In a move away from predecessor Gian Piero Ventura, Roberto Mancini’s new look Azzurri included a host of youngsters with Pietro Pellegri and Nicolò Zaniolo the two standout talents of their age group in Italy. They are ones for the future, but when it comes to the present, Lorenzo Insigne is facing pressure to stand up and be counted.
Perhaps the biggest accusation leveled at Ventura after the World Cup play-off defeat to Sweden was his refusal to take Insigne off the bench, even when an attacking spark was desperately needed. Yet is there really evidence he would’ve made the difference?
Mancini is likely to start with a 4-3-3 against Poland, with Mario Balotelli an option to lead the line. On the flanks, there is much for the Premier League-winning boss to ponder as Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi battle it out for the final two spots. Each player has their merits, and the expectation is it will be Insigne plus one, with the Neapolitan getting the nod because of his obvious ability, but it is time for the diminutive forward to deliver internationally.
Insigne is not a youngster anymore. The Partenopei idol is now 27 and in this heavily revamped Italy, should be grasping the mantle as a leader. He must translate his devastating club form because all Calcio viewers know what he is capable of. Insigne has a highlight reel to rival the very best, but a return of four strikes from 26 Azzurri appearances simply isn’t good enough.
Mancini is unlikely to tolerate a similar return over the next four years, particularly with an invigorated Bernardeschi and the dazzling Chiesa at his disposal. Pleasingly for Mancini, Bernardeschi has started two of Juventus’ first three matches and has not looked out of place alongside the world’s best player Cristiano Ronaldo. The Bianconeri Number 33 is keeping out Douglas Costa and Paulo Dybala, two men who expect to be starting week in, week out, and it must do wonders for his confidence that Max Allegri trusts him.
Former Viola team-mate Chiesa will also harbour ambitions of nailing down a regular spot and is perhaps Insigne’s biggest threat. While Chiesa and Bernardeschi favour the wide right role, both are equally adept on the other side and the son of Enrico has proven he has what it takes. Chiesa made an instant impact off the bench in the friendly against England in March and offers something different to everyone else in the squad, a real winger who gets his head down and drives at the opposition.
For Insigne, this campaign is his biggest test yet. Partenopei boss Carlo Ancelotti is experimenting with his squad in a way Maurizio Sarri infamously refused to, and the Neapolitan must now raise his game for both club and country.