Sunday September 9 2018
Azzurri need shaking up

After an uninspiring draw with Poland, Roberto Mancini must devise a new plan to respond against Portugal, writes Matthew Santangelo.

Prior to Friday evening’s UEFA Nations League group opener versus Poland, Italy had not played a major international match in 10 months.

The cataclysmic failure of not qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup last November meant the Azzurri faithful, and the remnants of the embarrassing Gian Piero Ventura era, had plenty of time for soul-searching at home as everyone focused on Russia. It was the wake-up call both the FIGC and Nazionale needed in hopes of restoring order and re-route the four-time World Cup winners on the right path.

Fast forward, and Roberto Mancini now acts as the CT, having managed one win (vs Saudi Arabia), one loss (vs France) and one draw (vs Netherlands). Albeit friendlies, a lax approach towards these fixtures resulted in Italy being dumped into a more difficult WCQ group so without question, each match holds weight – and Friday’s match with Poland was no exception.

Mancini’s 4-3-3 featured a tasteful blend of veterans and youth, with only captain Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci remaining from the old guard. Flanking the Juventus duo was Davide Zappacosta and Cristiano Biraghi. The midfield, an area starved of world-class difference-makers, contained Roberto Gagliardini, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Chelsea’s Jorginho. Up top, Lorenzo insigne and Federico Bernardeschi supported Mario Balotelli.

On paper, quality was there for Italy to play encouraging football, one with an emphasis on directness and desire to create chances. Yet, the Italians played with anything but attacking verve and inspiration.

Instead, too much time and possession was spent outside of dangerous areas to apply pressure to a Poland side in transition with a new Coach. Beyond the individual errors that summoned Gianluigi Donnarumma to bail out his teammates with two superb saves, Italy’s style of play was casual and lethargic – and this was no more prevalent than in the midfield.

Compounded by the fact both Gagliardini and Pellegrini turned in ineffective shifts, Jorginho uncharacteristically left much to be desired himself. Because of this, it would be wise for Mancini to include Giacomo Bonaventura from the start, as his cameo in the second half helped encourage Italy to stretch the field and open up opportunities going forward.

Italy’s full-back problem persists, and that was quite obvious with the way Biraghi failed to beat the first man to deliver a single decent cross into Balotelli, along with Zappacosta showing why he is not cut out for the National Team. Or at least not in a four-man defence.

Unfortunately for Mancini, much like in the middle of the park, there is little in the way of depth or quality. However, Emerson Palmieri excels at getting into advanced areas and at the very least applying pressure. Expect Mancini to take a real hard look at the former Roma man versus Portugal.

In the first half against Poland, Balotelli touched the ball just 10 times, with just one inside the penalty area. While the Nice hitman was silent, he did not necessarily receive proper service from either Insigne or Bernardeschi.

Considering Italy’s insufficient amount of playmakers, Mancini ought to examine his options in this department, including Federico Chiesa.

Fiorentina’s young ace immediately provided a spark from the bench and that directness Mancini hoped for. The 20-year-old’s quickness and confidence running at defenders ultimately led to not only Italy’s first shot on goal in the 73rd minute, but also the penalty that Jorginho buried shortly after. Based on his brief but influential appearance, Chiesa cannot be left on the bench vs Portugal.

Expecting a complete re-shuffling of the starting XI for Portugal is daft, but there are several switches Mancini must make if Italy are to respond in a positive manner. The Azzurri let Poland’s simple counter-attacking and Piotr Zielinski’s blanketing of Jorginho render their build-up useless, so besides altering the personnel, Mancini needs to change the mindset of the group altogether from one rooted in conservative play to a style with emphasis on taking the game to the opposition.

Watch Serie A live in the UK on Premier Sports.

Have your say...


I am absolutely sick to death of the negativity from all the keyboard warriors on here. You would be hard pressed to find a national team with better young players than Italy currently have. They are clearly trying to find their identity and are massively low on confidence, which plays a huge part in football. Everything seems to be against Italy at the moment, and I believe eventually it will click into place.

Get behind the team, or get lost and support another country. You are unwanted her.
on the 26th September, 2018 at 3:13am
Yes you go girlfriend. Get behind the team that has no players and now lost to Portugal too. It's fans like you that have led to Italy becoming such a shocking joke.
There is no reason to get behind the team, there is a reason to protest to argue and to raise the concerns because Serie A and italian football needs to change. So, while fans like you clap and applaude these failures the rest of us are suffering.
Stupidity is unwanted- cheering failure us stupid. Maybe you leave???
on the 10th September, 2018 at 10:10pm
Lets be honest we are desperately poor. Absolutely no creativity. The passing was terrible. We cant score a goal if we played for a month. The major problem is that the youngsters don't play. Also as some of the comments above show...people just make excuses. How many times have we heard--when they play more, when they get experience, when they get a bit of luck. Stop making excuses and face reality. Its going to take years to get back.
on the 10th September, 2018 at 10:08pm
The final whistle has just blown on Italy Portugal. My God — that was dire! Comical defending and they created nothing — zero — in attack. Long balls and aimless crosses. I thought that we had thankfully seen the back of that useless pair Zaza and Immobile who was born in an offside position. As for Mancini, he should realize that these are competitive matches! I've heard that Mancini has introduced music at training. Maybe he should introduce training at training instead.
on the 10th September, 2018 at 9:58pm
Just seen Mancini might be starting with Zaza up front tonight in a 4-4-2. He's played 19mins of competitive football. He isn't match fit, just like Balotelli wasn't against Poland. Why do these sort of decisions always happen with the Italian national side? I can only presume there's a deep-set arrogance in the system that assumes, based on an era when we had Del Piero, Totti, Pirlo, Nesta, that unfit Italian internationals will naturally do just fine against any opposition. We won't.
on the 10th September, 2018 at 6:24pm
I am absolutely sick to death of the negativity from all the keyboard warriors on here. You would be hard pressed to find a national team with better young players than Italy currently have. They are clearly trying to find their identity and are massively low on confidence, which plays a huge part in football. Everything seems to be against Italy at the moment, and I believe eventually it will click into place.

Get behind the team, or get lost and support another country. You are unwanted her.
on the 10th September, 2018 at 12:54pm
Juve turned to a Man City/chlesea italian version with not italians when they historically contributed most to the Azzurri,Napoli only one italian,Roma the same, inter none! truth is Mancini have inexperienced,unused,not confident players at his disposal.Look at Spain,they do have foreigners but Barca & RM never stop producing home talent who are given.Inter,Napoli,Juve,Roma,etc..are to blame with money hungry owners who think winning only happens with buying!!!
on the 10th September, 2018 at 9:13am
@PrimoCalcio is absolutely right
on the 10th September, 2018 at 6:46am
What do we expect when Serie A & B teams continually overlook home grown talent. I'm sick and tired of it. Same as F1; when was the last time SF had an Italian driver.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 9:23pm
Having initially been encouraged by the appointment of Mancini as Italy’s CT, I am now concerned that he is likely to take Italy further backwards than Ventura did. In particular, some of his selections in the match against Poland were questionable.

Balotelli has only played 75 minutes of football since June, but started ahead of Belotti and Immobile who have played several matches this season and have both registered competitive goals.

Zappacosta hasn’t played one competitive game all season. Yes the exclusion of Florenzi pretty much meant that there was no other replacement in this position, but at this level, players must have had game time at club level before being thrown into competitive international matches.

Gagliardini and Pellegrini have both only played 90 minutes of competitive football all season, but both started ahead of Benassi, who has played every match impressively for Fiorentina this season, and has registered 3 goals.

Yes, the season only started four weeks ago, but that is precisely why players who have had game time should be selected over players who have not played for a number of weeks or months. It showed against Poland, and Mancini has got to do better. A number of players were a yard off the pace, and it showed.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 8:07pm
Jorginho had a bad first half? Lets toss him in the garbage and replace him with the ball boy.
The level of thought going on here is not very high.
'but Immobile/Insigne/Verratti/Jorginho are terrible playing for Italy' Hmmmm all of our best players are underperforming with their country? Could it have been the complete lack of tactical organization, the poor team psychology, and the overwhelimg burden of expectation from the media?

Name one player who performed to their potential since Pirlo
on the 9th September, 2018 at 6:50pm
Italy failed to qualify, and we all called for a revolution.
Then, we forgot all about it, and started scapegoating individual players for being unable to beat Poland. To think about it, Italy scapegoated Ventura and the Tavecchio, did nothing to fix the underlying issues in Italian football.
Milan fans learnt this over the last few seasons, that players won't perform unless they are in working conditions. Bonucci, praised as #1CB, was awful for Milan.
Stop killing the players, let them grow.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 6:44pm
Devise a new plan?The only plan Italy need is for the players to put a shift in and i do not care which system is used.I see most of the players lacking ideas of what to do when they are not in possession.
The sideways and backward pass is normal, if you do not lose the ball when in possession.if you do this then why not just try a long ball into the corners at least it will give you time to get back.

Forza Juve.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 6:01pm
Amando - i'm Juve but I think Calabria should start, WB is an area that hasn't been set yet so why not start a 21 year old who plays every week for one of the big five in Italy.

Zaza doesn't make sense - sub at Torino, sub / flop at Juve, didn't work at Valencia (otherwise they would have kept him), flop as CF for Italy. Immobile isnt good enough either but he starts at Lazio & scores so he's justifed as 3rd choice atm.

Better options with Balotelli
on the 9th September, 2018 at 5:38pm
It was bad but not that bad. We need a little patience. I think Mancini is still feeling his way in although he hasn’t got forever. On paper the team looked good, but they certainly lacked verve and creativity. I suspect if we can get a system that works, good things will flow from there. I’d play a back three because we just don’t seem to have the full backs and midfield has always been a problem. Conti used this system with a similarly average bunch and we only just failed to reach the semis.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 4:15pm
What strikes me is the lack of passing intelligence before pirlo there was albertini before totti or del piero there was roberto baggio or vialli or zola.

where is technical ability where is the brain behind this team what is the point of playing with a front 3 when none of the midfield are capable of switching play or making intelligent passes or is capable of going box to box. This is why i think italy should kept it simple but effective maybe as a counter attacking team.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 3:57pm
there is no midfield cohesion there hasn't been for years ever since the 2006 team started to retire from national football pirlo kept it going but even than.

Personally i think italy should start looking into playing with a 5 man midfield similar to conte tactical setup or a 4232 or even a 442 formation they need to get the best out of the likes of insigne bernardeschi chiesa and backup likes el sha verdi berardi florenzi. keep it simple than evolve with this young group of players.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 3:45pm
Mancini has been there 5 months and had a handful of games so far. Yes we have struggled so far but what other nations are really anything what they used to be other than France. Spain and Germany were both horrific at WC18, albeit we didnt qualify. Mancini is a competent manager unlike Ventura. Also, people here really seem to underrate Bonaventura, Milans best MF yet people are putting Pellegrini and Barella ahead in potential XI's. Kean, Cutrone and Chiesa will be ready come Euro 2020.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 3:30pm
Add to that:

Tonali 18 he's like Pirlo and Totti combined

Chiesa who is are next big thing - its a matter of time before he signs for a top club

Moise Kean 18 - so good Riaola is his agent... plus kept by Juve and lit up U19's alongside Zanilo and Tonali

We have more talent than we've had for 20 years... BUT they have to play more regularly not be afraid to move abroad & they need time to gel for Italy.

Anyone who says we lack talent - hasn't watched or researched the players we have!
on the 9th September, 2018 at 3:18pm
Doo-Wop - dont agree:

Balotelli if fit is unplayable he's proved it for Italy his issue was temperament.

Jorginho dictates Chelsea's play and would have done so if he went to Man City

Veratti 25 PSG's best midfielder wanted by Barca, Madrid and Juve

Donnarumma is 19 wanted by PSG, (Madrid until Coutois)

Pellegri 17 was bought to replace Mbappe at Monaco

Bernadeschi 24 starts for Juve atm

Romagnoli 23 - Milan captain & Caldara 24 (both better than Bonucci and Chiellini at those ages)
on the 9th September, 2018 at 3:14pm
M I know he’s not included and I’m being bias here as Ac Milan fan but what I don’t get is we still calling Zaza
on the 9th September, 2018 at 3:10pm
...also when the Azzurrini squad looks better than the senior squad that’s a sign we are in big trouble. Technically U-19,20,21 were always separate entity’s from senior team. Now we’re looking at all those players out of desperation. There’s young talent coming up but by the time they reach of age or club they’re just average/under developed faux stars. Yet the ‘Rini have had so much potential in last 20 years they’ve shoulda won much more. always seem to lose in finals. soon it’ll dry up.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 2:45pm
Somehow the fact of the matter is EVERY single Azzurri picked player is average at best...meaning the talent level in Italy is on par with Slovakia Ireland and Russia. Spain France Germany even England is ahead. Buffon was last of superstars. that’s why they held on to him so long. Derossi is old/done now and no longer future. Balo is too much of wildcard,never be 100% true 1 way or other. Soon coaches will be average. dare I say a foreign coach will step in, in next 6 years. Zindane or Jose M.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 2:32pm
I agree with CR7.. In regards to the National team, I think there's potential with some of these young players. This project is going to awhile to fruition. Everyone has to be patient and let the process take its course...................
on the 9th September, 2018 at 2:25pm
Best 11 & 23 man squad for EURO20 based on talent & age bearing in mind everyone will be 2 years older then:

.........................Donnarumma 19

Calabria 21 Romagnoli 23 Caldara 24 Emerson 24

Veratti 25 Jorginho 26 Barella 21

Chiesa 20 Berardi 24

Balotelli 28

Perin 24
Meret 21
Chiellini 34 / Rugani 23
Bonucci 31
Florenzi 27
Pellegrini 22
Benassi 23
Tonali 18
Bernadeschi 24
Orsolini 21
Cutrone 20
Pellegri 17
on the 9th September, 2018 at 1:41pm
It is all just like rearranging deck chairs on the titanic just now. The current crop of players is woeful. And even if there was some way to get something out of this lot then it certainly will not be achieved by that clown Mancini.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 1:28pm
Pellegrini on a bad patch since unfairly being dropped at Roma after the great season he had...

Midfielders in order:

1 Veratti
2 Jorginho
3 Barella
4 Pellegrini (when finds form)
5 Benassi or Bonaventua (based on form)

Others to consider:

Crystante, Locatelli, Tonali, Zanilo

Gagliardini isn't good enough...

Maybe Chellini should play left back as Romagnoli and Caldara are going to waste atm...


Calabria Emerson Florenzi Conti Barecca De Sciglio Spinazzola DiMarco Adjapong
on the 9th September, 2018 at 1:25pm
Matthew: Emerson was dropped from the 23 man squad so can't play against Portugal - unless the squad is selected per game?

Calabria not in the squad Armando (he should be).

Jorginho will be better with Veratti, with Barella that could be our best trio...

Insigne isn't good enough hangs out on the corner all game & at 27 offers little

WF in order
1 Chiesa
2 Berardi
3 Bernadeschi
4 Orsolini (when he plays more)

CF in order
1. Balotelli (fit)
2. Cutrone or Belotti
3. Pellegri or Kean (youth)
on the 9th September, 2018 at 1:20pm
I do not see anything in this group that makes me say, we have a chance to get back to being a top level country. Get use to what you see, because it will get worse before it gets better.

Mancini should stop taking about having clubs playing Italian players. If I remember correctly, he barely uses them when he was manager at Inter.

The funny thing is there is more polish players playing in Italy on the national squad than Italy has.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 1:13pm
@Anonymous Yes and France is a representation that historically has always had all of their player plaing in french league! Italian clubs don't create proper player, most of the "talent" is overblown and after 1-3 years of hype they just disappear. Italian clubs need to start building stadiums, and creating B clubs and also include foreign players in representation. Unless they'd like Mussolini back, like Sacchi implied
on the 9th September, 2018 at 12:07pm

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