The upcoming friendlies against Argentina and England could well decide if interim boss Gigi Di Biagio gets the job on a more permanent basis. What can we expect from Di Biagio’s Azzurri, and how may it differ to Gian Piero Ventura’s failed side?
Much has been made over long-time captain Gianluigi Buffon, and whether he should step aside to let his successor take over. Gianluigi Donnarumma and Mattia Perin both sit as worthy candidates for the number one spot, however it appears Di Biagio’s intentions in summoning the Juventus legend were to give him a proper send-off , unlike the tearful one last year at San Siro.
Buffon will likely play in one of the two friendlies, but it’s quite clear his call was more a sign of respect for the World Cup winner than to extend his international career.
In terms of the rest of the squad, Di Biagio appears to be undertaking a more progressive approach than Ventura. His call-ups suggest he will attempt to usher in a fresh batch of younger players, while also keeping a veteran guard intact to ensure the youth are properly moulded into long-term contributors.
Defensively, Italy begins life after BBC as a trio, with Andrea Barzagli having already hung up his international boots. Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini remain two key pillars in the back, not only as defensive stalwarts, but also leaders to guide youngsters. Di Biagio called up four central defenders including Gian Marco Ferrari (Sampdoria) and Daniele Rugani (Juventus), meaning it’s almost certain he will play four at the back, which had been his preferred shape throughout his tenure on the Azzurrini bench.
Transitioning towards the midfield absent of Roma’s gladiator Daniele De Rossi, there is Bryan Cristante, Roberto Gagliardini, Lorenzo Pellegrini - each of the youth mould and getting the opportunity to be prominent figures in the side for 2018 and beyond.
Unlike Ventura, it didn’t take much contemplating for Di Biagio to make Jorginho a pivotal piece to the midfield setup, but with Marco Verratti also in the mix, there is the idea of a 4-2-3-1 experiment. In any case, we could see Di Biagio conjure up quite a variety of formations as he tries to see what scheme fits his personnel.
Up top is where Italy see two prolific young stars get their maiden Azzurri calls. Federico Chiesa and Rossoneri star Patrick Cutrone join familiar faces in Ciro immobile and Andrea Belotti, while Simone Verdi and Lorenzo Insigne are the source of creativity on the wings. Eder’s exclusion, along with Mario Balotelli’s call that never came, suggests Di Biagio is ready for a clean slate and keen on handing over responsibilities to a more adolescent group.
There has been plenty of discussion surrounding Italy’s plans for restoring past glories. The likes of Germany and France should serve as templates in certain aspects on how to bring about sustainability in the National Team structure through a mixture of fledgling youth and a veterans’ presence. Di Biagio has not been confirmed as the full-time Coach, but we should see a vastly different looking Italy in these two friendlies – from both a tactical and personnel standpoint.
Di Biagio has been known to alter his formations, reverting between a modern 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2. The latter was used by Ventura and its midfield was heavily exposed and over-run by Spain during World Cup qualifying.
Look for Di Biagio to experiment a bit, while also keeping things simple. With that being said, there is plenty of intrigue around these friendlies and Italy cannot afford to take them lightly if they wish to avoid a repeat of Ventura’s past faults.