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Saturday June 15 2019
Expectation & pressure on Azzurrini

Gigi Di Biagio has a top-quality Italy squad at his disposal, writes Sam Wilson, so not winning the European Under-21 Championship could be considered a failure.

Take one look at Italy’s Under-21 squad for the European Championships and you would be forgiven for mistaking it for their senior team.

The player list boasts the obvious big names such as Federico Chiesa, Nicolò Zaniolo and Moise Kean, but also some diamonds in the rough like Alessandro Murgia, Alessandro Bastoni and Kevin Bonifazi. Of course, we could sit and list off every great player in the party, but the truth is that the side is full of so much quality, we would just be copying and pasting the lot.

Italy are the most successful team in the history of the U21 European Championships, having won the tournament five times, including three in a row row between 1992 and 1996. In 1996, the Azzurri squad was full of some young Italians who would go on to be rather famous: Francesco Totti, Christian Vieri and Alessandro Nesta, to name but a few.

With this year’s tournament on home turf, Italy will be looking to make it six. Under the guidance of former Inter and Roma midfielder Luigi Di Biagio, who has been in the Italian managerial system since 2011 – when he spent a two-year spell in charge of the under-20 side before moving onto the U21s where has stayed since, aside from a brief caretaker spell in charge of the Azzurri’s first team.

Realistically, Italy should be lifting the trophy at the end of the tournament, or at the very least cutting it close. It is a chance for not only a talented group of individual youngsters to come together as a team and lift a trophy for their country, but also an opportunity for these players to catch the eye of bigger clubs.

The U21 European Championships are a historic hunting ground for scouts. Representatives from clubs all over the world will be in attendance as they look for those special talents to report back on. In the Italy squad, a lot of attention will be focused on the midfield. This is not to say that the attack and defence are not as talented, because they certainly are, but the midfield is full of a group of young men who could probably break into the first teams of many clubs and countries.

Brescia’s Sandro Tonali is one of the obvious names to watch in the squad; having been a frequent entry into the Italian press this season just gone, with Juventus said to have been leading the pack for a player considered by some to be the ‘next Pirlo’. Nicolò Zaniolo, similarly, had a breakthrough this season with Roma, after switching clubs from Inter as part of the deal to send Belgian Radja Nainggolan to the Nerazzurri.

There is the concern, however, that all this pressure could get to the heads of the young Italians and their performance could suffer as a result. Italy will come up against Belgium, Spain and Poland in the group stage, all formidable foes with a talented youth squad.

Spain won the tournament in 2011 and 2013, as well as finishing as runners up in 2017. Belgium, meanwhile, have not qualified for the tournament since 2007 but their first team sit atop the world rankings, meaning they are not to be underestimated.

In all, Di Biagio has a tough challenge on his hands, despite having a phenomenal squad at his disposal. Every player in the side will be ready to prove themselves to perhaps earn a big move but this leads to the risk of selfishness and the team not gelling properly.

Furthermore, as Italy qualified automatically as hosts, this current team have not really played a competitive fixture together and haven’t played a friendly since two draws against Croatia and Austria in March. This lack of team experience and qualifying process could end up costing Italy and Di Biagio will have to make sure he has coached the side properly in the past couple of weeks and prepared them for the challenges ahead.

Have your say...
Starts off the article saying Italy should be winning the trophy and ends it by saying it's going to be a tough challenge.

Which one is it?
on the 17th June, 2019 at 10:24am
@Red Rooster, I based my opinion over the course of 18 months, and you? One game!! And I'm the novice?
on the 17th June, 2019 at 10:21am
Chiesa plays like a possessed madman. Leaves everything on the field. He should be captaining the team for every game. Wish I could coach a player like that as I'd quickly learn what buttons to press to get him going before a match.
on the 17th June, 2019 at 4:17am
Dan, Chiesa can't finish ....Lol...just a Brace you novice
on the 16th June, 2019 at 11:37pm
Read other reports Mandragora starts - definitely shouldn't be a starting role for him. Barella, Pellegrini, Zaniolo and Tonali all ahead of him and if Zaniolo is having to move into a front 3 (which he actually suits) but purely as a move to accommodate the strength we have in midfield, I cannot see how mandragora deserves a starting spot.

Barella can play the identical role he does for seniors and Tonali who is combo of Pirlo / Gattuso can play the anchor role like Jorginho, with Pellegrini.
on the 16th June, 2019 at 5:54pm
PrimoCalcio I agree. But being on the bench won't hinder his confidence. Whereas if Pellegrini or Zaniolo get dropped it may hinder their confidence moving forwards as they've come from bench of the seniors and would still find themselves on the bench. Tonali has to start for the balance of the team - to mimick the seniors it should be Barella, Tonali, Pellegrini and Zaniolo used as a WF with Chiesa and Kean.

If Barella doesn't start it doesn't mean he isn't our best midfielder because he is...
on the 16th June, 2019 at 5:42pm
Rumours of Di Bagio dropping Barella from the starting lineup are making me nervous already. I mean he literally starts on the senior team, should be a no-brainer.
on the 16th June, 2019 at 3:55pm
A squad with great potential.

BUT I feel that Di Biagio is the key component in terms of whether we can achieve success or not this summer. He's lucky to still have the job in terms of his record - he could've been sacked multiple times, also, in his only stint as temporary CT of Italy he caved under pressure and oddly chose to play an ageing team even after our WC failure i.e. Parolo, Buffon, Candreva.

A great team is only as good as the manager - lets just hope Di Biagio finally succeeds.
on the 16th June, 2019 at 2:59pm
I'm always amazed how little emphasis the Italian FA put on appointing quality coaches at youth levels. Surely there are more proven coaches available who could help develop U21 players. I get that ex-Serie A managers may not want the role and would be costly. But surely they could go for guys with a bit of experience coaching top Primavera sides or involved in the setup at Serie A teams. Rather than rookie ex-players
on the 16th June, 2019 at 11:53am
Only Di Biagio could fail with this squad...
on the 16th June, 2019 at 11:46am
@jeremey: I guess I agree with your point that none of these players have done anything yet. There have certainly been enough pretenders over the years. But for me, that’s the beauty of under 21 - I personally enjoy the hope of it all. Pirlo was clearly excellent at under 21 level but the fact remains that it took him a while to be a regular at a big team. Milan bought Rui Costa in the same summer and if not for Carlo, he may have disappeared into obscurity. You just never know with this new lot
on the 16th June, 2019 at 9:48am
@MM
Like I said I hope to be proved wrong but these guys need top level football but once they get to a big club are they really going to be get the kind of match time needed would a Chiesa/Zaniolo actually get match time at a Real Madrid or Barca I struggle to see that happening. The only big clubs left in Italy have given up on Italian youth altogther which is one of the reasons we find ourselves billing average players as world class- Balotelli a prime example of average at best.
on the 16th June, 2019 at 7:47am
@anonymous
Yes yes and you are the becon of knowledge I guess.
I have been lucky enough to see Italy win 2 world cups in my life time.
The 2006 team was the last in the line of true Italian quality but signs then where not great for the future of Italian football. Gli Azzurri at all ages have nothing to match the quality we once had. As for Serie A Juve have won scudetto after scudetto without a single challenge but fail in champ league.
You say I know nothing I say someone needs to wake up!
on the 16th June, 2019 at 7:21am
Yea but remember this is Italy....they always find a way to bottle it. Look u20 WC they got lucky on way to semifinals and had momentum on their side but lost somewhat harshly to Ukraine. Still had couple golden chances to score earlier and choked. Then in 3rd place game missed a gift pk...and Ecuador scored late in ET and won.

u21 will / should do well...but will blow good opportunities to score in games or progress to trophy.
on the 16th June, 2019 at 2:35am
jeremy's one of those boob england fans who hides here and pretends his an italy fan and then pans everything to demonstrate his own lack of self-esteem.

it's clear he knows nothing about italy serie a or much else ...
on the 15th June, 2019 at 10:20pm
Apologies Jeremy, my Pirlo comment was directed at Seb and not yourself.
on the 15th June, 2019 at 9:12pm
@Jeremy, Pirlo was excellent for the under-21's. he exhibited the technique, composure, close quarter skills and passing range that soon became world famous. Your brother (back then) sounded like the sort of fan that prioritizes physicality over everything else. And Chiesa the best U21 player that we have? Really? He's all running, with little end product at this moment. I'd take several of the other players over him, particularly Barella, Kean, Zaniolo & Orsolini - who was fantastic under Miha.
on the 15th June, 2019 at 9:10pm
Jeremy

Rossi was injury prone but for that he was on the brink of Barcelona - an injury hampered career cannot be considered failing.

Likewise Cassano had temperamental issues and football's bad boy syndrome.

In terms of ability these two examples under achieved for extenuating circumstances not for their lack of ability.

How do you know they'd be bench warmers? You seem very pessimistic, everyone starts somewhere and these aren't players without merit with recent performances this season.
on the 15th June, 2019 at 8:04pm
@MM
Being wanted by clubs doesn't mean anything, most would warm the benches up at virtually all the clubs you have listed. Cassano/Rossi and many others tried and failed. One thing is certain that any italian youngster with any promise should stay as far away from Juve as possible.
@Seb
I have seen this hype before around several players and i was left disappointed, i really hope to be proved wrong but i dont see a pirlo in any of these guys at this point.
on the 15th June, 2019 at 7:19pm
Jeremy disagree completely

Meret starts at Napoli, Mancini starts at Atalanta, Pellegrini starts at Roma as does Zaniolo who is wanted by Real Madrid, Juve, Bayern, Tottenham, Barella nearly joined Chelsea and is now going to Inter for 50mill, for Kean nothing needs to be said, Chiesa is linked with everyone for 70mill, likewise so is Tonali that includes Klopp and his CL winners Liverpool. Your comments don't add up. The only reason this team may slip is because of Di Biagio's man management.
on the 15th June, 2019 at 5:44pm
@Jeremey: it is a good squad and the optimism is warranted especially as we are at home. I’m too young to remember Maldini or baggio in the under 21s but I remember following Pirlo from that age group. I’ll never forget my brother saying ‘he’s rubbish; no pace, no strength, no left foot, can’t header, he’ll never be good enough’ and look how that turned out. To say there is not a chance that some of these players could become world class is overly pessimistic in my opinion.
on the 15th June, 2019 at 4:29pm
I dont know why there is such expectation or pressure. We are average and have been so for many years. Of course we want the to win but we need to be realistic and honest with ourselves here. There isn't anything of real world class quality- there isnt a maldini baggio or anything close. Chiesa is hands down the best player in this team and he is hardly ground breaking. I dont want to knock people for trying to be optimistic but lets not kid ourselves either.
on the 15th June, 2019 at 3:03pm
I'm not confident at all going into this tournament. 1 - Because I have little faith in Di Biagio, who has kept his job despite an average record. And 2 - Suddenly calling up the likes of Tonali, Kean, Zaniolo, Chiesa (despite their quality) having barely featured for the Azzurrini, will do very little with regards to team chemistry. It could well be similar to two years ago when we had good individuals, but not a good side. I'd love to be proven wrong.
on the 15th June, 2019 at 2:16pm
there are some odd omissions i would have expected luca pellegrini to be in the side along with scamacca and pinamonti considering they are injured it makes sense why they missed out same with donnarumma technically available injured as well.

In any case having a good group of players is no guarantee of success but it does at least give italy a equal chance of success in comparison to the likes of france germany and spain.
on the 15th June, 2019 at 12:44pm
On paper we are miles ahead of everyone in terms of talent.

Meret, Barella, Zaniolo, Pellegrini, Tonali, Chiesa, Kean plus Mancini potentially all make a best 11 from the squads in the tournament, Calabria would have too if he was fit - that would've meant 8/9 players.

Italy should be massive favourites but the game isn't played on paper. Be ideal if we win it because it will strengthen the players belief moving forwards.
on the 15th June, 2019 at 12:37pm
Yes, the team looks solid. But there are other teams in the tournament that look strong too. In fact, England is favored to win it, followed by France and Spain. Everyone is saying “Wow, look at our team” yeah our team looks really good but it’s not the only team there that looks really good. We could win this tournament but winning this tournament won’t be easy even if we’re playing at home. In any case there’s not one option: Forza Italia!
on the 15th June, 2019 at 12:02pm

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