Monday September 10 2018
Italy's midfield is missing

After defeat in Portugal, Adam Digby looks at how an incoherent midfield remains Italy’s biggest problem and one that Roberto Mancini must address.

There is perhaps some irony seeing Claudio Marchisio showing off his new Zenit St Petersburg shirt just days before the latest outing for the Italian national team.

When the former Juventus man pulls on the sky blue kit of the Russian Premier League side, he will no longer wear the No.8 shirt that had long been on the back of his Bianconero one. Instead it will be a 10, and on Monday evening in Lisbon, the Azzurri lacked both a player fit to wear that most prestigious of numbers and any representative from the midfielder’s former club.

Indeed, Italy’s trip to Portugal – which they lost 1-0 courtesy of a second-half Andre Silva strike – marked the first time since June 1998 that the Azzurri began a game without a single Juve player. They did so because Roberto Mancini had decided to rotate his squad, claiming at his pre-match press conference that he didn’t want to “put anyone at risk” of injury with two games in quick succession so early in the season.

While the solidity provided by Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini was sorely missed, it was good to see Alessio Romagnoli and Mattia Caldara tested together, the young Milan duo surely set to be the backbone of the side for years to come.

Yet more than anyone in defence, it was a creative attacking force – the kind worthy of the No.10 shirt – that the Azzurri so desperately needed. Still only 20 years old, Federico Chiesa needs time to work on his decision-making and could well blossom into such a player, but in fielding both Ciro Immobile and Simone Zaza alongside the Fiorentina man, Mancini negated the strengths of all three men.

For La Viola, Chiesa is an unpredictable livewire, regularly swapping flanks with the team’s other winger or popping up in the centre behind the strikers. With two out-and-out strikers on the pitch, he had nobody to exchange spots with, nobody to go deep for the ball and instead found two team-mates looking to occupy the same space and make the same runs.

Behind them, Jorginho’s ability on the ball was nullified because his team could not win it back, both Bryan Cristante and Giacomo Bonaventura looking desperately off the pace for large portions of the match. The play never flowed, Mancini’s game plan was impossible to decipher and there was nobody to link midfield and attack, a disjointed team that lacked both direction and invention throughout the 90 minutes.

Looking at the options available beyond Monday evening, it is difficult to see where Mancini can pin his hopes. Marco Verratti has shown in Paris that he is an elite level player, but he has rarely ever demonstrated that for the national team, while Federico Bernardeschi is yet to even become a regular member of the Juve starting XI.

Even if Mancini can unlock the immense potential of a front three that could include Lorenzo Insigne, Mario Balotelli and Chiesa, he will still need to find answers in midfield in order to supply them with enough ammunition to score goals on a regular basis.

Unlike Zenit, it is not really a No.10 they need, but a younger Claudio Marchisio, a midfielder who can break the lines, push the ball forward and bridge the gap between attack and defence. Until they find one, Italy will continue to struggle.

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Have your say...
King James
2018 doesn't mean we have to turn in France. I would rather not turn in a utd African nation.
on the 15th September, 2018 at 7:47am
@King James

Are you serious i struggle to read a article without some one complain about foreigners in the national team and in the league referring to the likes of amauri g rossi eder jorginho and osvaldo hell camoranesi in days gone by.

As for balotelli the guy is a joke he has chucked away this career away he had it in him to be one of the best strikers in the world. Kean is too young to even be thought of it is like saying why doesn't pellegri or eddy salcedo play for italy.
on the 14th September, 2018 at 9:08pm
best style for azzurri defend - counter attack.
would like to see good old italian football style, the one that brought drama to the game and making us to sit on the edge of the seat until final whistle.
hope mancini realizes that, if he would like to succeed!
such kind of football is in italian dna & best suits italy’s football style. enough of experiments which has got italy in worst position, i recently read azzurri without a competitive win in a year! holy cow! embarrassment!
on the 14th September, 2018 at 6:29pm
2018 & some people cant still rise above racism. No one is complaining about Eder, Jorginho & people were wishing Dybala had chosen Italy. But it is alright as long as they are whites. Kean is black, Balotelli is black. This is why Italy will always be behind in everything.
on the 14th September, 2018 at 10:23am
@Serie A lover I think it's a mix of things. Kean is not Italain nor is Eder nor in Jorginho. None have a link to Italy Eder was pictured wearing a Brazilian top supporting Brazil before he became Italian.The point is we don't need players to 'become' italian simply because they are not good enough to play for their real nationality. 
on the 13th September, 2018 at 4:36pm
So the problem is a lack of goals? Well the topscorer of Serie A is in the squad. Immobile may not have scored much for Italy, but has shown season after season that he’s got the goals in him. I know he might be less fancied because he’s not from a northern club, but I don’t think he’s prioritized enough. Set up the formation for him(nothing like vs Portugal), assist him, a 2nd striker or nr 10 and the goals will come. He’s by far the sharpest of the Italians. Cutrone is ok, but Balotelli, Zaza?
on the 13th September, 2018 at 12:49pm
I keep reading about poor Mancini is and how much talent Italy has. Please who are these talents? Shining in under age tournaments means very little . But I think the worst thing to read is how it’s September or it’s only a friendly. It’s that type of thinking that got Italy in this mess. Ranking is low that they are grouped with sides they have little hope of beating. It’s not hopeless but no one on here has the solution as it’s not as simple as some are making it out to be.
on the 13th September, 2018 at 11:00am
I've said this many times, Italy does not suit a 4-3-3 line up, never has, never will. Its not in our DNA & style of football.

Italy has always suited a 4-3-1-2 or the good old 4-4-2. Heck, in 2006, Lippi used a 4-3-2-1 formation which is so hard to break down and it showed in 2006 how hard it was to break us down.

We wont do any good if Mancini and others keep calling for Italy to play 4-3-3 when its simply not in our DNA, we should stick with what we are good at, first of all defending.
on the 13th September, 2018 at 10:10am
@Napoli 1926 'but if i was born in the woods and was raised by wolves .. would i be considered a wolf and not a human ? if so then i guess you can call him Italian' you really do sound racist. I am pretty sure he went school with kids whose parents who have long lineage in Italy.I think it is the skin color that has u. if the likes of insigne, belotti, immobile,zaza after playing so many games for Italy haven't combined for 10 goals. yeswe have reached that point where kean should b considered
on the 13th September, 2018 at 5:07am
Mancini picked the best possible crop of young players, but some of the more senior choices baffled me completely like Zaza.

Benassi was in form yet did not feature so why call him. Barella another potential solution in midfield did not get a try either.

These 2 guys should have played alongside Jorginho. However, he opted for Gagliardini who has regressed since joining Inter.

Italy does not produce top talent like past years, but we need to select best 11 and play good football.
on the 13th September, 2018 at 2:24am
@ serie a lover ... i know Kean was born and raised in italy .. but if i was born in the woods and was raised by wolves .. would i be considered a wolf and not a human ? if so then i guess you can call him Italian. besides that Kean hasn't done anything on a senior level yet this what the national team has come to? just try players who haven't accomplished anything .. its sad
on the 12th September, 2018 at 9:57pm
@ Save the Azzurri .. you hit the nail right on the head .. well said !!
on the 12th September, 2018 at 9:43pm
Its one this to play with kids, U21 etc, but another to take that next step. There is to much of a gap from youth to the men teams. Is there to much pressure for coaches to get results? Is the league to tactical? Has modern football left the Azzurri behind? None of the top european club teams have great Italian representation minus Juventus and they are even reducing the amount of Italians in their squad. Regardless, the youth system has to be revamped. Look how Spain and France cultivate talent
on the 12th September, 2018 at 8:41pm
Its one this to play with kids, U21 etc, but another to take that next step. There is to much of a gap from youth to the men teams. Is there to much pressure for coaches to get results? Is the league to tactical? Has modern football left the Azzurri behind? None of the top european club teams have great Italian representation minus Juventus and they are even reducing the amount of Italians in their squad. Regardless, the youth system has to be revamped. Look how Spain and France cultivate talent
on the 12th September, 2018 at 8:36pm
Lets face it, Italia has been in a steady decline since the 2006 world cup (Euro 2012 was a blip and the final proved so). The players from 10+ years ago were never fully replaced. Not having enough Italians in the domestic league is an excuse. There just is not enough talent coming through the youth ranks to even warrant a starting spot in some of the Serie A teams and this is the failure of the Italian system. The question should be is why are the youth players not good enough to play with men
on the 12th September, 2018 at 8:29pm
...If Italy played Guam or Faroe Islands now they’d scrape by with 1-0 win....maybe.
Furthermore it’s one thing if offense isn’t clicking,but Italy were always known and feared to have best Defense. Now even that is just a memory. If not for Donnarumma alone score would of been 3-0 loss. They look scared and scatterbrained in back,can’t even play ball out anymore,or mark and shut down the worlds best strikers. They need to look at Spain,and mix tiki-taka longball counter with catenaccio.
on the 12th September, 2018 at 8:08pm
Bottom line is Italy CANT score... whether their World Cup lives depend on it or it’s a friendly,or Nations League. Grant it Azzurri were never known to be like Brazil or Germany current Spain and destroy teams ranked below 20th with 6,7,8,-0 hammerings. But modern game has evolved to more offensive flow and skill. But still there was a time Azzurri strikers were so clutch and deadly and clinical when they needed to be.Toni,Vieri,Schillaci,Rossi to name a few. + all past great attack Mids/Fwds.
on the 12th September, 2018 at 7:47pm
Chiesa is still young and makes young mistakes....but it's a process. I'm not sure what Zaza is doing in the team but his attitude not to mention link up play is better than Balo. I think Cutrone needs to be given more trust; he's proven that he can wear a heavy shirt. Let's not forget Portugal is still a very strong team and probably have many better players in most positions on the field than Italy if we are really being honest with ourselves
on the 12th September, 2018 at 2:51pm
Notwithstanding the age of the players, I had an issue with the team selection. I didnt understand what system they were playing. It looked like they were 442 in defence but 433 in attack and they got both phases wrong. I say this because Cristante and Jorghino looked to be double pivoting when on D. Those two serve the same purpose and both cant defend well so our mid core had no steel; Gagliardini whether we like it or not is our current best enforcer.
on the 12th September, 2018 at 2:36pm
Maybe, just maybe, the players aren't as good as people think or made out to be. Bonaventura is good not great. Two things this game highlighted was that 1. it was a young team at the beginning of a longer journey for which Italy does not have the patience for, and 2. Italy currently does not have the players in all positions to make another golden era.The faster we get out of this delusion the better. They have potential for great players in certain positions on the field.
on the 12th September, 2018 at 2:28pm
FIGC and pretty much all the Serie A clubs have a lot to answer for in particular the bigger clubs.

Italy has the highest no.of player transfers in Europe if not the world all this driven by greed alone.

Greedy club owners don't care less about the NT end of.. or else they would integrate more Italian youth.

Hopefully CR7 spurns a new era of Italian talent or else we are doomed.
on the 12th September, 2018 at 2:03pm
The whole meaning of being 'Italiano' has slowly decayed to it stands young Italian men are devoid of any manhood or masculinity.
Young Italian lads prefer to play Fortnight,fifa or indulge in facebook than get out and kick a ball.. its no wonder all the foreigners from less developed countries are taking over Serie A, B, C..
'Political correctness', entering the 'Euro', etc. has stripped this once glorious nation of it's identity.

Can't see any light at the end of the tunnel..
on the 12th September, 2018 at 11:24am
Why is Mancini ? Italia had fail when assign him to coach ? He di not enough level to manager Italia team. I'm really do not want to see my favorite team like that.


Caldara Rugani Romagnol Spinnazola

verratti jorginho Cristante

bernardeschi cutrone insigne
on the 12th September, 2018 at 11:01am
@ Anonymous. yeah U19 and U20 are different from senior international football but when the quality of strikers is so poor right now why not. we have seen the likes of Netherlands, brazil, france expose their youngsters to the national team at a young age like at 18 and 20. kean has scored 4 goals I believe for Verona last season in serie a in a injury hit season. he has speed, nice passing and a strikers touch and has skill on the ball. he could be very useful to the azzurri. why wait.
on the 12th September, 2018 at 10:00am
In response to serie a lover. I agree about Kean, he deserves a chance. Immobile, Zaza and Insigne have done nothing for Italy. Cutrone, Kean and Pellegri all should be called up, yes they are raw but can only be an improvement on the rubbish we have up front at present. Next squad the forwards should be: Balotelli, Cutrone, Belotti, Kean, Chiesa, Pellegri, Favilli. With these players we may even score a goal in open play which would make a nice change.
on the 12th September, 2018 at 9:40am
@serie A lover
U19 and u20 are very diffrent from senior international football.
on the 12th September, 2018 at 8:49am
Why even experimented with 4-4-2? had Ventura not proven enough that it's a horrible formation for Italy? what's the point of playing Zaza who can't score for his dear life? Immobile is a player who thrives with a second striker like Luis Alberto and Cerci, why pair him with Zaza and then forced him to play as a lone striker in a 4-3-3? how is it no one ever thought to pair Immobile with Cristante who's better as an attacking midfielder than a central midfielder?
on the 12th September, 2018 at 6:54am
What I don't understand is why do they always had to go from one extreme to another. Ventura refused to experiment and used youngsters, now Mancini are using too many youngsters and experimented too much. What they need is a consistent core of players and they don't even have that.

How exactly are they supposed to build chemistry if players and formations are constantly tinkered every match? what is Mancini trying to do with this team? no one has any idea. Players look clueless and confused.
on the 12th September, 2018 at 6:50am
there is so much talent in Italy and all that needs to be done is scout for it. With the financial crisis in Italy, people don't have the money to sign up their kids to play soccer, buy uniforms, shoes......start going to high schools and elementary schools to scout for raw talent and from there build players. this crop of players is just average - there has to be a star out there that nobody knows of yet.
on the 11th September, 2018 at 9:57pm
@ Napoli1926 kean was born and raised in Italy. what has kean done he has scored I believe 4-5 goals in serie a last season for Verona . he was the star performer at the U-19 euros. Italy went to the final. he now has 6 goals in about 3 games in Italy under U-19 and U-20 teams. Italy needs to fat track him. if the likes of immobile, belotti, zaza, insigne cant combine for more than 10 goals for Italy. I would definitely be tempted to call him up.
on the 11th September, 2018 at 9:49pm

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