The future of the Nazionale will be built around the extraordinary new crop of emerging midfield talent, as young faces combine with the not exactly old guard to give Roberto Mancini an array of options.
It isn’t reminiscent of the old Italian midfield, which had Andrea Pirlo, Rino Gattuso and Claudio Marchisio in it, but it is now ready to carve out a reputation of its own. There also seems to be a balance and quality of depth to it.
While Lorenzo Pellegrini recently suffered a broken foot and is out till December, the Roma man has been a key player for the Giallorossi this season. He has racked up a tally of four assists and has been used in an advanced position by Mancini in the last couple of games, reflecting his role with Paulo Fonseca. The former Sassuolo man would add some attacking dexterity to a midfield that already has players who sit in and operate deeper.
Stefano Sensi, who has been one of the best players in Serie A this season, has already established himself in the national side. Sensi has now found a new role at Inter under Antonio Conte. He’s the farthest man forward in midfield and has been tasked with a mezz’ala role that he has performed to perfection, despite originally being a defensive midfielder.
Sensi also has Nicolò Barella as his Inter teammate and they are forming a partnership that could work for Italy too. The former Cagliari man complements Sensi exceptionally and adds so much bite and venom to the Inter midfield by winning the ball back and circulating it forward. Barella’s ability to do this would ease up the defensive load on Pellegrini and Sensi (if they are played slightly further forward in the long run).
The last few games have given the impression that Mancini sees Barella and Chelsea’s Jorginho as the regulars, with the latter sitting deeper and playing piercing passes to the forward players and Barella acting like the engine in the heart of the park.
Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti has been a part of the side for a long time now and his performances for PSG over the last few months have shown a different side to him. With Marquinhos operating as the defensive midfielder and Idrissa Gueye playing as the box-to-box player, Verratti is playing further forward.
It is easy to forget Sandro Tonali too, but the Brescia youngster has probably been the best player for the club so far this season. He binds the newly-promoted side together, acting as a hybrid of a No 6 and a No 8. He too, like Sensi and Verratti, brings a lot of versatility to the midfield. Pellegrini can also play a slightly deeper role when asked.
Then there’s Pellegrini’s Giallorossi teammate Bryan Cristante. The 24-year-old isn’t exactly as good or consistent as the other options in that area, but he isn’t expected to be a regular starter either. He hasn’t had the best of seasons so far, as there have been some average performances against Atalanta, Lecce and Bologna. But on paper, six midfield players are enough to rotate around.
That depth is a trademark of this Azzurri midfield and Mancini has constantly tinkered to find the right spokes for the wheel. Pellegrini played on the left of a 4-3-3 against Finland and while that isn’t exactly a sign of things to come, but he would be used in attacking positions. That will help Mancini to play Sensi or Verratti as the third midfielder alongside Barella and Jorginho.
As for Tonali, the Juventus and Inter target can easily play in either of the two positions that Barella or Jorginho might occupy. Once Italy seal qualification for the Euros, Tonali will probably be given regular runs out in the first team to solidify his position in that packed and highly talented midfield. Rushing him in before sealing qualification represents a risk that Mancini won’t be too keen on taking.
All things considered, this midfield provides Italy the platform to go on to achieve big things in the international arena. Mancini seems to have a plan and idea for how to take this midfield forward and he is slowly laying down the ideas we’ll see at Euro 2020.