It’s now or never: Italy has to beat Poland this evening to keep their slim chances alive of qualifying for the next round in the UEFA Nations League. To make matters worse, a loss would see the Italians get relegated to League B in this new competition.
Despite Roberto Mancini only being the Azzurri boss for around five months, time is not on the manager’s side to recover the Italian national team from its crisis. Taking over the Azzurri was going to be a complex task and take some time, but patience is now fading away due to the nation’s underwhelming results in recent friendlies and Nations League fixtures.
It’s time Mancini starts treating the Nations League with more caution – realising that this is not the best stage to experiment with new formations and player positions. The 53-year-old Coach may be building for the Euro 2020, but Italy needs to start earning decent results now, as their next couple of fixtures could decide the countries they get paired with in Euro 2020 qualifying. Getting relegated in the Nations League is something the Italians will need to avoid, as it will only damage the self-confidence of the players and have serious repercussions on their FIFA world ranking.
Since the World Cup qualifying catastrophe against Sweden, many Azzurri fans were anticipating the four-time world champions to ascend from the ruins. However, the Italians have looked anything but inspiring on the pitch – clearly lacking a sense of leadership and a structure to follow. Winless in their last five fixtures and only picking up a single victory against a mediocre Saudi Arabia side in the last 10 games indicates that Italy is on a downward decline. The Nations League was intended to serve as a purpose for Italy to recapture that winning mentality and establish some sort of momentum, but it has only exposed more of the on-field flaws that are currently lingering on in this fragmented side.
So far, the primary on-field issues that Italy has encountered thus far are in the midfield and frontline areas. Gone are those days when Andrea Pirlo would supply the creativity and brains in the midfield. Also, this current Azzurri side lacks a prolific No.9 goalscorer. Even though Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile have been in exceptional form for their respective Serie A clubs, they have failed to emulate their fine goalscoring form for the national team.
The last ten goals Italy – dating back to last October – were all scored by different players. And with the shortage of inspiration upfront, it has now forced Mancini to form an unorthodox frontline comprising bright forwards such as Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Federico Chiesa.
Experimenting formations and heavily rotating players have evidently demonstrated that Mancini has tried everything so far, hence why Italy looks so disjointed on the pitch. Since the former Manchester City manager took over the Azzurri job, there have been 43 changes to the team’s starting XI in just six games. The only player who has started all these six fixtures and has secured their place in the starting line-up is Jorginho. Although, Gianluigi Donnarumma looks like another player who has cemented his position as the No.1 goalkeeper.
However, it finally appears Mancini has discovered his core group of players after the match against Ukraine. Actually, some changes Mancini implemented in the friendly with the Ukrainians worked quite effectively, especially the new midfield combination of Marco Verratti, Jorginho and Nicolò Barella adding more creativity and fluidity in the passing. While the Azzurri showed encouraging signs against Andriy Shevchenko’s Ukraine, the 1-1 result still tarnished the Italian’s promising performance in front of the home fans at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. But with Mancini tipped to deploy most of the same starting XI and the 4-3-3 formation against Poland, we may see Italy play with more chemistry and confidence. However, what remains to be seen is how the Italian players and Mancini will approach this significant fixture.