Friday November 16 2018
Performance key for Mancini

Richard Hall notes that there is finally a feel-good factor around the Italy camp ahead of the Nations League showdown with Portugal.

There is an excitement building around the Italian camp ahead of their clash with Portugal. Perhaps it is because the Azzurri could only go in an upward trajectory since June, perhaps it is because few expected much of Roberto Mancini, but now the project is interesting, there is hope again. Maybe, just maybe, it was the Giampiero Ventura debacle with Chievo that proved a stark reminder of how bad things were in recent memory. No matter what the reason, things look bright.

The Azzurri CT was clear about his objectives when talking to Rai in the build-up. He stated that the aim was, of course, to reach the final phase of the Nations League and that means beating Portugal in the weekend’s game. His team lost the reverse fixture, which means that even if they pull off a victory, they will have to hope that Poland can do them a favour in the final match. In the last meeting, the Azzurri played a very young an experimental squad and the Coach was criticised for not taking the competition seriously but things have change since then.

In Italy’s last outing against the Poles, the away side won 1-0 win a late goal from Cristiano Biraghi. Despite the dramatic finish, Mancini’s men put in one of their best performances of 2018 and showed signs that they had mental strength to boot. It was no surprise that this was a key focus for Mancio in his Press conference.

If his team can replicate that tempo and intensity then the result will follow. His squad has also raised eyebrows, as the likes of Brescia’s Sandro Tonali have been brought into the fold after an impressive season in Serie B. That move has even overshadowed the inclusion of Sassuolo's Stefano Sensi.

Tonali is only 18 and has played 11 times this campaign, scoring once and creating four goals.

“I want to stress again that he is incredibly gifted and has clear margins for growth,” Mancini said after handing the midfielder his first call-up. “I’ll get to know him better over the next few days”.

The opportunity to a player plying his trade in Serie B has shown that the coach is willing to look outside the box for Italy’s next bright, young thing and Tonali certainly looks to be that. The fact that he has long hair, plays for Brescia and is a midfielder, has seen the Italian press dub him the ‘new Pirlo’.

Mancini is clear that, even more than the result, the performance will be key against Portugal. One could argue that with two wins in seven games in charge, he should be concentrating just on the three points, especially as a victory would see the Azzurri top the group in the Nations League.

The exciting thing for Italian fans is that the ‘mister’ is focusing on style and longevity. He is looking for Italy to form a new identity built on solid defending, tactical astuteness but more importantly, a new fluidity built around the likes of Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernadeschi and Federico Chiesa. Italy, in their 4-3-3 formation are starting to look like they have all of the pieces to take them back to where history suggests they should be in the ranks of World football.

With midfielders like Jorginho, Nicola Barella, Marco Verratti and, who knows, Sandro Tonali, Italy have all the components to compete with any major nation and, excitingly, they can move the ball with pace. The game against Portugal will see a lot of focus on Ciro Immobile, as perhaps the Azzurri’s most obvious weakness in the lack of a reliable centre-forward, something proven by Mancini’s insistence on playing Insigne as a false nine in previous games. The Coach’s comments that performance is key perhaps resonate more, when one takes into account the dedication the country has to rebrand itself on the world stage.

Mancini is rebuilding a broken nation, and perhaps the friendly against USA will be more of an acceptable baptism for the new blood. The game against Portugal may still see some surprises though. As Mancio said: “Whoever proves themselves can play a part. We must play good football and win the fans back. We are Italy”.

Watch Serie A live in the UK on Premier Sports.

Have your say...
Let's hope that awful miss was Ciro's final nail in his international career. A goalkeeper would have put that away. Bangs them in at club level but at international level can't score, nor does he understand the offside rule. Never again please, international retirement!
on the 19th November, 2018 at 10:11am
Iv been a fan of Ciro for quite sometime,but now I can’t even bring myself to say give him 1 more try.I just don’t get it ?? at Lazio hes like Christian Vieri.on Azzurri he’s biggest choker Iv ever seen.@ Lazio had he an open net,with rebound ball bouncing to him he put it in 9/10 times. on NT it’s 0/10. That goal would of won game,put them in control.Christ they didn’t have to deal with CR7,and still can’t grind out win.they can’t score.
I’m watching Switz 3-2 Belg. 5 goals scored in 1st half.
on the 18th November, 2018 at 9:45pm
The performance was very good for 60 minutes or so then it went south. Mancini is either blinded by his friendship with Enrico or is just being silly as Federico was very poor last night and should have been subbed a long time ago. In fact all the games I have seen him play in this tournament, he has done very little. I am all for youth but there has to be a purpose. Mancini as a manager has to be far more pro active in making changes as he waits for too long then makes senseless ones.
on the 18th November, 2018 at 3:08pm
I understand Immobile being called up because he's Italy's most productive striker domestically, but whatever reason he can't score for Italy. That first chance over the bar sums up his career. He'd score that all day for Lazio!

Mancini didn't have many options for a #9. Cutrone has a nagging injury and Balotelli has 0 goals this season. Belotti was probably the best alternative but still hasn't been very consistent.

Might as well try out Chiellini as CF next match...
on the 18th November, 2018 at 1:18am
Giovinco should be called for every Italy came, he makes the wheels turn and is crucial with goals and assists. He got screwed over for the past so many years. Glad mancio brought him back last time but he needs to become a full time starter for the azzurri.
on the 18th November, 2018 at 12:35am
Why is Immobile still getting called up after the upteenth time??? Even if he manages to miraculously score in this game, the law of averages predict that when playing for the NT he wont in his next 20 games. Mancini has done well so far but this selection I don't understand. Is that rebuilding for the future?
on the 17th November, 2018 at 5:50pm
Mancio can consider Leonardo Pavoletti and also Simone Verdi more seriously, instead of giving chance to Ciro again.Daniel Caligiuri, the right back defender from Shalke could be a good choice as well.
on the 17th November, 2018 at 2:59pm
Italy has decent defence and are developing a strong midfield. Now proper strikers are required. Insigne plays better more centrally than in a 4-3-3 where he is further away from the centre. Pair him with Cutrone at the centre as immobile is not the guy you want to send to Euro 2020 so blood the youth now.
on the 17th November, 2018 at 5:02am
For Italy to turn the corner we need not only talent desire and heart we also need
personality on the field all be it only 18 Sandro Tonali maybe exactly what this team
is missing to inspire us to be the italy of the of old, a team that could defend and bring hurt up front, shoring up this midfield will only help the insigne's bernardechi's flourish as consistent threats for Italy, Im noting expecting miracles tomorrow but only a well inspired game as this could be the beginning of a new Italy
on the 17th November, 2018 at 3:02am
very interesting to seeing the game vs usa. this kid moise kean is the future. I am predicting he will score many goals for Italy and juve.
on the 17th November, 2018 at 1:10am
Fingers crossed for a good game, glad to hear that Kean might be getting a nod in the friendly against the US.
on the 16th November, 2018 at 10:05pm
Well last time Portugal destroyed a non existent Italy team....and that was WITHOUT Ronaldo. Now he’s back and in good form. Can’t see Azzurri beating them. Immobile has to score to have a snowball chance.
on the 16th November, 2018 at 8:25pm
While the last game was promising in the way we played we have to remember that we were still not clinical - we missed so many opportunities that top forwards for other nations would not miss. This has been a problem for a number of years though (i remember we had the same issues post 2006). Immobile has had enough opportunities now however and i just can't see him getting any better for Italy as he is at his peak in terms of age and form. Hopefully Kean and Cutrone can keep on an upward path.
on the 16th November, 2018 at 2:32pm
"...but more importantly, a new fluidity built around the likes of Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernadeschi and Lorenzo Insigne."

Is that a mistake, or does Insigne have a brother with the same first name as him? :P Just thought I'd point this out in case the author wants to fix it.
on the 16th November, 2018 at 2:01pm

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