of them had a stand out tournament in comparison to the other team mates.

@luciano s even in club football verratti is considered one of the best midfield players in the world if they he ends up going to Spain i can only see that reputation being enhanced. As for bonucci i regularly hear British pundits talking about his quality as a top cb
on the 9th July, 2017 at 3:24pm
424 against the weaker teams, and 433/352 against the stronger sides. If Ventura uses 424 against Spain we will get ripped apart. I like Tommaso's selection. If Ventura must insist on 424, then I would like to see him drop Immobile and field a more composed and creative forward just in behind Belloti.
on the 9th July, 2017 at 10:10am
@Paolo, no exceptional players?? Buffon, Nesta, Cannavaro, Zambrotta, Pirlo, DDR, ADP, & Totti were all world class players in their positions. Granted, Totti and Nesta were not 100% fit in that tournament, but there is no disputing their quality.
on the 9th July, 2017 at 9:59am
Paolo - I did say 'tournament players'; even Rossi and Baggio were subbed in the early rounds. My point is players like Pirlo were viewed with admiration and even jealously in some cases (it's been revealed FA officials made it a priority to find an English Pirlo). We don't have that now; note I said 'now'. My hope and dream, being a ridiculously passionate Italy fan, is that players like Verratti and Bernadeschi do indeed make us the envy of the soccer world. But they only have a year to do it.
on the 9th July, 2017 at 9:46am
meant to shore up the defense after the 4-0 v Spain n after Montolivo's injury he changed formation n Italy looked toothless n disjointed! Verratti n Pirlo were good at keeping the ball v Uruguay (they run rings round em) but they had no outlet n I don't think u could only blame Balo for it n Balo is still one of Italy's few genuine game changers. I'd start with Belotti atm tho!
Keep giving experience to the youth n the right formation will come. Italy just wanna make sure they qualify first!
on the 9th July, 2017 at 9:11am
It's not just good luck either. There has been a VAST n distinct change of attitude towards youth since Ventura took over!? n there r still another 12 month before the WC, who knows there may be more 1st team certainties then! I like Rugani but he looked sluggish in the Euro U-21 like Donna! They do need a structure n identity wi tactical flexibility of course but I hope he doesn't change too much as Prandelli did in the last WC, Italy were bold n free flowing in the 2012 Euros n then in a move
on the 9th July, 2017 at 7:43am
Buffon, Verratti, Bonucci, maybe Chiellini, De Rossi? Belotti? r the only ones maybe sure of a spot that I can think of! It will take time to integrate the young ones tho. Tactically, I think he's only using a 4-2-4 atm to try n outscore Spain n Verratti looked out of position when he played as the most advanced mid in the friendly v Holland n Verratti played wi Insigne at Pescara so surely he can co-exist wi Berna who can play on either wing or centrally as n attacking mid or 2nd striker.
on the 9th July, 2017 at 7:36am
Yes. We all know Italy's proud record of a final every 12 years but that cycle may have ended now. When they won in 06 so many ghosts were put to rest (like winning on pens) that there was a full circle kinda feeling!
I just hope they do better than the last 2 n I think they will. In 06 they were the strongest squad n that side had a remarkable spine with some undisputed WC talents n it just felt like Italy's time whereas now there r many options with much potential but few guaranteed starters
on the 9th July, 2017 at 7:18am
its simple isn't it? 4-3-3 is the way to go surely.


Conti, Bonucci, Chiellini, Spinazzola

Verratti, De Rossi, Pellegrini

Bernadeschi, Bellotti, Insigne
on the 9th July, 2017 at 6:54am
I wanna see how a 3-4-3 would play out, Insinge, Belotti, Bernardeschi, with Spinazzola, Veratti, (Marchiso or Florenzi when fit ?) Conti, and the BBC backline. Thoughts ?
on the 9th July, 2017 at 12:17am
@luciano s in reference to 2006 there were no exceptional players they won it as a team probably why they had 11 different goalscorers. Cannavarro attitude is for me what won him the ballon dor. As for this italy side the likes of bonucci verratti buffon could be the best players in the tournament in their relevant positions.
on the 8th July, 2017 at 8:28pm
All Azzurri fans know about the 12 year equation and how we're set to lose the final in 2018 (probably to those lucky Brazilians) but looking back at our illustrious history we had Rivera and Riva in 70, Rossi and Scirea in 82, in 94 there was Baggio and in 2006, Cannavaro and Pirlo. At those times we had some of the best tournament players in the world. Can we say the same for this squad? Ventura's main job is to make his young stallions believe - once he's done this, the formation will follow.
on the 8th July, 2017 at 4:03pm
The fulfilment of the client agreement is largely met Andrea, I want an article to read and you supply letters and punctuation with grammatical correctness for $'s. After that, what greater/finer point are you making: the Azzurri better be ready? And you be believe you have sounded the bells with your insight as it should 'comes as a wake-up call'. Well if I Venture that preparation is exactly what is preoccupying Ventura, what do we make of your 'Casandra call'?
on the 8th July, 2017 at 11:54am
In a back 4 system, I'd play Bernardeschi as left wingback/defender, for Italy (and for his next team), Garth Bale and Bernardeschi have both moved forward on the pitch, have done some extraordinary things there, but I think they're most effective in their original positions...
on the 8th July, 2017 at 8:50am

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