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Tuesday June 5 2018
Italy holding three aces

While their early outings showed Roberto Mancini’s Italy still have much work to do, Adam Digby highlights the performances of three players who look set to play vital roles for this new-look Azzurri.

It was long overdue, but Italy seem set to enter the Euro 2020 qualifiers after finally turning their backs on an ageing core of players who failed to secure a place at this summer’s World Cup. Any nation would be proud to call upon Gigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Daniele De Rossi, but names such as Marco Parolo, Eder and Antonio Candreva remained part of the squad for far too long under the previous regime.

Now led by Roberto Mancini, the matches against Saudi Arabia, France and the Netherlands have shown that a new-look squad holds much promise for the future, yet remains raw and incomplete. Over the course of those three games, the new boss cannot fail to have seen some notable displays, with one trio of players in particular stepping forward and showing they definitely belong on the international stage.

Foremost among them was Alessio Romagnoli. While Milan stumbled this season, the 23-year-old shone, unquestionably surpassing Mattia Caldara and Daniele Rugani as Italy’s most promising young defender. Skilful on the ball yet defensively diligent, tactically aware and physically tough, he has all the qualities needed to thrive at the highest level and looks like the centrepiece of a new Azzurri backline for years to come.

Further forward, Federico Chiesa also seized his chance in emphatic fashion. Former Fiorentina team-mate Federico Bernardeschi, Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne and Domenico Berardi of Sassuolo have all taken turns as Italy’s brightest attacking hope, yet the 20-year-old is the one who has produced for his country. Hardworking, skilful and lightening quick, he markedly improved every facet of his play under Stefano Pioli’s guidance in Tuscany, while his famous father Enrico ensures he remains humble and continues to learn.

Regulars at the Stadio Artemio Franchi are aware of his talent, but also of the areas in which he still needs to improve, yet even the most skeptical Viola supporter would’ve enjoyed his run and cross to set up Simone Zaza’s goal against the Netherlands. Often guilty of shooting when he should pass, it was a move that underscored Chiesa’s burning desire to impress and he will clearly be a vital part of Mancini’s Italy.

However, while Romagnoli and Chiesa have arguably emerged as the Nazionale’s most important defender and attacker, it is the performance of Mattia Perin against the Dutch which might have the  deepest and most surprising ramifications. As Gigi Buffon came to the end of his long and glorious Azzurri tenure, it seemed as if Gianluigi Donnarumma would slip seamlessly between the posts and continue Italy’s long-standing tradition of goalkeeping greats.

He shot to stardom with Milan much like his namesake had with Parma two decades earlier, an imposing and undeniable talent who catapulted himself to prominence. From his Serie A debut back in October 2015, Donnarumma quickly overtook a host of other players to firmly establish himself as “Buffon’s heir.” Then along came Mino Raiola.

Suddenly, instead of the focus being on his superb saves, imposing presence and a need to improve his passing, the talk centred on contracts, transfers and walking out on his boyhood club. Donnarumma was showered with fake banknotes while on national team duty, with Italy fans joining the Rossoneri faithful in labelling the teenage prodigy as a greedy mercenary.

If his off-field drama didn’t fully alienate those on the Curva Sud at San Siro, a string of unimpressive performances – capped by a horrific Coppa Italia final in which he gifted two easily avoidable goals to Juve – certainly did. That spilled over (pun intended) into his form for the Azzurri and it was no surprise that he struggled even against Saudi Arabia, nor that Mancini decided to drop him for the Netherlands clash.

Set to join the Bianconeri later this week to fill the void left by Buffon’s departure, it was somewhat fitting that Perin would make his first start for Italy at Juventus Stadium and he did not disappoint. Pulling off some crucial stops, the Genoa skipper delivered a timely reminder of his quality and prompted La Gazzetta dello Sport to say he had “won the challenge” with Donnarumma and Salvatore Sirigu. He unquestionably showed that he deserves to retain his spot when the Azzurri return to competitive action in September, impressing his new manager in what could be his new home.

The road to seeing Italy become competitive once again is a long and complicated journey, but in Alessio Romagnoli, Federico Chiesa and Mattia Perin, they at least have three men they can rely on along the way.

Have your say...
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on the 8th October, 2018 at 10:46am
agreed we have some excellent young players who potentially can go far, chiesa, barella, pellegrini, donnarumma. Its just how well they progress, chiesa seems to have a good head on him, also has experience from his father. Barella for me is the most gifted, just hopes he stays put for atleast a season more to progress( same with chiesa.
on the 9th June, 2018 at 9:57am
Anonymous Bernadeschi did not look good at all this year with Juve. I think they have done a poor job integrating him into the team. However his talent is obvious. In fact that has become an issue with most of the young talent problem of getting playing time and of being developed
on the 9th June, 2018 at 2:49am
@ Anonymous

Why does Italy have the highest number of foreign player transfers in all of Europe?

1) Because of no homegrown talent? I doubt

OR

2) Because it's a LUCRATIVE and CORRUPT BUSINESS?

Absolutely!!!

You don't need to be genius to understand what is going on over there and why!!
on the 9th June, 2018 at 12:31am
@Strummerman Bernie looked weak agaisnt CL competition when he played..


Bottom line: Italain coaches and team owners would play Italian players more - of they were better... why wouldn't they. You really think they'd take an Argentinian over na Italian of equal or lesser quality? Come on folks! Wake up. Out talent pool is poor... there are a few quality players but Italy doesn't produce big name players anymore... The problem isn't Balo's attitude, or the CT, etc... the kids aren't ther
on the 7th June, 2018 at 7:29pm
You just skim over Berndeschi who was far and away our best player in the euro under 21.It is unfortunate that he was injured for these three games and did not get enough playing time with Juve this year. He is by and far the most talented athletic youngster with his speed and shot precision. Gonna be something watching him and Balotelli together.
on the 7th June, 2018 at 1:08am
If Belotti is our future then brace yourself for deep disappointment.
I don't understand all the Insigne criticism either..I agree he didn't have a fantastic season but most chosen for NT had average seasons.
on the 7th June, 2018 at 12:45am
In my opinion,Italy did alright.We should have won against Holland but shame down to 10 men and unfair sending off and against France,we should have drawn.Impressed with Perin,Romagnoli,Criscito,Chiesa and Balo.Future is bright.Mancio was very good indeed and will sort out the problems.We also have Verratti,Barella,Conti,Emerson to come back.Provided Perin plays at Juve,then should be our No 1.Our flaw is still the same,create but not cynical enough in front of goal!Sempre Forza Italia
on the 6th June, 2018 at 1:26pm
Ravanelli
Personal feelings aside.... Balotelli is rubbish. Insigne is even worse, Donnarumma is averahe at best, Belotti has had a poor season but i feel he is the future if given the same time as Balotelli has had (a life time!). Id like to see more of SES and Beradi.
We have alot of players who cant even break into their club teams so how they are classes as highly as some are baffles me.
Serie A is the problem, just not good enough at playing the youngsters from Italy.
on the 6th June, 2018 at 11:59am
Taking everything into account: debuts, inexperience, changing line-ups... I was encouraged by what I saw. Obviously there was a lack of cohesion/compactness, but you're not going to get a team that's operating on the same wavelength when there are so many shifting variables in such a short space of time. My concerns are : the profligacy, the lack of a midfield defensive general and the defensive competence of the fb's. The latter 2 means that the CB's are not given enough protection.
on the 6th June, 2018 at 10:30am
People need to stop using Balotelli as a way to vent their frustration.

Talking about trying to dribble, not passing, wasting chances? Look no further than our glorious brat of a capitano.

One of the wrost players and still gets the most minutes.

But we all know he is above criticism, even at Napoli.

We need to get accustomed to mediocrity for a few years, or else the frustration will blow through the roof.
on the 6th June, 2018 at 5:09am
Telling ya....Perin needs to play if he’s gonna grow and take on Azzurri keeper honors. Sure he won’t mind just sitting on bench collecting €50,000 a week. Seems a weird buy for Juve. Then again maybe thievery a deeper bench.a great sub for every player/position. Unless Juve brass screw over
Wo-Sz . Make him backup instead of Buffons replacement.
on the 6th June, 2018 at 3:08am
Mancini is clearly building for 2020 and 2022. We should be happy about that - a CT with a cler ey on the future and only the future. Some negatvie remarks here about Balo.. don't get that. He was solid for the most part. That free kick from the edge of the box was explosive.. the French keeper nearly collapsed. and it resulted in a goal... Would like to have seen Veratti in this lineup.. he's disappointed so far with the National team but I have a feeling Mancio can get him going.
on the 6th June, 2018 at 3:07am
@ Vinno M, if you can't notice how the team kicks up a notch when Balo is on the field then I don't know what to tell you. It's not completely wrong for Balo to try and take on two or three defenders, he's beyond talented enough to do so. Does it always pan out properly? No, but the kinks are being ironed out. This guy can do no right for some people..
on the 6th June, 2018 at 12:43am
I'm already sick of the Mancini & Balotelli circus show. I saw nothing of any improvement in the last few games he played. Has his attitude really changed, or the way he plays ?? Numerous times, Mario tried to dribble thru two and three defenders, while he had teammates open around him. His attitude remains the same when a teammate doesn't pass to him. Just wait until the games really count to see if things have changed....
on the 5th June, 2018 at 10:36pm
We lose a lot of talent because they r poached by foreign teams willing to give them 1st team action.but the problem is the best coaches and environment for them to develop is in Italy but they are not given chances by the bigger teams. esp those fighting for champions league position. with more foreign investors comin in this could be worsened.We need young italian to play more regularly and compete in bigger matches and competitions to prepare them for Italy. FORZA ITALIA
on the 5th June, 2018 at 6:50pm
@numerouno

the epl has the Homegrown Player Rule and about 30% of the players are english. It would help i would grant you that but it is more down owners and clubs having a long term plan and patience to incorporate they youth team players. Personally i would prefer some sought of incentive programme to encourage clubs to use Italian players so clubs like sas or empoli who do so benefit the most from sticking with Italian players.
on the 5th June, 2018 at 6:47pm
After this initial season 2 years later force them to play at least 1 u21 and 1 u23 player. Or else face 1 point deduction each game that you fail. This will ensure a steady stream of young Italians being given the chance and in 6 years we will have a huge talent poll with exposure. smaller teams will benefit from this as value of gd italians will sore. And they are likely to stay in italy and be coached by the best so they progress. we will not see a verratti,pellegri,rossi,balo being poached
on the 5th June, 2018 at 6:37pm
We can't ignore how much focused the Azzuri looked going forward when Mario Balotelli is on the field. I know that these friendlies are a time to experiment a bit but I see no reason why Zappacosta or D'ambrosio should get the start over Florenzi. Also I thought Cristante's short performance against Netherlands should not be ignored.
on the 5th June, 2018 at 6:36pm
I am an Italian fan from Singapore. The lega should force every serie A team to play 1 italian player under 23 to start every game. If they fail then deduct 1 point per game. This will force especially bigger italian teams like juve,inter,milan to play and give exposure to young italians. This enforcement only needs to be in the league. Let the clubs play whoever they want in europa or champions league. if the youngsters r talented they will be picked by coaches to play in europe as well.
on the 5th June, 2018 at 6:20pm
Anyone else read that the Super Cup will be played in Saudi Arabia? I am sick of this federation selling out for dirty oil money.
on the 5th June, 2018 at 5:46pm
I guess you could call it mediocrity by Italian standards when it comes to this generation of players and what they might achieve in competitions. No country can consistently produce quality players every country has a period in which they have a dip in quality.
Still i am excited when it comes to the likes of pellegri eddy salcedo scamacca and edera they seem to be full of potential, atalanta academy producing quality players every season the likes of bastoni and melegoni seem to be the latest
on the 5th June, 2018 at 5:09pm
Can't believe I almost forgot the sublime talent of R. Orsolini, S. Edera, S. Lo Faso & F. Del Sole.

I've got big big hopes on em fellas:)
on the 5th June, 2018 at 4:04pm
Following up; I am convinced the 2019 u21 Euros - which of course we are to host - will most certainly serve as weighty testimony as to where we stand in terms of progress, vanguard, talent, coherence of unit in our young group etc..

Based on our general comments regarding this subject I believe it's safe to claim that an air of excitement, faith, enthusiasm, in addition to genuine desire & ambition resonates with all us supremely passionate Azzurri tifosi.

SEMPRE FORZA ITALIA!!

thank you
on the 5th June, 2018 at 3:56pm
Cari Tifosi Azzurri let's not omit the recent achievements of our youth level sides; u20 2017 & u17 2018. There is ample talent rising through the ranks in the like of: A. Plizzari, A. Russo M. Soncin, A. Bastoni, G. Corbo, M. Varnier, R. Marchizza, R. Bellanova, L. Pellegrini, S. Tonali, F. Depaoli, N. Zanellato, E. Vergani, E. Vignato, G. Gori, R. Sottil, C. Capone, M. Antonucci, A. Zerbin, E. Brignola, P. Pellegri ETC..

Just to name a some of the top of my head.
on the 5th June, 2018 at 3:37pm
Why is everyone forgetting Spinnazola when discussing fullbacks? He’s by far our most talented going forward!
on the 5th June, 2018 at 2:58pm
I think their are positives and negatives to take from the 3 friendlies which is to be expected at this stage. Perin should without a doubt start as the number 1. I think Zappacosta and Criscito have shown they aren't good enough. I think Conti, Spinazola, and Emerson all need to come in also Calabria in time. Masina may also be an option in the future. also Verratti and maybe Marchisio to come back in when fit. As we all know we have a long journey ahead but we have 2 years to slowly build.
on the 5th June, 2018 at 2:29pm
Jorginho is qualty end of.. or else why the hell would Pep/Man City want him???
Veratti is quality no doubt about it. just needs to pull his head in and move to a better league.
Bernardeschi will be back soon.
Not convinced with Belotti atm his form and near misses are atrocious ...Italy can ill afford to have a CF that continuously sh!ts himself in front of goal.. at least Immobile is consistently scoring for Lazio... Belotti ain't even doing that atm!!!
Thank god for Balo!
on the 5th June, 2018 at 2:23pm
I think Mancini will do well...he's leaving no stone unturned, trying many new young players and combinations and soon will have other quality players come back from injury or poor form.
Andrea Conti (when fit) will solve right-back(wingback) position...Florenzi on the left... problem solved.
Both are quality, quick, dynamic players that can also score.
There are many options in midfield just have to settle with what works best for the team.....
on the 5th June, 2018 at 2:21pm
I am afraid I cannot agree with the naive comments of Onofrio Sanfilippo. Unfortunately, Italy must accept mediocrity for the foreseeable future, regardless of 'big clubs' or 'elite competitions.' Italian fans must accept that the days of true Italian greats (such as Super Pippo Inzaghi) are over...
on the 5th June, 2018 at 2:04pm

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