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Saturday June 22 2019
Pellegrini gives Azzurrini hope

Italy are on the back foot in the U21 European Championship, but Jay Cassano sees Lorenzo Pellegrini’s reemergence as a welcome surprise.

With the Azzurini’s defeat to Poland, their future is no long in their own hands. They now need to beat Belgium and hope for just the right result from Spain-Poland. Disappointment abounds for a squad bursting from the seams with talent in a tournament that they really ought to have grabbed by the horns.

But if there is a consistent positive to take from the past two games, it has to be the form of Lorenzo Pellegrini. The Roma youth product struggled for fitness this season, twice sitting out month-long stretches. It was his injury that really opened more playing time for Nicolò Zaniolo, who took over Eusebio Di Francesco’s trequartista role and subsequently overshadowed Pellegrini this season.

And it’s not just Zaniolo. While Federico Chiesa and Nicolò Barella have established themselves in the senior national team, Pellegrini has been intermittently called up, taking his minutes mostly as a substitute. But in the past two games, he has emerged as the most consistent player in the squad.

Against Spain, the Roma youth product successfully drew as many fouls and beat as many men one-on-one as Chiesa. And while Barella played some incredibly incisive passes, Pellegrini was the only one of the midfield three who wasn’t bossed by Spain’s superior quality in the middle of the park. He had more interceptions and completed more passes than any player in front of the defence on the night. To top it off, his cool-as-you-like penalty sealed the win.

The Italian youngsters dominated the game against Poland, with plenty of touches and passes to go around. Even so, the only players to complete more key passes than Pellegrini were Chiesa and Barella.  They were also the only players to win the ball back more than Pellegrini — except Pellegrini managed it without giving up a single foul. And it was Pellegrini who came closest to equalising, his long-range rocket rattling off the upright.

Where Chiesa is streaky, Pellegrini is consistent. Where Barella is rash to the point of still making truly horrid challenges (something that proved quite costly against Poland), Pellegrini is poised and collected. He has future leader written all over him.

Am I saying he’s the saviour of Italian football? Hardly. Let’s avoid hyperbole. But let’s also acknowledge the simple fact: Pellegrini’s form, consistency, and versatility have been the most welcome surprises of the tournament so far. We’ve already known that Barella and Chiesa are world-class talents in the making. Pellegrini is just now starting to make the case that his name should be uttered alongside theirs when talking about Italian starlets.

His next season in the capital will prove decisive for his development. He is most likely to play in the double midfield pivot of newly appointed Coach Paola Fonseca’s 4-2-3-1, where he could be the more creative partner to Steven Nzonzi in the “destroyer” role. Given his high football IQ, Pellegrini getting more responsibility for controlling the game will do him well. It’s fine to leave the flair to players like Zaniolo or Javier Pastore, but hopefully Fonseca doesn’t discount what Pellegrini can contribute in attack with late runs, sharp passes, and shots from distance.

If he keeps playing like this, Pellegrini could approach becoming the kind of player Claudio Marchisio was when he was healthy: a versatile midfielder who can do a bit of everything and always plays for the team, even if other names steal the headlines. After a challenging few seasons, let’s hope Pellegrini is now finally ready to show us what he can really do.

Have your say...
Hope? I mean Kean/chiesa/Barella also due to bring us new hope; well that was against Spain then reality hit home with Poland and now Pellegrini is the new hope!
Wake up this team has nothing of any real world class quality, until these players are in BIG clubs challenging for Champions leagues and league titles; by playing I mean actually playing 90 mins not 10, actually being the first name on the team sheet then we can have expectations of winning these kind of tournaments.
on the 22nd June, 2019 at 5:11pm
Yes Susy ...I just realized that too. I was looking at standings and was like are kidding me !?.
Azzurrini NEED 2/3 - O win v Belgium.
While NEEDING Spain to defeat Poland 2 - 0.
??? Small miracle.
Wouldn’t be surprised if Spain does their part,but Italy draw 1 - 1.

...also hopefully France lose so maybe Italy can have best 2nd place wildcard as backup.
on the 22nd June, 2019 at 3:37pm
Note: To qualify top of the group, Italy must beat Belgium and hope Spain get the better of Poland, but by no more than two clear goals (so 1-0 or 2-0), as otherwise Spain would go top.
on the 22nd June, 2019 at 3:13pm
For Italy to qualify top of the group they need to beat Belgium and hope Spain win against Poland by two goals.
on the 22nd June, 2019 at 3:10pm
Has anybody figured out the lucky combination of results which will leave Italy top of the group?
on the 22nd June, 2019 at 2:51pm
are you kidding ? thereis not similarity metween Pellegrini and Marchisio ! we hope that Pellegrini colud replace a player like totti if you take a deep look at his creative chances you would not say i am wrong ! . what you sad jaust was a joke . the best position for Pellegrini in attack midfielder
on the 22nd June, 2019 at 2:23pm
He emerged before Barella as our next big midfielder but after a mixed season of injuries he was overtaken. Has more potential than Marchiso (who was one of my favourite players). It's positive that we have such strength in depth in CM from Veratti, Jorginho, Barella, Sensi, Pellegrini - then Zaniolo and Tonali considering 5-6 get picked for a 23 man squad. Gone of the days of Parolo, Sturaro, Gagliardini / Florenzi & Giach playing CM or Motta / De Rossi starting past their primes at mid 30s.
on the 22nd June, 2019 at 12:59pm
It's nothing new. It was already established that Pellegrini is a world class talent a few years back when he was still playing for Sassuolo.
on the 22nd June, 2019 at 11:00am

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