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.

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Have your say...
Replacing one Turnip (Ventura) with another Mancini is not going to improve Italian football. Neither playing Turnip 7 instead of Turnip 5. Fact is Italy have no players but just a bunch of overrated turnips which the media inflates to give us hope. But the truth is that Italy has no hope and are going to keep sucking for quite sometime.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 10:54am
And why o why we are still calling Chiellini I thought he retired after Sweden game might as well bring Buffon Pirlo Del Piero etc. Stick to the youth make the best of this Nation League and hopefully the team have a understanding together.
My Ideal team vs Portugal
Calabria Bonucci Romagnoli Biraghi
Pellegri Jorvigho Bonaventura
Chiesa Imobile Insignie
on the 9th September, 2018 at 10:36am
the problem persist that Italy isn't producing the quality players needed. Chiesa for me should start going forward. Insigne is one the worst number 10 for Italy I have ever saw. bernadeshi played well vs Poland but for me it is time for him to step up. he needs to be more clinical fullstop. for me also the kid moise kean is one Italy should be looking at. I don't know why he is still playing U-20. He should be in the U21. Balotelli still has a pretty good scoring record for Italy.he needs a run
on the 9th September, 2018 at 9:59am
Matthew, I would highly disagree with you in this article! It is not that Azzurri need shaking up, but FIGC is & a must along with Serie A. The youths must play regularly for Azzurri's beneficiary. E.g. why did Spain, Germany & France won the WC respectively? One thing; those nations invested in youth and trusted their youths talents. With what is going on with Italian football in general, I am afraid to say that it will be difficult to witness what we had before!
on the 9th September, 2018 at 9:16am
Serie A needs shaking up.
Unfortunately the time for political correctness is over. The bottomline is if the big teams have no Italians in their team Mancini has nothing to pick.
Mancini shouldn't have taken the job, he should have followed Ancelotti because no manager can manage the Azzurri. Mancini has been the 4-5 months and already he is moaning that there are no italians to choose from because they don't play fir their clubs.
Unless all the foreign players are removed Azzurri are finished
on the 9th September, 2018 at 7:59am
I've never seen Jorginho put in one single good shift for the Azzurri, ever. Never saw the hype...
on the 9th September, 2018 at 5:31am
Italy have always been slow starters in September, even when the team possessed high quality talent with a deep roster.

Mancini needs to be bold and creative, roll the dice, as we have nothing to lose now. The young kids need to be given an opportunity.

Without minutes on the field, Mancini won't be able to tell who is ready for the blue jersey.

Hopefully, we will hold our own against a quality Portugal side in the coming days.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 1:09am
Chiesa. Berardeschi.
Bonnaventura. Jorginho. Cristante.
Criscito. Romagnoli. Bonnucci. Zappacosta.

This should be the starting 11. Shame that Calabria was not included in this squad. Mancini could of used him.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 12:52am
I think Chiesa should be starting up front, Barella and Benassi who both got off to flying starts this season should start in midfield too. Along with that I think we should be doing a lot of things behind the scenes like starting to concentrate on building our youth but we don’t even have a federation president yet.
on the 9th September, 2018 at 12:49am

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