Tuesday September 5 2017
Little Italy

The Azzurri stuttering their way to qualification for a major tournament is no reason to panic, says Giancarlo Rinaldi, but business as usual.

If Italian fans were hoping for a big reaction after the misery they endured in Spain, they will have been sorely disappointed. Even against more humble opposition, the much-criticised 4-2-4 formation failed to deliver the tonic the tifosi craved after a performance which had left them feeling distinctly queasy. And yet, somehow or another, by the end of the night against Israel, they were a shaky step closer to the World Cup next summer.

For those of us who have followed Azzurri qualification campaigns for any length of time, this stuttering sort of progress is really no surprise. Over the years we have got used to watching them stumble across the finish line like Dorando Pietri at the London Olympics in 1908. If it is thorough thrashings and comfortable conquests you crave, you really should be looking elsewhere.

But where did this double-header really leave us, other than one point away from a play-off place? The bubbly enthusiasm of a run of good results seems to have fizzled out quicker than cheap prosecco. Has Giampiero Ventura gone from being the right man to bring through young stars to a Coach way out of his depth? Have his tactics hamstrung his best performers or have they let him down on the big stage? Or is the inconvenient truth that this Italy side is simply not good enough?

Some people will tell you any or possibly all of the above and - quite probably - most vociferously. Then they will pick out their least favourite performer - usually according to their club allegiances - and have a go at them too. These are the pastimes Italian fans and pundits have been indulging in since the game began. Some things, like Gigi Buffon’s passion for the national anthem, will never change.

Yet there were some lessons to be learned in the evidence before our eyes if we care to make a more measured judgment. The formation used singularly failed to get the best out of a squad which is surely capable of better than it delivered against Spain and, for the first 45 minutes at least, against Israel. The only options are for the players to adjust, the personnel to change or the Coach to show greater flexibility. You will hear plenty of loud shouts for each and every option.

Personally, I would not hit the outright panic button just yet. Just as Italy did not look like future World Cup winners to me during their more convincing displays, I am not sure they are quite the no-hopers some have branded them after recent performances. I could make the same argument for Ventura. Haven’t we been here before quite a few times, after all?

History has taught us that, with the Azzurri more than most teams, it doesn’t matter how they get to a major competition - simply that they manage to get there. Often their most limp and lifeless qualification campaigns can be the precursor to wonderful tilts at major titles. They have made a habit of confounding those who have written them off in quite spectacular fashion.

Italian Federation president Carlo Tavecchio described it as an apocalyptic event if Italy were to fail to qualify and, although it was a little over-dramatic, he had a point. The play-offs are where this team - and Ventura - should finally be judged.

Winning a group with Spain in it was always likely to be no more than a 50-50 bet at best, but failure to beat one of the other group runners-up would be truly disastrous. There will be those who can tell you with certainty already that this Coach or these players are not good enough to achieve that goal and make any impact in Russia, but I am not one of them. Time has taught me that such absolutes can often leave you with a significant slice of frittata on your face. And, just as often, their purveyors are willing to switch opinion swiftly if events begin to make them look foolish.

Beating Israel was never going to dispel the doubts which brewed up in Spain, but at least, in their usual half-baked way, Italy got the job done. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t emphatic but - with Albania failing to beat Macedonia - it was just about enough.

The law of minimo sforzo - minimum effort - was more or less observed. And, if these latest displays are anything to go by, don’t expect the play-off games to be anything other than close. This is the Italian way, folks, and it has taken them an awful long way an awful lot of times before.

Have your say...
Ventura is moving away from a 3-5-2 to say he is different then Conte. Well the boys sure showed he was different then Conte. It wasn't just the formation why they lost vs Spain & poor vs Israel, it was the lack of passion. Conte says the coach is like a tailor with the talent around, so i would go 3-4-3. It protects Bonunci in a 4 man unit, allows Verrati freedom to act like a one and puts Insigne in the starting 11. Won't happen because Ventura needs his boy Immobile to start.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 9:51pm
Wow, pretty much agree with most of the comments here (minus the Balotelli callup), all I will add is that Ventura is a provincial coach and the 4-2-4 formation will get us knocked out in the group stage, regardless of opponents. Its time to play with either a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2, using our strength in defense and midfield to our advantage. Had we done this against Spain, we would have played a much more even game, and Veratti wouldn't have looked so vulnerable
on the 6th September, 2017 at 9:43pm
With Veratti suspended for the next qualifier whats the midfield going to look like ?? Hope Marchisio is fit by then and Ventura leaves behind his stubbornness. If we see through the last 2 qualifiers then really big test waiting in the playoffs - Sweden, Rep. Of Ireland, Holland, Croatia maybe even Wales
on the 6th September, 2017 at 8:25pm
If we pick this team we'll definitely win the world cup in Russia.

Gentile Baresi Scirea Maldini P.
Conti B. Pirlo Tardelli Rivera
Baggio R.

Seriously, its not about systems! It's players! You fit the players in the system not the other way around. The players looked listless against Israel and the passing was so slow! We've never been a pacey nation but we've always had players who could combine with style. I'm worried it's going to be a quiet WC summer, for the first time ever.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 8:10pm
The biggest problem with Italy is Ventura. His tactics are horrible, how do you play two midfielders against Spain. Italy has talent and lets not forget, serie A has been to two of the last three CL finals. If Conte was our coach we would be doing a lot better. As an long time fan I remember Italy always making it difficult. Bring back Balo and give Gio a shot. Italy will qualify and will have a good WC. Ventura needs to adapt his strategy according to the team he is playing.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 6:38pm
Since Marchisio can pick good passes forward. And also Jorginho, so they should be selected. But anyway the 3-4-3 / 4-3-3 will work better, especially if top quality opponents like Spain / Germany cram the midfield.
Or put Bonaventura and Florenzi in 4-2-4 since they do well central midfield also.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 6:26pm
@Juvenitini86, where did I say that I was tired of words like racist? I said that I was tired of the flippant way in which they are thrown around these days.

An emphatic no to Balotelli. Our most naturally gifted forward probably, but not our best Sig Raiola. He is too much of a liability. I would rather go with a less talented player, that at least puts the effort in every game & sets a good example to the younger players, rather than setting dangerous precedents.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 6:24pm
But I don't like the coach's stubbornnes for this formation. So was Conte with 3-5-2, but he was a winner. I think 4-3-3 will be better with attacking wingers. And 3-4-3, can also work. It'll allow Bonucci to push forward when passing, or 1 of the other CB's, to support DeRossi and Verratti.
These 2 looked isolated in 4-2-4, and can do much better with another midfielder. Marchisio coming back from injury would be great as he is someone who could do well in both 2 man and 3 man MF.. contd..
on the 6th September, 2017 at 6:23pm
From the matches, it is clear 4-2-4 does not work. It's more of a 4-4-2, and asking 2 more offensive players to play as wide midfielders. I read the tactical analysis given here.
This formation is good with the right type of players, but Italy doesn't have it. As mentioned, Bellotti and Immobile don't work well together as much as they would alone, and they do that well in their clubs.
Instead of Insigne, maybe Bonaventura / Florenzi can do better as they are Midfield, as Candreva who did okay.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 6:17pm
Last thought. We have historically underwhelmed in qualifiers and especially friendlies. We will not really know what this team is made of until/unless they make the world cup next summer.

Thoughts on Veratti: It's time to admit that he will never be the replacement to Pirlo. He doesn't have half of the skill that Pirlo had in his prime and playing in a subpar league is not helping that. To be honest he doesn't even have half the skill that pirlo had in his last great tournament (2012)
on the 6th September, 2017 at 6:11pm
also, people calling for Buffon to be benched are crazy. he is a legend who has given everything to the azzuri and deserves to play out his international career through the world cup. Even if this ends badly that's just how its going to play out.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 6:06pm
@Why Ventura why????
It will be 12 years since Italy last won the world cup. The "old guard" that you mention is exactly that. Decent players but not goal oriented attacking players. Italian leaders on the field with a different approach are needed. The FIGC has to ask itself why after 12 years this void remains. As strange as it sounds I think they see it but you can't just flick a switch and have it appear like Ventura and Tavecchio have done. Italian Football remains a work in process
on the 6th September, 2017 at 5:40pm
I also don't understand how we pick the players that we do. We have a player plays well for a tournament like Giacherini who did will in the euro and now hes not on the team anymore. These players have no chemistry because they are constantly being rotated. Prandelli made the same mistakes from 2012-2014. Reached the final in 2012 and then didn't use half the players again in the next two years.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 5:23pm
It's not the formation or ventura. lets admit to ourselves that this is the poorest group of young players coming through that we have had in a very long team. When a team likes Italy makes such inferior statements and says it has work to do to catch up to other nations it is a complete joke. Funny how Conte called Prandelli's reign a disaster yet Prandelli led the team to the euro finals. We have average players at best and our best players are over 30. that is the problem.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 5:14pm
Its sad that barzagli should be benched. Especially when he is a better defender than bonucci.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 5:12pm
@ Dan
Theo calling Italy 'putrid'? That's not on.

Back on topic.. one would think the 'old guard' ie. Buffon, De Rossi, Barzagli, Chielini would have a say when it comes to tactics and could they just go out on the field knowing full well they'd get embarrassed playing in Ventura's la-la-land formation?
I mean really? Did they actually believe it would work?
What the hell's going on?
Maybe they're just going along with it in a hope Ventura will eventually get the boot...
on the 6th September, 2017 at 2:23pm
I love the Azzurri, I am pretty sure we will qualify, unless we play Republic of Ireland, then I'm not so sure as we seem to choke against them. To keep tis uncomplicated, I think each of us knows, deep down that Serie A no longers gives priority to Italian players and until that changes, this is the new reality. The one good thing if the Azzurri do NOT qualify for the World Cup, it would be one hell of a wake up call .. it might acutally ignite the type of conversations that must be discussed
on the 6th September, 2017 at 2:11pm
@Anon re Balotelli
Agreed, if a bit extreme. We might as well call up Zaza or start Eder if anyone is serious about Balo. Italy may be desperate but not to this extent, plus he lacks consistency for his age.

Forget 424, forget 352, just stop using 2 strikers when you have better alternatives. We can come back to it eventually when there's a great talent in the making for SS, right now give Immobile/Belotti the freedom of a lone striker and allow Insigne to bring out his best on the wing.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 1:31pm
We had the best Italian players on field for both games. However,Italy is still struggling to find a Left Back player who has a strong left foot (the last one I recall was Balzeratti,Grosso before him). In modern football,LB & RB are the most significant positions you must have to implement your tactics. Spain changed their formation for Italy but what did Ventura change for Spain nothing I call this underestimate of opponent playing on the wings and leaving Veratti and De Rossi exposed.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 1:09pm
I mean do you people not see the catastrophic effect that gigantic toold brings to every team he is in? He may be scoring the odd goal in france but lets not fool ourselves here even the Nice manager is fed up with his stulidity.
He scored 1 amazing goal afew years ago then vanishex in the final. Trust me we dont need Balotelli we wasted enough time and money on that fool.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 12:53pm
@Sam De Martino This is exactly what I have been saying for ages. Terrible squad selections and players who should not be given the jersey to put on. Jorginho and Balo should be starting period.


Romagnoli/Rugani/Caldara Bonucci Chiellini

Conti Marchisio/Diawara Jorginho Verratti Zappacosta/De sciglio

Belotti/Balotelli Insigne

Subs: Berardi, Bernadeschi, Kean, De Rossi, Chiesa, Candreva, Spinazolla et all… Thats a team!
on the 6th September, 2017 at 12:37pm
It was the same last night 7 on target 10 off target 18 corners 70 percent possession and only 1 goal. We have scored 19 goals so far in qualifying but we should have scored at least 30 with all the chances we have had. If you look at all our matches and spain games I bet overall we will have a very similar shots on target level yet we have 19 goals and they have 32 goals I think. The playoffs wont be easy and I think we are in real danger of missing out on the WC.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 10:32am
Jorginho is amazing how he doesn't get picked god only knows, would like to see Diawara when eligible too and Bonaventura. Get rid of Monty he is terrible. Balotelli deserves a chance, yes he was crap against Napoli but has done well at nice in general. I find it incredible how many chances we need to score a goal. Against Liechtenstein we had more shots on target I think in both matches than spain did in both their matches yet they scored 16 and we scored 9. This is a major problem.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 10:29am
These 2 matches have been abysmal. I cant believe how bad we have been. The 424 only works against the weak teams, anyone can see that. As usual squad selections are a joke, Barzagli, Astori, Montolivo, to name 3 shouldn't be there. Why call up Darmian and Spinazzola who have hardly played this season and then play them against Spain. Rugani should have played last night Astori is crap. Romagnoli when fully fit and Caldara should be in the squad over Astori and Barzagli. Marchisio back when fit.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 10:25am
433 would stop needing a 2nd striker, no potentials for that position are better than Insigne, and 343 can be used as an alternative but Italy have Veratti and at least 2 more midfielders worthy of a starting place. I'm not sure about FBs/WBs available but certainly not too bad.

AND STOP USING IMMOBILE+BELOTTI TOGETHER! They are good enough strikers now who just need service. Even going with 451 without Insigne can yield good results.

In all cases, Ventura must wise up or leave.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 9:52am
The offensive comment may have been modded. And you being tired of words like "racist" is part of the problem, but that's a discussion for another day.

Let's keep things simple. Even if a few like Veratti and Insigne IMO are overrated, they're good enough to start and carry the team. I won't go crazy with dropping all senior players, just Barzagli for now. 3 midfielders including Veratti is bound to create something, and 1 striker is enough. I say 433 is the way forward now.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 9:45am
@Why Ventura why??, Whilst Theo may be going a bit too far & beginning to sound like a broken record, he does have a point. As for racist, really? I'm so sick and tired of words like hate, racist, nazi being thrown around in an arbitrary manner. This only serves to trivialize their true meaning, diminishing the disgusting things that the genuine haters, racists, and Nazi's have done throughout history.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 9:13am
This isn't a witch hunt or a personal dislike for Verratti. When it comes to his performances for Italy, he was woeful again last night. The few chances Israel created thru the middle, Verratti just allowed them to plough thru unchallenged. He lacks tactical and positional awareness, whilst also being limited from a physical point of view. The moment the ball and player are past him, he lacks urgency to track back and put in a tackle. Would M.Locatelli do any worse? I don't think so.
on the 6th September, 2017 at 9:08am

Ehhh yes, i think we all can Balotelli?? Giovinco???
on the 6th September, 2017 at 8:47am
In my opinion, this is a better team than the one that Conte took to France. We have good players that play outstandingly well for their clubs. The problem is Ventura. He is way out of his depth. The 424 is an abomination of a formation that quite clearly doesnt work! All it does is shackle our best players. I cant believe there are people on here questioning whether players like Insigne, Verratti & Belotti are good enough. Theres a reason they are 3 of the most sought after players in the world
on the 6th September, 2017 at 8:38am

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